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A living legacy of Northwest Coast art

From carving his first totem pole to sharing knowledge with his final apprentice Gwaai Edenshaw, Iljuwas (Bill Reid) grew to become a true inspiration to the next generation of Northwest Coast artists. Following in his footsteps, this group of carvers, jewellers, sculptors, and painters keep his legacy alive through their beautiful work. Here’s a brief look at what he meant to them:

 

Iljuuwaas (Tyson Brown) - Haida Artist

Bill Reid played a pivotal role in re-establishing the standards set by the old masters of Haida art. These exacting artistic standards had been adversely affected by the imposition of colonial rule. On top of losing nearly ninety-five percent of our population to disease, our people were discouraged and outright banned from practicing essential aspects of our culture, which resulted in a reduced quality in our art.

During the period that followed, if it weren’t for a dedicated group of Haida artists keeping the flame alight, we might have lost the art altogether. It was from these artists that Bill Reid received his torch. And with it, he set the world on fire. Haawa (Thank you), Chinaay (Grandfather).

Jim Hart - Haida Artist (pictured above with Bill Reid in 1981)

Bill became a champion, especially to the Haida, his people. He studied Haida Art a little later in his life. Charles Edenshaw a great Haida Artist and relative became one of his obsessions. Charlie's creations, all amazing works of Haida Art set Bill to creating a large body of wonderful "Well made objects", as he would say.

Bill brought the Haida forward to the outside world with integrity.  Bill, a great ambassador, took this role seriously. He with a few other friends set about exposing the Haida along with thee other tribes of the North West Coast in an academic way to the world, their cultures and their amazing Arts. So developed, so interesting, so deep with meaning, it all comes from such an amazing background, the Super Natural's. I am really thankful that he did all of that. I really learned a lot from Ol' Bill and appreciate that to no end.

Bill Reid working with Guujaaw (Gwaai Edenshaw's father), Skidegate, 1976. Photography by Ulli Steltzer.

Gwaai Edenshaw – Haida Artist

When I was 16, Bill took me out of school to live with him and train with him. That had a huge impact and still colours my work to this day. I also trained with my dad who was influenced by Bill as well. I think we all benefit from his legacy.

The thing that I think is most remarkable about his work is his ethics towards his work. He always held preeminently the need to make quality pieces, so everything he did was finished to a very high degree.

There’s a saying of his that I always carry with me, “It’s the responsibility of the artist to well-made object, and then perhaps it will be visited by grace.”

Corrine Hunt - Master Carver, Designer & Jeweller

I think what’s really important about Bill Reid is he wasn’t one thing. He was many things. He was an artist. He was a historian. He was a quiet leader. A teacher. The gallery itself brings people to him, but exposes them to the new generation of artists that have come after him.

 

True words from a very prestigious group of Northwest Coast artists. These are just a few examples of the immense impact Bill Reid had on the art world. Learn more about his work and expand your appreciation for Northwest Coast art and culture with our Bill Reid collection.

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