by Christine Hearn
Portrait of Bill Reid: Eliza Massey
Ninstints, Skidegate, Port Simpson, and Yaku. The names of these coastal villages evoke mystery and romance: misty vistas with totem poles and longhouses, war canoes, circling eagles, and great art. Haida artist Bill Reid was instrumental in introducing Northwest Coast art to a worldwide audience.
Now there is a unique opportunity to view the background to that art through the lens of early photographers: the first 50,000 of 100,000 photographs dating back to the 1860s will be online by next year, providing a vital portal for students, academics, and the public. The collection is a major element of the new Bill Reid Centre of Northwest Coast Art Studies at Simon Fraser University,
created through a partnership between the university and the non-profit Bill Reid Foundation.
At 23, Reid took his first trip to his mother's birthplace, the Queen Charlotte Islands, where he watched his grandfather carve. This visit would transform his life.
"Understanding the history and principles of Northwest Coast art through research, connoisseurship, and apprenticeships in the traditional arts of the region is our mission,” says George F. MacDonald, president of the Bill Reid Foundation and head of the Centre. MacDonald is also collecting photos of the work of younger artists from the past 30 to 40 years. “It will be amazing to have a life record of their work online,” he adds. The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art opens on May 10 at 639 Hornby Street, Vancouver, sharing space with the Centre. It will showcase Reid’s art and a new totem pole carved by Jim Hart, and will provide a space where scholars, artists, and the public can interact through exhibits, performances, and presentations.
"I consider myself one of the most fortunate of men, to have lived at a time when some of the old Haidas and their peers among the Northwest Coast peoples were still alive, and to have had the privilege of knowing them.”
– BILL REID, in the introduction to The Raven Steals the Light, Douglas & McIntyre, 1984