Title/Date: Frog Constellation, 1995
Artist: James Hart
Culture/Language Group: Haida
Media: Carved Red Cedar
Credit Line: Bill Reid Foundation/SFU Collection
Frog Constellation is James Hart’s tribute to a small shamanic piece collected on the Northwest Coast in the mid 19th Century. As he explains, “The frog is quite powerful in our thinking. It’s one of the creatures that can go in two worlds, in the water and in the upper world, our world. . . The frog is one of my family crests.”
Shamans were very important figures in Northwest Coast society. It was their job to cure the sick and ensure that runs of salmon and other game were plentiful. Shamans held the power to affect these things because of their ability to travel to, and communicate with, the spirit world. Frogs are considered the primary spirit helpers of the shaman because of their ability to move between worlds. Frogs are also a symbol of good luck, prosperity, and healing, and are known as great communicators. Their songs are believed to contain divine power and magic.
Hart explains that this particular piece depicts an old Haida love story: “The frog king took a young man’s lady, and he couldn’t find her . . . An old gentleman told him where to look, so he dug in the ground there and frogs came out; millions of frogs came out. The last one was the frog king, with the young lady on his back, and so the young man’s love was returned to him” (James Hart, 2012).
Additional Information - Frog Constellation
Frog Constellation was made possible through the generous support of Ivanhoé Cambridge, Westminster Management Corporation, and the Bill Reid Foundation.
James Hart completed the piece in 1995, but it was never installed in the California office building that it was originally intended for. Instead, it went into storage in Vancouver. Twelve years later, Dr. George MacDonald, then director of the Bill Reid Foundation and the Bill Reid Centre at SFU, initiated the idea of retrieving the sculpture.
Now located in the First Nations Atrium, the sculpture is an example of SFU’s growing role as a custodian of Northwest Coast Aboriginal art.
SFU Press Release. “Jim Hart Sculpture Celebrated at SFU”. 2012. Web. https://www.sfu.ca/brc/news/story/jim-hart-sculpture-celebrated-at-sfu.html
Shearer, Cheryl. Understanding Northwest Coast Art: A Guide to Crests, Beings and Symbols. 2000. Seattle/Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre.
Augaitis, Daina. Raven Traveling: Two centuries of Haida Art. 2006. Seattle/Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery. Print.
MacDonald, George F.. Haida Art. 1999. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre. Print.
MacDonald, George F.. Haida Monumental Art: Villages of the Queen Charlotte Islands. 1983. Vancouver : UBC Press. Print.
Virtual Museum of Canada. “Jim Hart Artist Profile”. 2002. Web. http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/bill_reid/english/background/jimhart.html
National Gallery of Canada. James Hart Profile. 2015. Web. http://www.gallery.ca/en/see/collections/artist.php?iartistid=46082