REID, Bill (1920-1998)




Author Tags: Aboriginal Authors, Art, Essentials 2010

"The Haida live their lives, I live mine." -- Bill Reid

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Among the dozens of B.C. artists who have published books, irascible Bill Reid is surely the most culturally significant. Reid’s mother Sophie was a Haida from Skidegate and his father Billy Reid was a naturalized Canadian of Scottish and German ancestry. They were married in 1919 but soon estranged. Born in 1920, Reid grew up in Victoria, where he and his sister Peggy were raised by their mother. He also spent some time in the Alaska border town of Hyder where his father owned and operated several hotels. Reid never saw his father after age thirteen. In 1943, Reid visited his mother’s hometown of Skidegate where he watched his maternal grandfather, Charles Gladstone, using silver and argillite to produce traditional Haida motifs. Gladstone had learned his craftsmanship from his uncle Charles Edenshaw.

Having moved to Toronto in 1948 to work for CBC Radio as a scriptwriter, Reid noticed an advertisement for classes in making jewelry at the Ryerson Institute of Technology. His subsequent training in making silver and gold jewelry and engraving led him to a greater interest in Haida art.

Reid returned to Vancouver in 1951 and opened a small jewelry workshop in a basement. His sideline career as an artist received a boost in 1957 when B.C. Provincial Museum curator Wilson Duff introduced him to carver Mungo Martin who, in turn, introduced him to wood carving. Under Martin’s direction, Bill Reid carved his first totem pole in 1957, but Reid later claimed Martin was not his mentor.

Bill Reid quit the CBC and worked with Kwakwaka’wakw carver Doug Cranmer (who had been staying at Mungo Martin’s house in Victoria) from 1958 to 1962, helping to construct a portion of a Haida village at UBC, at the invitation of Harry Hawthorn, and also repairing totem poles in Stanley Park. He later trained at the Central School of Art and Design in London and accepted a commission for Expo ‘67 in Montreal. He carved a 78-foot red cedar totem for the Skidegate Band office in 1978. His best-known works include his jade sculpture, Spirit of Haida Gwaii, a pair of 19-foot canoes, one at the Vancouver International Airport and the other at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.; Lord of the Under Sea, a killer whale at the Vancouver Public Aquarium; Raven and the First Men, a 4.5-ton yellow cedar sculpture at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology; and Lootaas, the Haida-style canoe that was commissioned for Expo ’86. In 1995, he was paid $3 million by the Vancouver International Airport Authority for his second version of the Spirit of Haida Gwaii. Reid received honorary degrees from six universities and lived mainly in cities. He once remarked, ascerbically, “The Haida live their lives, I live mine.”

As an author, Reid collaborated with Bill Holm for Indian Art of the Northwest Coast: A Dialogue on Craftsmanship and Aesthetics (1975) and with Robert Bringhurst for Raven Steals the Light (1984). Other Reid titles are Out of the Silence (1971) and All the Gallant Beasts and Monsters (1992). Solitary Raven: Selected Writings of Bill Reid (2001) reveals he was a refined social, artistic and spiritual commentator. He died in 1998 after a 30-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease. An eight-hour memorial gathering at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology attracted approximately one thousand people. At Reid’s request, his ashes were interred at T’annu, a deserted village near Skidegate, where his grandmother was born.

In 2004, the Bank of Canada issued 25 million new $20 bank notes that feature four works by Reid, including Raven and the First Men.


FULL ENTRY:

Although Bill (William Ronald) Reid co-wrote books with Robert Bringhurst, he is primarily known as one of North America’s foremost Aboriginal carvers. In 1995 he was paid $3 million by the Vancouver International Airport Authority for a second version of the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the jade sculpture that resides at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Bill Reid’s mother Sophie was a Haida from Skidegate and his father Billy Reid was a naturalized Canadian of Scottish and German ancestry. They were married in 1919 and soon estranged. Reid was born on January 12, 1920, and grew up in Victoria with his sister Peggy. Raised by his mother, he also spent some time in the Alaska border town of Hyder where his father owned and operated several hotels. After age thirteen, Bill Reid never saw his father again.

In 1943, Reid visited his mother’s hometown of Skidegate where he watched his maternal grandfather, Charles Gladstone, using silver and argillite to produce traditional Haida motifs. Gladstone had learned his craftsmanship from his uncle Charles Edenshaw (1839–1920), one of the greatest of Haida carvers.

Bill Reid began his first career as a radio broadcaster at CBC at age eighteen. Having moved to Toronto in 1948 to work for radio as a scriptwriter, he noticed an advertisement for classes in making jewelry at the Ryerson Institute of Technology. His subsequent training in making silver and gold jewelry and engraving led him to a greater interest in Haida art, particularly the work of Charles Edenshaw, whose sister was his great-grandmother.

