Bill Reid's Art

A guided journey

Take a guided journey through Bill Reid’s artistic career in these three illustrated essays by Dr. Martine Reid.

Pre-Haida 1948-1951

By Dr. Martine Reid, independent scholar, author, curator.

Photo: Bill Reid age 3 years with his grandfather Charles Gladstone, c. 1923

Bill Reid, age 3, with Charles Gladstone (1878-1954), his grandfather
Skidegate, Haida Gwaii
c. 1923
Courtesy Bill Reid Estate
© Bill Reid Estate

As a young man of 28, Bill Reid was bored working as a radio announcer, so he enrolled in a jewelry course at Ryerson Institute of Technology, in Toronto, thinking he would like to make jewelry like his Haida grandfather, Charles Gladstone.

At Ryerson he learned traditional jewelry making -- a difficult, demanding and ancient craft. He learned that to master the craft he needed mechanical skills, creativity, and the ability to envision objects in three dimensions.

He found inspiration in magazines such as California Arts and Architecture and Craft Horizons, where he looked for examples of modern jewelry and industrial designs from Scandinavia and the United States.

After attending Ryerson for two years, he apprenticed in a platinum and diamond workshop for a year and a half.

During his apprenticeship, Reid learned to build his own workbench, then to craft and sharpen his own tools. He mastered the many techniques needed by a goldsmith, such as soldering, drilling, raising and embossing, chasing and engraving, stretching and thinning, cutting and shaping, filing and bending, chipping and clipping, setting, turning and polishing.

VIDEO: Bill Reid at workbench, executing repoussé technique on a gold bracelet (2:24, c. 1986)
Courtesy Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,
CBC Archives

Flash Player 10 and Javascript are required to view the video. The transcript is below.

Video transcript

Most of the time Bill Reid works in 22-carat gold – a gold and copper alloy whose colour and softness he finds ‘just right.’

Once he’s got the gold piece bent and curved the way he wants it, he can start giving the design its three dimensional quality. This he does with a technique called repoussé.

First the piece of gold is firmly attached to a bed of pitch. This holds it in place and gives it a backing firm enough for support but soft enough to allow the gold’s inner surface to be indented with pressure.

Hammering from this side causes parts of the figure to be raised on the bracelet’s outer surface, And later, hammering from the other side, will push part of that raised design back down again. Push, and re-push – repoussé.

And when all the work is done, it’s magnificent.

He became skilled in wirework and repoussé. In the repoussé technique, a surface is ornamented with designs in relief hammered out from the back by hand. More importantly, as he developed and strengthened his hand-eye coordination, he learned procedures and processes, solved space and design problems and explored the concept of articulated moving pieces.

He became skilled in wirework and repoussé. In the repoussé technique, a surface is ornamented with designs in relief hammered out from the back by hand. More importantly, as he developed and strengthened his hand-eye coordination, he learned procedures and processes, solved space and design problems and explored the concept of articulated moving pieces.

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