Bear Mother

Bill Reid's Bear Mother head located at the 3000 level AQ. Image Courtesy SFU Galleries.
Other representations of this story by Bill Reid include this argilite carving located at the Bill Reid Gallery in downtown Vancouver. Courtesy of the Bill Reid Estate. Photo by Kenji Nagai.
Other representations of this story by Bill Reid include this offset commercial print located at the Bill Reid Gallery in downtown Vancouver. Courtesy of the Bill Reid Estate.

Title/Date: Bear Mother, 1991
Artist: Bill Reid
Culture/Language Group: Haida
Media: Plaster, steel, and marble
Credit Line: SFU Collectioni on long term loan
Location: AQ 3000 level, northwest corner


The story of The Bear Mother is a well-known legend shared by many people on the Northwest Coast, most notably the Haida, Nisga’a, Gitxsan, and Coast Tsimshian. Numerous versions of the story exist, but it generally tells of a woman berry picker who disrespected the bears and was kidnapped and forced to marry the son of a grizzly bear chief. She subsequently gave birth to twin bear cubs who inherited a mix of human and bear features. This story emphasizes the importance of honouring and respecting animals, particularly bears, and deals with the subjects of transformation and travel between the human and non-human worlds.

Depictions of the Bear Mother story on totem poles and other forms of Northwest Coast art have been occurring for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In these representations, the mother is usually shown with either a human or bear face, and is holding or suckling her two cubs. The cubs also appear in human or animal form, but most often one cub is human and the other a bear.

Bill Reid told the story of the Bear Mother numerous times in his works. Arguably, his most famous depiction was of the bear father, the mother, and their cubs in the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the internationally renowned sculpture from which this piece originates.

Additional Information - Bear Mother

Dog Fish Woman and Bear Mother are elements taken from the monumental sculpture The Sprit of Gaida Gwaii, and were created as stand alone sculptures.

The heads were selected by the artist to be cast in bronze as sculpture editions of 9 and exhibited for sale at the Bushlen Mowat Galllery in Vancouver in 1993/96. Reid selected the images as being forms that were both aesthetically pleasing and spiritually meaningful to him. The artist’s proofs seen here, were generously donated by Allan and Faigie Waisman in 2002.


Brown, Stacy. The Bear Mother Story, Vancouver Art Gallery: Charles Edenshaw Exhibit.  2012. Web.

Bringhurst, Robert. The Black Canoe: Bill Reid and the Spirit of Haida Gwaii. 1995. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. Print

Reid, Bill and Robert Bringhurst. The Raven Steals the Light: Native American Tales. 1996. Boston: Shambhala. Print.

Haida Art:

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.

Wright, Robin, Diana Augaitis, Robert Davidson and James Hart. Charles Edenshaw. 2013. London: Black Dog Publishing. Print.

Bill Reid:

Duffek, Karen and Charlotte Townsend-Gault.  Bill Reid and Beyond. 2004. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. Print.

Reid, Bill. Solitary Raven: Selected Writings of Bill Reid. 2000. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. Print

Shadbolt, Doris. Bill Reid. 1989. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. Print

Steltzer, Ulli. The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: Bill Reid’s Masterpiece. 1997. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. Print

The Bill Reid Foundation. The Raven’s Call. 2010. Web.