Reid returned to Vancouver in 1951 and opened a small jewellery workshop in a basement. His sideline career as an artist received a boost in 1957 when Provincial Museum curator Wilson Duff introduced him to carver Mungo Martin who, in turn, introduced him to wood carving. Under Martin’s direction, Bill Reid carved his first totem pole in 1957, but Reid later claimed Martin was not his mentor.

Bill Reid quit the CBC and worked with Kwakiutl carver Doug Cranmer (who had been staying at Mungo Martin’s house in Victoria) from 1958 to 1962 helping to construct a portion of a Haida village at UBC, at the invitation of Harry Hawthorn, and also repairing totem poles in Stanley Park. He later trained at the Central School of Art and Design in London and accepted a commission for Expo ’67 in Montreal. He carved a 78-foot red cedar totem for the Skidegate Band office in 1978.

Bill Reid gained increasingly prestigious and lucrative commissions and received honorary degrees from six universities. His best-known works include the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, a pair of 19-foot canoes, one at the Vancouver International Airport and the other at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.; the Lord of the Under Sea, a killer whale at the Vancouver Public Aquarium; Raven and the First Men, a 4.5-ton yellow cedar sculpture at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology; and Lootaas, the Haida-style canoe that was commissioned for Expo ’86.

Having contributed to the coffee table book Islands at the Edge (1984), Reid made an unexpected appearance at the first BC Book Prizes gala in 1985, accepting the Roderick Haig-Brown Book Prize and reminding the audience of the ravages of white civilization, calling it “the worst plague of locusts.”

Bill Reid’s first career as a radio announcer and scriptwriter fostered a lifelong appreciation of books and writing. Solitary Raven: The Collected Writings of Bill Reid (2001) reveals him as a prolific social, artistic and spiritual commentator. He provided illustrations for several books and collaborated with Bill Holm for Indian Art on the Northwest Coast: A Dialogue on Craftsmanship and Aesthetics (1975) and with Robert Bringhurst for Raven Steals the Light (1984). Reid’s books also include Out of the Silence (1971) and All the Gallant Beasts and Monsters (1992).

Bill Reid died on March 13, 1998 after a 30-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease. An eight-hour memorial gathering at the University of British Columbia attracted one thousand people. As Reid had requested, his ashes were interred at T’annu, a deserted village near Skidegate, where his grandmother was born.

There have been numerous critical and appreciative studies of his work including Maria Tippett’s biography Bill Reid, Becoming an Indian, a controversial work that removed some of the scales from the eyes of those who have sought to deify Reid. On September 29, 2004, the Bank of Canada issued 25 million new $20 bank notes that feature four works by Reid, including Raven and the First Men.

[PHOTO OF BILL REID MAKING HIS SPEECH AT THE FIRST BC BOOK PRIZES, 1985]

[Some of the other B.C. artists who have published books include Allister, William; Amos, Robert; Bantock, Nick; Bateman, Robert; Caetani, Sveva; Chow, Raymond; Croft, Philip; Davidson, Robert; Douglas, Stan; Evans, Carol; Falk, Gathie; Griffiths, Bus; Harrison, Ted; Hirnschall, Helmut; Holmes, Rand; Hughes, E.J.; Jungen, Brian; Kane, Paul; Kluckner, Michael; Koerner, John; Lukacs, Attila Richard; Odjig, Daphne; Onley, Toni; Pavelic, Myfanwy; Plaskett, Joe; Point, Susan; Regehr, Duncan; Sandwyk, Charles van; Seaweed, Willie; Shadbolt, Jack; Tanabe, Tak; Tetrault, Richard; Thornton, Mildred Valley; Varley, F.H.; Vickers, Roy Henry; Wall, Jeff; Wallace, Ian; Yu, Mei.] @2010.

BOOKS:

Solitary Raven: The Collected Writings of Bill Reid. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2001.

All the Gallant Beasts and Monsters. Vancouver: Buschlen-Mowatt, 1992.

The Raven Steals the Light. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1984. With Robert Bringhurst.

Form and Freedom: A Dialogue on Northwest Coast Indian Art. Houston: Rice University Institute for the Arts, 1975. With Bill Holm.

Out of the Silence (New York: Harper & Row, Toronto: New Press, 1971). With Adelaide de Menil.

ABOUT BILL REID

Duffek, Karen and Charlotte Townsend-Gault (editors). Bill Reid and Beyond: Expanding on Modern Native Art (D&M 2004).

Tippett, Maria. Bill Reid: The Making of an Indian. Toronto: Random House, 2003

Bringhurst, Robert. The Black Canoe: Bill Reid and The Spirit of Haida Gwaii. Photos by Ulli Steltzer. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1991.

Duffek, Karen. Bill Reid: Beyond the Essential Form. UBC Museum of Anthropology Note no. 19. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1986.

Shadbolt, Doris. Bill Reid. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1986.

[BCBW 2010]