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.

Beyond Haida 1968-1998

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

Photo: Lootaas” (“Wave Eater”) Canoe

Bill Reid
"Lootaas "("Wave Eater") Canoe
Red cedar, polychrome
15 m L
Collection of the Skidegate Museum
Courtesy of the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay
Photo: Reinhard Derreth

Photo: Large bronze sculpture of Haida canoe with human, mythic  and animal passengers

Bill Reid
"The Spirit of Haida Gwaii" ("The Black Canoe")
Bronze with black patina
3.89 m H x 3.48 m W x 6.05 m L
Collection of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT)
Catalogue number 994.98.1
Gift of Nabisco Brands Limited, Toronto, Ontario
Photo: Glen Bullard, DFAIT

Photo: Bronze sculpture of Haida canoe with human and animal passengers

Bill Reid
"The Spirit of Haida Gwaii" ("The Jade Canoe")
Bronze with jade patina, the second and final bronze casting
3.89 m H x 3.48 m W x 6.05 m L
Collection of the Vancouver International Airport Authority
Photo: Kenji Nagai

In 1986 Reid and his assistants carved “Lootaas” (“Wave Eater”), a 15-metre-long Haida canoe, out of a 750-year-old red cedar log. It was displayed at the world’s fair, Expo 86, in Vancouver. In 1987, a team of Haida paddlers paddled “Lootaas” 1,000 km up the BC coast and across Hecate Strait. That was the first long ocean canoe voyage by the Haida in more than a century. In 1989, to help celebrate the bicentennial or 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, Reid and his Haida crew paddled “Lootaas” up the Seine River in Paris.

In 1991, after five years of work, Reid and his crew of assistants completed the large bronze “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” (“The Black Canoe”) and installed it in a reflecting pool at the Canadian Chancery in Washington D.C. Its black patina represents the black argillite slate carved by the Haida people. A second casting with a green patina (“The Jade Canoe”) is installed at the Vancouver International Airport. An image of “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” was chosen to represent Canadian art and culture on the Canadian twenty-dollar banknote.

Most of Bill Reid’s large carvings and bronzes were done after he had developed Parkinson’s disease, demonstrating that his strong spirit could overcome his physical limitations. During his long creative journey, Bill Reid discovered the essence and rules of Haida art, so that other artists have been able to create many beautiful pieces that have their roots in the Haida tradition. His journey of rediscovery helped restore much of the dynamic power, magic, and possibility to an art form that had nearly died. Along the way, Reid discovered his own identity or “Haida-ness” and became a catalyst for the Haida and other Northwest Coast First Nations to rediscover their own art and power.