His Most Famous Sculpture – The Spirit of Haida Gwaii – Bill Reid

William Ronald Reid, or Bill Reid (1920-1998), was a multitalented Canadian artist with capabilities in painting, sculpturing, and jewelry making. He had his maternal ancestry from Haida in Pacific Northwest, which along with his artistic heritage, became the driving force in his artistic pursuits. Two great sculptures, “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Black Canoe” (1991) and “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Jade Canoe” (1994) are known to be Bill Reid’s masterworks. The 1991 sculpture is placed outside the Canadian Embassy, Washington DC and the 1994 model is displayed at the Vancouver International Airport.

“The Spirit of Haida Gwaii,” as the name suggests is an embodiment of the legacy of Haida Gwaii and its original inhabitants, the First Nations, M├ętis, and Inuit. It is a massive bronze sculpture, weighing 11,000 pounds and 20″ X 13.2″ in dimensions. Both of its versions are monochromic, with the 1991 structure in black and the 1994 structure in green. The representation is in the form of a canoe (a small boat), packed with twelve passengers, each with its own significance in the Haida mythology.

The central figure of Bill’s “The Spirit of Haida Gawaii” is a man, who, as per the Haida mythology, is a sorcerer (known as, Kilstlaai, in local dialect). His tall hat and his traditional cloak distinguish him. He is shown holding a long staff, carved upon with the Raven, the Seabear, and the Giant Blue Whale. Another significant character is the large charlatan bird, Raven, with the steering ore in its grip, signifying the unpredictability of nature (the ancient Haida civilization was highly dependent upon its natural environment). The Mouse Woman is portrayed as cringing the Raven’s body, near the foot of the Grizzly Bear, who is sitting on the fore of the canoe, but facing back towards the Raven, ‘Symbolic’ of his reminiscently looking at the past. The Bear Mother, wife of the bear in human form is featured along with her two offspring, the Good Bear (with forward pointing ears) and the Bad Bear (with backward pointing ears). She is looking ahead, as if carrying a vision for the future of her children. Other fabled characters include, the Dogfish Woman (most sought-after female figure) epitomizing her individuality, the Frog, the Eagle, Human Rower (known as the ‘Ancient Reluctant Conscript’), and the Beaver, purported to be Raven’s uncle. The figure of the Wolf is placed behind the Beaver (attacking him with its claws) and the Eagle (trying to bite its wings, despite retaliation).

The most arresting attribute of Bill Reid’s “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii” is the mastery with which the interdependence of diverse characters is highlighted. The importance of this monumental cast is evident by the placement of its two versions at some of the most prominent locations, along with its image depicting on the reverse of the Canadian currency, denominated in twenty dollars.

Annette Labedzki received her BFA at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. She has more than 25 years experience. She is the founder and developer of an online art gallery featuring original art from all over the world. It is a great site for art collectors to buy original art. Is is also a venue for artists to display and sell their art . Artists can join for free and their image upload is unlimited. Please visit the website at http://www.Labedzki-Art.com.

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