Obituary: Bill Reid

BILL REID was one of Canada's greatest contemporary sculptors. Descended from the Haida people of northern British Columbia, he was, more than anyone, responsible for the revitalisation of Haida carving in the last 40 years.

With the anthropologists and curators Wilson Duff and Bill Holm, he relearnt the expressive qualities of Haida art, particularly the formalised, sculptural style dependent on the voluptuous intersection of deeply carved planes.

By the mid-20th century Northwest Coast art had been in apparently terminal decline. The Haida population had collapsed, through disease, from around 6,000 people in 1860 to fewer than 600 in 1915. Today, where there once were 126 habitation sites, there are now two.

Reid was born in 1920 to an American father and a native mother; this meant he was technically non-Indian, since at that time Indian women lost their native status on marrying whites, and he only discovered his Haida ancestry as a young man.

For nearly 20 years, he worked in commercial and then public radio. But from the 1940s onwards he also became entranced by jewellery, in particular by the Raven clan bracelets worn by his mother, and then by the Haida sculpture at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

During the 1950s his involvement with museums led to the rescuing, with Audrey Hawthorn, of totem poles from abandoned village sites in the Queen Charlotte Islands, and to exhibitions mounted with Wilson Duff. In 1968- 69 he spent 18 months studying jewellery techniques in London, at the Central School of Art, after which he created a wide range of elaborate jewels and gold and silver containers, all in Haida style.

He also carved, with the Qwakiutl carver Douglas Cranmer, half a dozen poles for the Museum of Anthropology. The museum houses his iconic Among the Raven and the First Men, a monumental carving in yellow cedar of the Haida myth in which the trickster Raven found the first people struggling to emerge from a clam shell. It was unveiled on 1 April 1980 by the Prince of Wales.

In the 1980s Reid started to work in bronze, creating a life-size canoe of Haidas, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, one version of which sits glowering behind the portico of the new Canadian Embassy in Washington.

In all things Reid was straightforward and unsentimental. When I first went to his apartment in Vancouver in 1978 he was working on a silk-screen print, to pay the rent, he said. When he showed the photographer Adelaide de Menil and the anthropologist Edmund Carpenter how to prepare a salmon - Indian style - they asked him if his grandmother had showed him how. No, he said, he learnt it from a television course put out by the University of British Columbia.

He was brave, in appearing at the barricades, long afflicted with Parkinson's disease, to help stop logging the temperate rain forests in the Haida homeland on the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1987. He collaborated with many anthropologists and curators, including Claude Levi-Strauss, who maintains that it was thanks to Reid that the Indian art of the Northwest Coast became known world-wide.

His most notable published work is the exhibition project, for Rice University, Texas, with Bill Holm, entitled Form and Freedom (1975). This explores the design principles and individual skills in a wide range of Northwest Coast carvings.

William Ronald Reid, sculptor: born Victoria, British Columbia 12 January 1920; twice married (one daughter, one stepdaughter); died Vancouver 13 March 1998.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk