There aren’t many artists whose work is preserved for posterity in a gallery bearing his or her name. But nearly two decades after Haida artist Bill Reid’s death, the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art remains a compelling attraction for anyone visiting Vancouver.
The “acclaimed Haida master goldsmith, carver, sculptor, writer and spokesman was one of Canada’s greatest artists,” states the gallery that bears his name. Born in Victoria, British Columbia, to a Haida mother and an American father, he became interested in his indigenous heritage “when he saw a pair of deeply carved bracelets engraved by the Master carver, jeweler and his great-great-uncle, Charles Edenshaw,” the gallery website states.
Jewelry was thus his starting point, but over the years Reid created more than 1,500 works—many of them hugely significant—and received many honorary degrees and accolades. His work has been featured on Canadian stamps as well as the $20 bill. In 2008, The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art was opened in Vancouver and displays many of his works. His art can also be seen at the Haida Heritage Centre in Haida Gwaii.
He also helped mentor the next generation of artists, brought Northwest Coast art into international reknown, and championed Haida land claims. When he died in 1998 of Parkinson’s disease, his ashes were transported to Haida Gwaii, where they rest today.
His most famous work is the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, a large sculpture showing a canoe filled to overflowing with wondrous creatures. He made two of these, one in black on display at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., and a jade-green one at Vancouver International Airport, the most-visited aboriginal art piece in North America.
Opened in May 2008, this is the only public gallery in Canada dedicated to contemporary indigenous art of the Northwest Coast, according to the gallery. If you can’t make it all the way to Vancouver, you can view some of Reid’s art virtually at The Raven’s Call, an interactive website that gives a unique view into Reid’s art and process.
“His legacies include infusing the art traditions of the Haida with modern forms of expression, influencing the next generation of artists, and building lasting bridges between First Nations and other peoples,” the gallery says.
This story was originally published February 22, 2017.