Published on June 22, 2012 by Amy
William (Bill) Ronald Reid, OBC (12 January 1920 – 13 March 1998) was a Canadian artist whose works included jewelry, sculpture, screen-printing, and painting. His work is featured on the Canadian $20 banknote.
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Reid was born in Victoria, British Columbia to an American father William Ronald Reid of Scottish-German descent and a mother, Sophie Gladstone Reid, from the Kaadaas gaah Kiiguwaay, Raven/Wolf Clan of T’anuu, or more commonly known as the Haida, one of the First Nations of the Pacific coast. He developed a keen interest in Haida art while working as a radio announcer in Toronto for CBC Radio, where he also studied jewelry making at the Ryerson Institute of Technology, having first learnt about his heritage from his maternal grandfather, who had himself been trained by Charles Edenshaw, a Haida artist of great renown.
In 1951, he returned to Vancouver where he eventually established a studio on Granville Island, and became greatly interested in the works of Edenshaw, working to understand the symbolism of his work, much of which had been lost along with the many Haida traditions. During this time he also worked on salvaging artifacts, including many intricately carved totem poles which were then moldering in abandoned village sites, and aided in the partial reconstruction of a village in the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology.
Working in the traditional forms and modern media (usually gold, silver and argillite), he began by making jewelry before branching into larger sculptures in bronze, red cedar and Nootka Cypress (yellow cedar) usually portraying figures, animals, and scenes from folklore, which was meant to bring his ancestors visual traditions into a contemporary form.
Major Works and Awards
His most popular works are three large bronze sculptures, two depicting a canoe filled with human and animal figures: one black, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, at the Canadian Embassy, Washington, D.C., in the United States; and one green, The Jade Canoe, at Vancouver International Airport, in British Columbia; and the third, Chief of the Undersea World, depicting a breaching orca, at the Vancouver Aquarium. Plaster casts of these sculptures exist at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, Canada.
Reid received many honours in his life, including honorary degrees from the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, the University of Victoria, the University of Western Ontario, York University, and Trent University. He received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1994, and was made a member of the Order of British Columbia and an Officer of France’s Order of Arts and Letters.
Two of his sculptures, Raven and the First Men and The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, are prominently featured on the $20 note in the Bank of Canada’s new Canadian Journey (2004) issue paired with a quotation from author Gabrielle Roy.
He participated in the blockades of logging roads which helped save the rain forests of Gwaii Haanas (South Moresby); he also stopped work on the sculpture in Washington during this period to protest the destruction of the forests of Haida Gwaii.
Having dedicated the later part of his life to the creation of new works and these tasks of curation, Reid died on 13 March 1998, of Parkinson’s disease, in Vancouver. In July 1998 friends and relatives paddled Lootaas, a large cedar canoe carved by Reid for Expo 86, on a two-day journey along the Pacific coast to bring his ashes to Tanu Island in Haida Gwaii, the site of his mother’s village.