2017-05-17 05:32:49 UTC
by Kevin Griffin
May 16, 2017 12:01 AM PDT
Bill Reid with Haida dog salmon design. May 25, 1976. The Province. No photo credit. [PNG Merlin Archive]
Bill Reid’s final resting place was chosen with great care. The artist’s ashes were taken by canoe and laid to rest at Quadusgaa, a former village in Haida Gwaii close to Tanu where Reid’s grandmother was born.
* Reid worked at stations in Victoria and Kelowna and CKWX Vancouver during the 1930s and '40s, and at a total of 17 radio stations in Canada before joining CBC in the late 1940s.
Bill Reid - CFCT Victoria 1938-39; CKOV Kelowna 1939; announcer CKWX Vancouver 1940s; worked at a total of 17 radio stations in Canada before joining CBC; CBC Toronto 1948-52; CBC Vancouver 1952-60s including host Theme and Variations and wrote and narrated CBC-TV film People of the Potlatch; Northwest Coast Native artist and one of Canada's most celebrated and accomplished contemporary artists; designed and built Spirit of Haida Gwaii sculpture for Canadian Embassy in Washington DC 1990, with full-sized replica installed at Vancouver Airport 1996; recipient of the province's highest award for outstanding achievement, the Order of British Columbia 1994. Died in Vancouver March 13, 1998 at age 78.
When he died on March 13, 1998, he was 78 years old and one of the country’s most celebrated artists. His work continues to be seen by thousands of people every day.
At the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, there is Reid’s The Raven And The First Men, which depicts in cedar the Haida creation story. At the Vancouver Aquarium, Chief Of The Undersea World is a breaching killer whale in bronze. At the Vancouver International Airport, the Spirit Of Haida Gwaii, the monumental bronze sculpture also known as The Jade Canoe, is prominently located in the International Terminal. Between 2004 and 2012, it was on the $20 bill. Plus, there is the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in downtown Vancouver where Reid’s works, including jewelry, are on permanent display.
“Once we discard our ethnocentric, hierarchical ideas of how the world works, we will find that one basic quality unites all the works of mankind that speak to us in human, recognizable voices across the barrier of time, culture and space, ” he once wrote. “The simple quality of being well made.”
Reid was born in Victoria and raised an Anglican. He carved and whittled as a youngster, but there was no indication he would become the dominant indigenous artist of his era. It wasn’t until his late teens that he became aware that his mother was Haida.
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As an adult in the 1950s, his voice was heard across the country as a broadcaster for the CBC. While in Toronto, he studied jewelry making at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute.
In 1954, he made a trip to Haida Gwaii that changed him forever. He saw a pair of bracelets carved by his great-great uncle, the master artist Charles Edenshaw.
After that encounter, “the world was not the same,” he said.
The Bill Reid Rotunda at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology houses The Raven And The First Men sculpture by Bill Reid. Stuart Davis / PNG
Although he believed colonialism had seriously damaged Haida culture, Reid created an estimated 1,500 works in the Haida tradition during the next 50 years. They ranged in size from small pieces of jewelry to big public sculptures.
Before he died, Reid said all the different figures in The Jade Canoe were a long way from their home in Haida Gwaii. They were still squabbling and vying for position in the canoe.
“Is the tall figure who may or may not be the Spirit of Haida Gwaii leading us, for we are all in the same boat, to a sheltered beach beyond the rim of the world as he seems to be, or is he lost in a dream of his own dreamings?” Reid wrote. “The boat moves on, forever anchored in the same place.”