Adelaide de Menil 

Old Kasaan, Alaska, 1966. Photograph by Adelaide de Menil.

Adelaide de Menil, in communication with Bill Reid, explored the Northwest Coast from Vancouver Island to Southeast Alaska in the late 1960s. What she found was a landscape of ancient villages and decaying poles. Based on what she encountered, the two artists decided to record the art of the cultures they feared were disappearing.

Adelaide de Menil captured on film the extent and power of the old village sites. Reid expressed in words the feelings evoked by those great and ancient sculptures. Their work was published in the volume Out of the Silence (1971). Adelaide de Menil has travelled all over the world, photographing people and their artworks. With her late husband Ted Carpenter, she has gathered one of the most important private collections of Northwest Coast art in the world. In 2010, she generously gave to the Bill Reid Centre her large archive of Northwest Coast photographs. These images are a part of the Dr. George and Joanne MacDonald Research Archive.  

Humanoid face on totem pole, Gitsegukla, 1967. Photograph by Adelaide de Menil.
Welcome figure at Gwa'yi, 1967. Photograph by Adelaide de Menil.

Ms. de Menil aimed to capture images of poles and houses in a way that had not been done before, primarily she was interested in photographing poles and houses that were still standing in their original locations, not those that had been moved to museums or parks. She wanted to show the intracacies of each subject and its relation with the people and landscape, while visually recording the skills of the artists whose work was displayed. In many of her photos there is an interesting juxtaposition between the ancient poles and the modern towns that have developed, oftentimes growing around these cherished pieces of monumental architecture. Not long after she visited these villages, some of which had already been abandoned for decades, many of the carved poles and houses returned to the earth.