media release

About Bill Reid 1920-1998

September 15, 2011

Erica Branda, SFU Advancement, 778.782.3353,
Mike Robinson, Bill Reid Gallery, 604.682.3455,
Dixon Tam, SFU PAMR, 778.782.8742, 604.417.0881 (cell),

“Well, I don’t consider myself Haida or non-Haida or white or non-white. I am a citizen of the West Coast of North America and I have availed myself of all the inheritance I got from all directions.” – Bill Reid

An acclaimed Haida master goldsmith, carver, sculptor, writer, broadcaster and spokesperson, Bill Reid was one of Canada’s greatest artists.

Reid was born to a Haida mother and a European father. While working as a broadcaster with the CBC in Toronto in the early 1950s, he studied jewelry-making at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, and later studied classic European jewelry-making at the London School of Design.

He combined European jewelry techniques with the Haida art tradition. His passion for Haida art was kindled by a visit to Haida Gwaii in 1954 where he saw a pair of bracelets masterfully engraved by the great carver and his great-uncle, Charles Edenshaw, after which, to use his own words, “the world was not the same.”

For the next 50 years, Reid embraced many art forms. He gradually explored his rich Haida cultural heritage, studying early ethnographic publications, museum collections, and surviving examples of strong works from Haida Gwaii, always trying to understand the logic behind the form.

Inspired by the deeply carved messages of the totems and the lush beauty of Haida Gwaii, Reid would go on to create many powerful sculptural masterpieces. The Raven and the First Men, (1980) a native version of the birth of mankind, Lootaas (Wave Eater) — a 15-metre war canoe carved from a single cedar log (1986), and his crowning achievement, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii (1991), showcased at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., brought him international claim.

Reid both celebrated and defended the Haida Nation, using his fame to champion their land claims. When he died in 1998, the Haida took him home, bringing his remains back to his mother’s ancestral village, Tanu, aboard Lootaas.

Reid created approximately 2,000 works over his long career, from the ‘monumentally small’ to the ‘exquisitely huge’. In addition, and perhaps of greater impact were his parallel careers as broadcaster, writer, poet, storyteller and communicator.

Reid was the pivotal force in introducing to the world the great art traditions of the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast. His legacies include infusing that tradition with modern ideas and forms of expression, influencing emerging artists, and building lasting bridges between First Nations and other peoples.

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