Gordon Miller Collection

Reconstruction Artwork of SGang Gwaay by Gordon Miller

In 1981 a collaboration formed between the Vancouver artist and museum designer Gordon Miller and George MacDonald who had mapped twenty villages on Haida Gwaii and published a book of historic photos of each village (Haida Monumental Art). Miller’s paintings gave exceptional life to each village scene through the addition of colour and of people engaged in a range of activities. 

The first collaboration was for a large painting of the village of SGang Gwaay which captured the entire village in one panorama with striking detail of the houses and crest poles. No historic photo had the scope of the painting. It lead to further paintings as well as pen and ink drawings of the village from various perspectives. Together, they present a vivid insight as to what living in that village at the extreme end of the archipelligo would have been like.

The works of art portrayed on this page are displayed with permission from the artist and are © Gordon Miller.

Plate 1. Preliminary drawing of poles and houses at SGang Gwaay during low tide in the mid 1800s.

Plate 2. Full colour painting of the village with the island for shaman graves in the foreground.

Plate 3. Thunder Rolls Upon It House (House #3) and Grease House (House #4) stand in the back row, and the frontal pole of People Think of this House Even When They Sleep Because the Master Feeds Everyone Who Calls (House #1) is in the front row.

Plate 4. Houses 5 through 8 at the east end of the village.

Houses 1 through 6 were those most affected by the fires that were started during the Heiltsuk raid in the 1800's.

Plate 5. The large house in the centre, People Wish to be There House (House #10) is depicted with its frontal pole and memorial pole.

To its left is a small, unnamed house (House #9) with frontal and memorial poles in front and a small mortuary house and pole in the rear.

Plate 6. A pen and ink drawing depicting a line of mortuary and memorial poles in front of houses 15 and 16.

The bear manda (15MA) is sitting at the base of the poles, and frontal pole 16 is in the background on the right.

Plate 7. Mountain House (House #12) with its frontal pole and mortuary post (12X) with halibut flakes drying on the rack near the beach.

The frontal pole is now in the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

Plate 8. View of SGang Gwaay village from the eastern end with the sea grizzly mortuary (15X1) in the foreground and frontal pole of House #14 to the left. Three elders are shown sitting along the front of the house.

Plate 9. Reconstruction drawing of a mortuary post 2X1 which was badly burned during a raid on the village by the Heiltsuk in the mid-1800s.

Plate 10. Pen and ink drawing showing the interior of the Raven House (House #17). This reconstruction shows the interior pole in place inside the house. The pole now stands in the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

Plate 11. Dawn at SGang Gwaay with a youth undergoing hardship training by washing in cold ocean water.


Plate 12. Houses and mortuary posts in the east end of SGang Gwaay facing the beach with rain clouds coming in behind from the Pacific.

This end of the village was badly burned by fire during a Heiltsuk raid.


Plate 13. Two mortuary posts, 11X and 10X, shown with traces of the crest painted on the front plaque.

Plate 14. Painted prows of chiefs canoes pulled up between mortuary posts 8X and 9X in the centre of SGang Gwaay village.

Plate 15. Panorama of SGang Gwaay village of the western end showing the canoes covered in rush mats to keep them from splitting in the sunlight.

Plate 16. Poles and houses in the centre of SGang Gwaay showing the density of carved and painted monuments.

Mortuary 8X is shown in the centre foreground with People Wish to be There House (House #10) directly behind it.

Plate 17. Raven, the trickster bird, sits on a decorated chief’s canoe prow at the west end of SGang Gwaay village and watches for food brought in by the tide.

Plate 18. A mortuary with a double-finned killer whale (7X1), and a mortuary with a beaver with potlatch rings stands behind it (7X2). The frontal pole of House #8 stands in the distance.

Plate 19. The social life of the village took place on the beach during good weather.

Plate 20. Detail of the large ocean going canoes of the Haida pointed seaward for quick response during a raid.

Plate 21. Small group of people on the beach meet a returning fishing party.

The works of art portrayed on this page are displayed with permission from the artist and are © Gordon Miller.