Take a guided journey through Bill Reid’s artistic career in these three illustrated essays by Dr. Martine Reid.
By Dr. Martine Reid, independent scholar, author, curator.
In London Reid refined his skills and techniques. More particularly, he learned the ancient technique of casting gold by the lost wax process. No longer would he have to construct hollow pieces by soldering small pieces of gold together. He could now carve a wax model, coat it with a hard plaster, make a mold, melt out the wax, and pour molten gold into the mold. Then he could break away the mold and finish the gold piece by hand. He would use that technique for many later projects in his third phase of work regardless of the materials -- gold, silver, or bronze.
In 1969, he settled in Montreal for three years where he completed an intricate gold and diamond necklace that he titled “The Milky Way.” He also created his famous “The Raven and the First Men” carving in boxwood which he would later cast in gold, and which he would later enlarge into the large yellow cedar raven displayed at the Museum of Anthropology and featured on the Canadian twenty-dollar banknote.
Sadly, he was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which would limit his physical movements in the later period of his life. He returned to Vancouver in 1973 where he lived and worked until his death in 1998.
The Haida and other Northwest Coast peoples make masks that open up to transform from one creature to another when the dancer wearing the mask pulls strings. The mask represents two creatures that share the same space at the same time; a concept unique to the Northwest Coast. “The Milky Way” gold and diamond necklace appears to be very modern, but it too is really two necklaces that occupy the same space at the same time. One is constructed of irregular three-dimensional pyramids -- little volcanoes with a diamond in their center -- and the other is made from gold wire. A brooch can be removed from the centre of the necklace and worn separately, so “The Milky Way” is really made of three pieces occupying the same space.
Reid’s work became more complex and more three-dimensional in his later years. He made several gold repoussé bracelets, three-dimensional hollowware pieces, lost-wax pieces, and inlaid pieces of jewelry that were indeed deeply carved.