Joe Norris was born in 1924 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The family moved to Lower Prospect when Joe was seven years old. Much of his childhood was characterized by sickness, in particular pleurisy. This kept him away from school a great deal of the time. Being confined, he took up painting to keep himself occupied. Later on he worked as a fisherman and construction worker. A severe heart attack at age forty-nine forced him into early retirement. This is when he went back to painting, and through the encouragement of a visiting nurse he continued painting and eventually nailed some of his pictures to the front wall of his fish house. Through this initial display he found an outlet for his completed paintings.
Joe Norris painted seven days a week in his little yellow house he had built himself in the early 1970s. He often painted for about twelve hours solid each day. Generally he began with no preconceived idea, no drawing or sketch. He just worked at his brightly painted pictures of the world around him using several very small brushes. In addition to the pictures he also painted the occasional piece of furniture including tables, chests and mantles.
As he worked there was often a steady flow of children, neighbours, and near-by relatives going in and out of his house. Joe, a bachelor, missed the fishing life. He once said "I'd rather be fishing. I'm out in the air and stuff, and I like working... hard old life fishing." When asked if his paintings would ever make him famous, "no" was his answer. Joe Norris died in 1996.
Reference: Compendium of Canadian Folk Artists, Kobayashi-Bird 1985. Folk Art of Nova Scotia, 1978. From the Heart, 1983.