The Bronfman Collection 
Virtual Gallery

Masters of the Crafts

Bill Reid — Metalsmith, Wood Carver, Jeweller

About the craftsperson

Bill Reid - K96-216 - CD98-182-012
"What sort of an artist is Bill Reid? Sculptor, carver, jeweller, printmaker — all of these, and poet also. Few great artists are witty, fewer still are gifted wordsmiths. For Bill, words are like the gold and the cedar he works into the forms of myth, history and imagination. His mastery gained from many sources, he was confined to none and could work freely and creatively with different traditions. Undoubtedly the traditions of Haida art are closest to him, but the conventions of Haida and other Northwest Coast sculpture were constantly expanding and Bill has further enriched them. The major strengths of traditional Northwest Coast art lay in sculpture and oratory. In his sculpture and in his jewellery, Bill has given new forms to the myth and a different expression to the wit. Bill is an artist extraordinary."

Harry Hawthorn
Emeritus professor of anthropology
University of British Columbia

Bill Reid, one of Canada's foremost metalsmiths, has played an important part in the movement to call attention to the great artistic achievements of Canada's native peoples. Born of Haida-Indian and Scottish-American parentage, Reid did not know that he was "anything other than an average Caucasian North American" until he was in his early teens.

In 1943, in an effort to discover the traditions of his maternal ancestors, Reid made the first of what have become annual pilgrimages to the Haida village of Skidegate in the Queen Charlotte Islands. There he visited with his grandfather, Charles Gladstone, a top-notch boat builder who had been an apprentice of Charles Edenshaw, the great nineteenth-century Haida carver and silversmith.

Carving a Haida pole
Bill Reid carving a Haida pole,
Skidegate, Queen Charlotte Islands,

Reid's grandfather, who was Edenshaw's nephew, stood last in a direct line of Haida makers of silver jewellery. Fascinated by Haida design, Reid began exploring its structure through training and experimentation in European-style jewellery making.

He gradually moved away from his career as a CBC broadcaster toward that of artist. He has designed and made gold and silver jewellery, has done wood carving, designed silk-screen prints, and written and illustrated books.

In striving to understand and share the structure and meaning of Haida art, Reid has passed along his passion and his knowledge to a new generation of Northwest Coast artists. While most of their production is destined tor the marketplace, an increasing number of works are being created for the native community for ceremonial use and as potlatch gifts.
CMC 86-41.1-2 - Lidded Box with Bear Design
Lidded Box with Bear Design, 1985-86
Silver, leather lining
Chased, constructed
11.8 cm x 8.8 cm x 5.5 cm
CMC 86-41.1 to 2
Massey Foundation Collection

Raven Discovering Mankind in a Clamshell
Raven Discovering Mankind in a
, 1970
7.0 cm x 6.9 cm x 5.5 cm
Collection: Museum of Anthropology,
University of British Columbia, Vancouver

While Reid admits to playing a part in the regeneration of aspects of native heritage, he is as aware as anyone that a true cultural revival involves a commitment to land rights and to political and social development. His own opposition to the logging of the Queen Charlottes and his attempts to involve Haida communities in projects like canoe building express his commitment.

The work of Bill Reid, and that of younger artists who have been inspired by his example, has become the focus of positive new discussions between native and non-native communities. As a museum curator and writer, Reid has helped to reveal the artistic achievements of the Haida.

In his large-scale projects, he has set in motion the collaboration of skilled carvers and other craftspeople from a variety of traditions. Reid's commitment to craftsmanship evidently goes beyond any particular culture or ethnic group. He points to the crucial role of the maker in a world where we more and more seek out and admire the finely crafted object, [but] we less and less know how to make it.

Reid speaks with the faith of all great craftspeople when he asserts:

"Once we discard our ethnocentric hierarchical ideas about the way the world works, we will find that one basic quality unites all the works of mankind that speak to us in human, recognizable voices across the barriers of time, culture and space: the simple quality of being well made".

Sawing a block of argillite
Bill Reid sawing a block of
argillite, Queen Charlotte Islands,
late 1950s


Selected Works Contributions