Who was Bill Reid?

Bill Reid's journey


Photo: Section of Bill Reid's “Mythic Messengers” bronze frieze

Bill Reid
"Mythic Messengers" (detail)
Bronze frieze
8.5 m x 1.2 m x 45.7 cm
Bill Reid Foundation Collection, BRFC#114
Gift of BCE, Inc.
Photo: Trifon Marchovski

Photo: Bill Reid wearing Chilkat blanket at launch of his “Red Raven Canoe” 1987

Bill Reid at the launch of "Red Raven Canoe"
Granville Island, False Creek
Vancouver, BC
Photographer unknown

Photo:  Bill Reid's “Lootaas” canoe being moved into the Musée de l'Homme, Paris, 1989

"Lootaas" entering the Musée de l'Homme, Paris, 1989
Place de Chaillot, Paris, France
Work shown:
"Lootaas"("Wave Eater") canoe
Red cedar, polychrome
15 m L
Courtesy of the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay
Photo: Carey Linde

Photo: Bill Reid with his Bear Sculpture at the Musée de l'Homme, Paris, France c. 1966

Bill Reid and Bear Sculpture
Musée de l'Homme, Paris, France
Work shown:
Bear Sculpture
c. 1966
Red cedar, polychrome
1.6 m H x 1.3 m W x 2.1 m L
Collection of the UBC Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, Canada
MOA #2116/1, A50045
Gift of Walter C. Koerner
Photo: Dr. Martine Reid

1980: (age 60)
He completed the large yellow cedar sculpture “The Raven and the First Men,” for the UBC Museum of Anthropology, based on the small boxwood carving he made in Montreal in 1970.

1981-1983: (age 61-63)
Important life events for Bill Reid in the eighties included the death of his adopted son, Raymond Cross, the death of his mother, Sophie Gladstone, and in 1981, marriage to Martine de Widerspach-Thor, whom he had met in 1975.

In 1983, he created the drawings for George MacDonald’s book Haida Monumental Art (1983).

1984-1985: (age 64-65)
Reid maintained a lively studio on Granville Island for several years where he had frequent visitors.

In 1984, he completed a retelling of Haida stories with poet Robert Bringhurst and 10 pencil drawings to illustrate them, for their book The Raven Steals the Light (1984).

Reid undertook and completed the large bronze sculpture, “Chief of the Undersea World,” for the Vancouver Aquarium, the red cedar sculpture, “Phyllidula -- The Shape of Frogs to Come,” purchased by the Vancouver Art Gallery, and a 5.5-metre red cedar dugout canoe now at the UBC Museum of Anthropology.

Also in 1984, he completed the 20 metre bronze frieze, “Mythic Messengers,” which had been commissioned by Teleglobe Canada, and later owned by BCE, Inc. In 2008, it was installed in the Audain Great Hall at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, in Vancouver, after having been gifted to the Bill Reid Foundation by BCE, Inc. A second casting was commissioned by the Canadian Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa, where it has been on display since 1985.

1985-1986: (age 65-66)
Reid completed the 15-metre red cedar dugout canoe, “Lootaas” (“Wave Eater”).

Commissioned by the Bank of BC, for Expo 86 in Vancouver, “Lootaas” was carved in Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, with a team of Haida assistants. “Lootaas” is owned by the Haida people and is kept at the Kaay Centre where it is used regularly for ceremonies and special occasions.

In 1985, when the Parliament of Canada amended the Indian Act to allow so-called "non-status Indians" to become legal members of Canada's First Nations, Reid applied for legal Indian status (and received it in 1988).

Bill Reid became heavily involved, as a fund-raiser and advocate, in the Haida campaign to halt the clear-cut logging of Gwaii Haanas (South Moresby) in southern Haida Gwaii. He participated in blockades of logging roads and at one point stopped work on “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii,” the very sculpture destined to represent Canada in the US, to protest the destruction of the forests of Haida Gwaii.

At different times throughout his life, Bill Reid spoke about questions of identity. In 1985, in a five-page statement he delivered before the Wilderness Advisory Committee that had been appointed by the BC Minister for the Environment, in Vancouver, BC, regarding the preservation of South Moresby, he said, “I have spent most of my life with a feeling of identity with the Haida people—always, of course, at a safe distance in some urban location.”

A portion of his statement was published in Shadbolt, 1986: 177-179.

In 1986, Bill Reid was given the name Yaahl Sghwaansing (“The Only Raven”) by Florence Davidson.

1989: (age 69)
In 1989, at the invitation of the Musée de l’Homme, in Paris, France, Bill Reid and a group of Haida paddled up the Seine River in “Lootaas” to celebrate the exhibition “Les Amériques de Claude Lévi-Strauss.” The goal was to exhibit Haida art as a living art form. Reid was the first living artist to be exhibited in this museum.

He completed “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” (“The Black Canoe”), the 5,000 kg bronze sculpture for the Canadian Embassy, Washington, DC, with his Vancouver assistants, and its twin casting “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” (“The Jade Canoe”), installed at the Vancouver international Airport in 1996.