Norma Emerson, an award-winning Canadian artist, born in the small prairie town of
Tisdale, Saskatchewan, has traveled the globe, spreading joy and hope through her art, while breaking down cultural and racial barriers.
Her artistic bent showed up early on in life as she engaged in solo art activities, such as covering her family’s ping pong table with cut-out dolls she had drawn and designed outfits for.
Growing up, her art continued to blossom, and Norma excelled in her university’s art classes. She earned a coveted art award at Evan Hardy Collegiate in Saskatchewan. When John Diefenbaker handed her education degree to her, she replied enthusiastically: “I'll do my best.”
Painting and Quote by Norma Chapman Emerson
Norma worked summer jobs as a camp counselor and a nurse’s aide. She also worked with the delightful, challenged children of the Moose Jaw Training School. These positions helped prepare her for adventures further afield.
Later on, Norma studied to become a teacher, with her first job being with C.U.S.O. in Nigeria at Toro Teacher's College for men. After a few months, she noticed she no longer recognized people by the colour of their skin but rather, by their personalities.
Norma went on to teach art and math on the James Smith Reserve. She was close to many of the Cree who felt comfortable enough to have her paint their portraits – an honour and a demonstration of their trust in her.
Norma also worked with Ugandan teachers to educate Ugandan students about the environment. She has spent many years working for social justice in an ecumenical group called KAIROS. Some of their concerns have been focused on environmental issues, world poverty and indigenous rights.
Norma's teaching led her to tutoring South Korean children who came to further their studies in English. Soon after, she was also tutoring First Nations children who were taught by Norma from kindergarten to grade ten. Norma used several art projects to encourage the students to read.
Norma travelled to Peru where she used her adaptive skills in art to teach English to teachers. While there, she met a lady named Rosita who had broken her neck in an accident. As a result, she was unable to teach and had become depressed. Determined to help her, Norma made an adaptation so Rosita could participate in her art class. Thanks to Norma’s ingenuity, Rosita’s spirits were greatly raised as she announced that she was going to work hard to return to teaching.
Norma went on to teach art at Ballenas Secondary School, T.O.S.H. and M.A.C. Art Galleries and V.I.U. on Vancouver Island, BC. Though retired, Norma continues to teach art to adults locally.
Norma is a true humanitarian who has combined her creativity and convictions to make a difference in the world. Through generously sharing her many talents with people from various backgrounds, cultures and beliefs, she has demonstrated that art crosses all barriers, and reminds us that humanity is not so much about our differences, but about our common need to express our uniqueness through creativity.
Paintings by Norma Chapman Emerson
Photos by Don Emerson
'He is Beautiful'
Painting by Norma Chapman Emerson
With war and drought, this boy and his family were displaced from their homeland. They walked thousands of miles to a refugee camp losing the parents and siblings along the way. The United Nations Rights of the Child are a reminder that these rights are for all children. This child’s hand bleeds like the wound of Christ, and urges us to recognize and respect the dignity of all. Norma Emerson, the artist, spent two years teaching in Nigeria with CUSO, and three weeks working with Camp Uganda.