by Treva McNally
The paintings of A.L. Morrison illustrate the history of Prince Edward Island so well that in1980 his book, My Island Pictures, was in every grade 6 classroom on Prince Edward Island accompanying the course in Island history. This beautifully illustrated book contains thirty-five full-colour reproductions of his work, and next to each painting is a story describing the event or scene in the picture. A self-taught artist, his folk art illustrates everyday life, happenings, and events.
Alfred Morrison was born in 1908 to fifth generation Island parents who were working in Boston at the time of his birth. With the onset of the Great Depression, he could no longer afford to continue his university education in the United States, and he moved to Prince Edward Island to be with his family who had returned many years ago to their Island home. He settled in, married an Island girl, and began a lifetime of farming in Pleasant Grove. Morrison loved Prince Edward Island and over his lifetime painted more than eighty scenes of Island life. On the back cover of My Island Pictures, he states: “To paint a commendable picture, one must have Love for the subject matter being dealt with. Pictures of Prince Edward Island are therefore easy to paint. Everyone loves Prince Edward Island, unless they come from a better place; that would have to be Heaven.”
His work is highly regarded and has been the subject of shows in the Confederation Centre Gallery in1980 and again in 2000. Accompanying the show in 2000 was a second book of his paintings, The Narrative Landscapes of A.L. Morrison, compiled by Shauna McCabe. He is known internationally and last year, his work was displayed at Morehouse State University in Kentucky as part of an exhibit of the folk art of North America.
As beautiful as his work is, it cannot be found in private collections or galleries because he didn’t offer any of his paintings for sale. Instead, the originals were given to family members and were only seen by the public as reproduced in books. This decision, while affecting his financial worth as a painter, has made it possible for his son, Chick Morrison, to gather all his works from various family members to mount a permanent exhibit at the new Morrison Folk Art and Heritage Centre in Bonshaw. This venture has been a labour of love for Morrison, who built and has just opened the attractive two-story structure overlooking the beautiful Strathgartney area. Visible from the Trans Canada Highway, it contains a gallery housing the complete works of A.L Morrison as well as an artist’s work area and a gift shop. Chick Morrison hopes it will become a stop for school students studying history, and for visitors and residents alike who want to visit 20th century P.E.I. as represented by the paintings of his father. The paintings are still not for sale, but they are now permanently on display for everyone to see.