Bill Reid with two large plaster busts, including one of his favourites, Dog Fish Woman. The bust was donated to SFU by Allan and Faigie Waisman.
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.

Reid, William Ronald (Bill) 1920-1998. Haida Grizzly Bear 1990. Serigraph, 57 cm x 56.1 cm. Bill Reid Foundation Collection #60.
Reid, William Ronald (Bill) 1920-1998. Dog Salmon Brooch, 1989-2002,. Bill Reid Foundation Collection #41.

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.

Reid, William Ronald (Bill) 1920-1998. Dogfish Transformation Necklace 1982-1991. 22k gold 18k gold, collar 14 cm (5.5"). diameter pendant 9 cm x 10 cm (3.5"x 3.9"). Bill Reid Foundation Collection #21.
Reid, William Ronald (Bill) 1920-1998. Bear Mother, gold salt cellar. Canadian Museum of Civilization Collection.

"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

Photograph of Skidegate Village taken by George Mercer Dawson, 1878. Library and Archives Canada
Drawing of houses at Lax Kw’alaams with elaborately carved frontal poles in 1854 by a member of the crew of HMS Virago who undertook repairs to the keel of their ship on the beach in front of the village. Mitchell Library, Sydney, Australia.
Detail of totem pole by Bill Reid: bear with long tongue, Skidegate. Photo by George F. MacDonald.
This painting of Lax Kw’alaams (Port Simpson) was done from memory by Fredee Alexcee around 1890. It portrays the house of Chief Niesnawa, head of the Gilutsao tribe in the centre with a steep stairway that featured trick steps that threw unwary visitors to the ground. Their embarrassment had to be wiped away by their hosting a potlatch for this chief. Art Gallery of Ontario Collection.
Tea party in a tent near Lax Kw’alaams showing a mix of traditional women’s clothing and hats, and those introduced by the missionaries in the mid 1880s. Provincial Archives of British Columbia photo ca. 1885.
An early photograph of Lax Kw’alaams in 1873 by Charles Horetzky. The marks on the photos are specks of dust imbedded in the emulsion on the original glass plate negative. Depicted are the houses and totem poles of the Gispaqloats Tribe, including some built on stilts over the water. The corner bastion of the Hudson’s Bay Fort is at the far left. Library and Archives Canada photo.
Page from the journal of sailor on board HMS Virago which describes and illustrates engraved lip ornaments worn by the women of the village in 1854. Mitchell Library, Sydney, Australia.
Photography: Historical photos Courtesy the Bill Reid Foundation.