Toward the end of his life Reid’s face took on the magnificent qualities of the Haida art he carved so eloquently into cedar, silver and gold…
Bill Reid (1920-1998) was one of Canada’s most celebrated and accomplished contemporary artists. He has been widely acclaimed as a pivotal force in the rediscovery of the great artistic traditions of the First Nations people of the Northwest Coast.
Bill Reid with “Birth of First Men”
Reid was born in Victoria, British Columbia. His mother was a Haida from Skidegate and his father an American of Scottish-German descent. He began his career in broadcasting as a radio announcer and worked for ten years with the CBC in Toronto and Vancouver. Two experiences while he was working in Toronto proved formative to his career as an artist. He studied jewellery making at the Ryerson Institute of Technology, and became acquainted with the collection of Northwest Coast First Nations art at the Royal Ontario Museum.Of
Reid returned to the West Coast to seriously to pursue Haida imagery in both his jewellry and sculpture. His works, known for their superb craftsmanship, range from carvings in precious metals and argillite to monumental sculptures in bronze and cedar. They have been collected and exhibited all over the world. Some of his most acclaimed sculptures include The Raven and the First Men at the Museum of Anthropology, and The Spirit of Haida Gwaii (1991), castings of which are located at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Vancouver Airport Authority, and The Lord of the Undersea at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Of all the contemporary vessels created on the West Coast perhaps none has been ac culturally significant as Reid’s great canoe Lootaas (Wave Eater) now at home in Haida Gwaii.
Thanks to Bill [Reid], we … not just the Haida people, but the people up and down the coast, were able to reconnect because they had to learn their songs and their dances to welcome the Haida into their big houses. So it wasn’t just one group of people reconnecting with their past, but it was a whole coast. So it was a pretty spectacular time for us … And Bill was that vital, important connection for us in the present to our ancestors in the past.” Haida paddler Andy Wilson on Lootaas’ historic 1987 journey.
Bill Reid was the first living artist to have his work displayed in the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, in an exhibition celebrating the works of ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. Reid received many awards in his lifetime, including the Canada Council Molson Award, the Bronfman Award for Excellence in Crafts, the Vancouver Lifetime Achievement Award, the Royal Bank Award for Outstanding Canadian Achievement, and the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Lifetime Achievement. UBC awarded Bill Reid an Honorary degree in 1976 for his contribution to the cultural life of Canada.