(1920 – 1998, Haida)Acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid set the stage for the re-emergence of Haida and Northwest Coast art in the global art world. A master goldsmith, carver, sculptor, writer, and social advocate, Bill was one of Canada’s greatest treasures. Bill was born in 1920 in Victoria, British Columbia to an American father, William Ronald Reid Sr., and a Haida mother, Sophie Gladstone Reid. Sophie came from the Raven/Wolf Clan of T’anuu.
Bill’s interest in traditional Haida art was piqued while working as a broadcaster with CBC in Toronto in the early fifties. He studied jewelry making and design at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) after learning more about his Haida heritage from his maternal grandfather, who had been trained by none other than Charles Edenshaw himself. Bill continued his studies at the London School of Design, where he was trained in classic European jewelry-making. This experience led him to combine his classical training with Haida artistic traditions, and he eventually returned to British Columbia to establish a studio on Granville Island in Vancouver. In 1954, a visit to Haida Gwaii introduced Bill to a pair of bracelets that had been expertly engraved by his great-uncle, Charles Edenshaw. This experience forever changed Bill’s life, as he began to study his artistic and cultural roots in an attempt to understand and re-create the beauty and art forms of his ancestors.
Bill created more than 1,500 works over the course of his career and achieved a level of artistry that has since inspired many others to follow in his footsteps. Some of his most famous works include The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, a bronze canoe sculpture that is now housed at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. (another version is found at the Vancouver International Airport); Raven and the First Men in the UBC Museum of Anthropology; and Chief of the Undersea World located at the entrance of the Vancouver Aquarium. Bill has also created many small, impeccably detailed, and beautifully finished miniatures, including several notable pieces of jewelry.
Beyond his prodigious artistic talent, Bill’s work as a writer, storyteller, and communicator helped expand the reach of his work and teach others about Haida art and culture. His work has been recognized with many honors and awards, including being made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the Order of British Columbia. Bill was also awarded the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1994, and several honorary degrees from prominent Canadian universities. After his death from Parkinson’s disease in 1998, Bill was transported by family and friends on the Lootaas, a canoe he had carved for Expo 86, and laid to rest in his mother’s village on Tanu Island, Haida Gwaii.