“Joy is a well-made object, equaled only by the joy of making it”
Bill Reid (1920-1998) was an acclaimed master goldsmith, carver, sculptor, writer, broadcaster, mentor, and community activist. Reid was born in Victoria B.C. to a Haida mother and an American father with Scottish German roots, and only began exploring his Haida roots at the age of 23. The journey of discovery lasted a lifetime and shaped Reid’s artistic career.
The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art was created in 2008 to honour the legacy and celebrate the diverse indigenous cultures of the Northwest Coast. Bill Reid infused Haida traditions with his own modernist aesthetic to create exquisitely small as well as monumental work that captured the public’s imagination, and introduced a timeless vocabulary to the modern world.
Reid became a pivotal force in building bridges between indigenous people. Through his mother he was a member of the Raven clan from T’aanuu with the wolf as one of his family crests. Raven is known as a mischievous trickster , who also plays an important part in transforming the work. Many of these traits matched Bill Reid’s personality. In 1986, Bill was presented with the Haida name Yaahl Sgwansung, meaning The Only Raven.
Bill Reid Artistic Journeys
“I think the Northwest Coast style of art is an absolutely unique product, one of the crowning achievements of the whole human experience.”
Bill Reid displayed artistic talent from a very young age. As he discovered his Haida heritage, and started to hear traditional stories, he became fascinated by the bracelets and argillite pieces carved by his grandfather, Charles Gladstone.
Reid moved to Toronto to work for the CBC, and at age 28 , decided to take a two year jewelry course through Ryerson Institute of Technology. He began to study indigenous museum collections and despite his relative inexperience, he was given the opportunity to work on several monumental pole-caring projects.
The 1950s-1970s were a turning point for Haida and other indigenous artists. Bill Reid immersed himself into the art and traditional stories of the Haida. He became a student of Haida visual language and mastered the rules and concepts of traditional formline design. Bill Reid excelled in many art forms including jewelry, wood carving, printmaking, and later, monumental sculptures in bronze. He referred to himself as a ‘maker of things’ rather than an artist. Throughout his career, Reid lived and worked at the intersection of two worlds, – Haida and European – and continually pushed the boundaries of Northwest Coast art.
Bill Reid Inspiring Others
“Well I don’t consider myself Haida or non-Haida or white or non-white. I am a citizen of the west coast of North America and I have availed myself of all the inheritance I got from all directions”
Bill Reid believed in encouraging younger artists to develop their skills in Northwest Coast art. Earl in his career he was given many fantastic opportunities to enhance his own artistic abilities through community projects, such as working on a pole with Mungo Martin in Victoria, and carving the totem village at UBC with Doug Cranmer. Later Reid often mentored younger artists working with him in his studio and was keen to pass on his own knowledge of jewelry making and carving. He believed in tough critical analysis. Reid would use a thick marker to boldly outline his comments and suggested changes on students’ drawings.
In keeping with the traditions of both Haida and European artists, Reid hired many people to assist with his projects, even before Parkinson’s disease had diminished his ability to world physically. Many of the artists who worked with Reid over the years went on to establish important careers of their own.
Bill Reid Creative Journeys
An exhibition presented in partnership with the Vancouver International Airport to mark the 20th anniversary of Bill Reid’s iconic sculpture, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii.
Celebrating the many creative journeys of acclaimed master goldsmith and sculptor Bill Reid (1920–1998), this exhibition provides a comprehensive introduction to his life and work.
Bill Reid was the pivotal force in introducing to the world the great art traditions of the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast of North America. His legacies include infusing that tradition with modern ideas and forms of expression, influencing emerging artists, and building lasting bridges between First Nations and other people.
The Spirit of Haida Gwaii Concert