Emerging out of a courtyard in downtown Vancouver is a hidden gem of a gallery with large skylights framed by terracotta archways; just some of the remaining architectural features of what was once a nursing college. The Bill Reid Gallery at 639 Hornby Street is Canada’s only public gallery dedicated to contemporary Indigenous Art of the Northwest Coast.
Bill Reid is one of Canada’s best-known and most highly celebrated indigenous artists. He was born in 1920 in Victoria, British Columbia to a Haida mother and American father of Scottish-German roots. Reid worked in many mediums including intricate jewelry, large-scale carving, printmaking, and sculpture. One of his largest and most famous sculptures, The Jade Canoe, is enjoyed by travellers from all over the world at the Vancouver Airport’s international terminal. Reid was a prolific artist, creating more than 1500 works in his lifetime. He had a huge influence on the re-birth and growth of interest in Haida and other indigenous artworks in Canada.
Reid was born on January 12, 1920, and died March 13, 1998. To commemorate what would have been his 100thbirthday, the Bill Reid Gallery is hosting a special exhibition titled To Speak with a Golden Voice that will contain rarely seen works by the artist. The pieces will be on loan for the exhibition from private collections and other galleries across North America. Guest curator for the exhibit, Gwaii Edenshaw, is an artist and community leader considered to be Reid’s last apprentice. The gallery says “Edenshaw’s unique and personal perspective will provide an insightful look at the complexities of Bill Reid’s life and legacy.” And that “Edenshaw will highlight how Reid inspired and shaped Northwest Coast art through four overarching themes: voice, process, lineage, and relationships.” The name for the exhibit is taken from Reid’s Haida name Kihlguulins “Golden Voice”. The exhibit is set to run from April 21 – October 4, 2020.
There will also be a Bill Reid anniversary celebration weekend at the gallery on June 27thand 28th, with performances, demonstrations, birthday cake, and more, funded through the Canadian Heritage Anniversary Program.
The Bill Reid Gallery was established in 2008 by the Bill Reid Foundation to celebrate the iconic artist as well as the diverse cultures of the Northwest Coast. Many of Reid’s works are on permanent display as part of the Bill Reid Simon Fraser University Art Collection, including another massive sculpture, Mythic Messengers. Visitors can also view his exquisite jewelry, prints, and other sculptures.
Reid was more than an artist, he was also a community activist, writer, and mentor. His first career was as a broadcaster for CBC Radio, starting out in Kelowna, BC and later in Toronto, Ontario. While in Toronto, Reid studied jewelry making at the Ryerson Institute of Technology. He was trained in the classic European style and hoped to use that knowledge to create bracelets such as those made by his grandfather Charles Gladstone and other Haida relatives. When he returned to British Columbia to establish himself as a modern jeweler he made a visit to Haida Gwaii where he met more family members. While there he saw a pair of deeply carved bracelets engraved by his great-great-uncle, Charles Edenshaw, which changed Reid’s focus from that point on. He was greatly influenced by Edenshaw and this led Reid to research early Haida works with a desire to bring the Haida style back. He immersed himself into the traditional art and helped to build bridges between indigenous peoples and other peoples in Canada.
Reid received many honours in his lifetime, including the Order of British Columbia and The National Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement Award. Four of Reid’s artworks were also featured on the Canadian $20 bill in 2004.
To find out more about the artist Bill Reid, visit www.billreidgallery.ca.
Story by Linda Rae for West Coast Curated