Raven and the First Men

carved by Bill Reid

This is a scan I did of a picture that I took of the Raven and the First Men carving which is on display at the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology in October of 1994. It was carved by Bill Reid (1920-1998), a Haida artist.

This carving of Raven was carved by Bill Reid with the assistance of other artists out of a laminated block of Yellow Cedar. It was featured on the Canadian $20 Bill for a time. Carving started in the fall of 1978 and it was dedicated on April 1, 1980. It portrays the story of how Raven coaxed the first men out of a giant clam shell he found on the beach. It was a great joy to me that the carver paid a visit to his masterpiece while while I was viewing it at the the museum. Bill Reid passed away on March 12th, 1998 and was laid to rest at Tanu in the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Other notable large scale sculpture work he has done includes the bronze Killer Whale Sculpture at the Vancouver Aquarium, Reid's lively bronze frieze: Mythic Messengers which was commissioned for Teleglobe Canada's International Centre in Burnaby, B.C., and the Black Canoe Sculpture: The Spirit of Haida Gwaii - the original is located at the Vancouver International Airport with a copy at The Canadian Museum of History's Grand Hall. For more on these sculptures vistit the Bill Reid FoundationPages. Canada created a postage stamp of The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, and for a while pictured it on the back of the Canadian $20 bill. His Red Cedar Farewell Screen /a> can be seen in The Royal BC Museum in Victoria, BC. A number of his Poles can be seen at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, BC.

Online Profiles concerning Bill Reid and his work:

Books illustrated by Bill Reid or about him and his art works include:

Bill Reid held honorary doctoral degrees from Trent University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, the University of Victoria, the University of Western Ontario and York University. He was the recipient of many awards, among them the Canada Councilís Molson Award (1976), the Bronfman Award for Excellence in Crafts (1986), the Vancouver Lifetime Achievement Award (1988), the Royal Bank Award (1990) for outstanding Canadian achievement, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Lifetime Achievement (1994) and the Bill Mason Award (1998) from the Canadian River Heritage Society. He received both the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada.



From eye WEEKLY - November 18 1993 - Toronto's arts newspaper Bill Reid was brought up in Victoria, B.C.Reid is half-Haida by birth, but an urban intellectual by upbringing, who spent the first half of his career working for CBC-Radio in Toronto. In the early '50s, he took a jewelry-making course at Ryerson that changed his life: he remembered the tribal silver bracelets worn by his mother and crafted by his maternal grandfather, a boat-builder turned silversmith.

He also visited the Royal Ontario Museum, and was blown away by the ceremonial pole in the old building's stairwell which came from Tanu, his mother's ancestral village in the Queen Charlotte Islands. He began to stalk the museums, hunting down traditional Haida carving.

Forty years later, he and the Kwakiutl artist Mungo Martin are enshrined as this century's most famous practitioners of the old coastal forms. Still, Reid is no museum piece (though his monumental and commission work goes for prices that only institutions can contemplate). His work is closer in many ways to the speculative, cross-media productions of contemporaries such as FastwĀrms or Haida painter Lawrence Paul than to the folkloric purism of the carvings and bric-a-brac produced for the corporate/tourist/export market that so successfully ensnares the Europeans (especially Germans).

But let it be acknowledged: Reid began by producing objects for the curio industry. His career trajectory was the opposite to his grandfather's: from gold and silversmithing he progressed to woodcarvings and bronzes on a monumental scale. In his first solo Toronto exhibition, both phases of the work are on view, the macro- and the microcosmic.

Even in the smallest pieces of gold jewelry, a necklace of linked "frogs of the future" or bear-head pendant with inlaid abalone eyes and tongue, a captivating 2-D design sense carries the eye across the object's fluid contours. Reid has assimilated the formal vocabulary sufficiently that he can stretch it.

Viewers will recognize in the 11-cm Gold Killer Whale and 7-cm The Raven And The First Men prototypes for their monumental bronze and wood counterparts, in Vancouver at the Aquarium and the Museum of Anthropology. The bronze and silver bear-heads are weighty objects that fit snugly into the palm of your hand - tactile anti-anxiety talismans.

Reid's lively bronze frieze "Mythic Messengers" (1984)was commissioned for Teleglobe Canada's international centre in Burnaby, B.C. (with a duplicate installed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization). There are two monumental bronze heads depicting a woman with a protuberant tongue, one inside the gallery, the other outdoors on Hazelton Ave. And there are a series of cotton banners, silk-screened in black and red, that quote the flags traditionally used during potlatch (a ritual gift-giving ceremony common to all the Northwest Coast natives).

Reid is a hybrid artist whose project is the extension of an ancient and brilliant artform. What the Pacific Coast artists had in common with their Western European colleagues in the pictorial arts was the ability to translate a complex, interconnected world of symbols into two-dimensional design, which could then be applied to every man-made surface or human artifact.

Having learned the form, Reid is dancing it into territories other than the historical and anthropological. His work combines a powerful material sense with an inventive graphic, qualities that give the contemporary art audience access to it. And it presents a template for narrative, visual art, something artists now can learn from.

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