Alaska 2016 Part 1: Vancouver art gallery

August 20, 2016

The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art is a beautiful small gallery with many pieces on display by the Vancouver artist Bill Reid. There were also many beautiful art pieces by other “First Nations” artists. Visitors to Vancouver who want to see native artwork in a more intimate setting than a larger art museum will enjoy spending an hour here.  It is located at 639 Hornby Street, in downtown Vancouver, and is only a couple of blocks south of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver’s largest art museum.


Bill Reid (1920-1998) was a master artist, comfortable in media as diverse as copper, silver, gold, wire, wood, and onyx. He was also a writer, broadcaster, and community activist.


Reid was ½ Haida (on his mother’s side) and half Scottish and German (on his father’s side).  His mother was a member of the Raven clan from T’aanuu with the wolf as one of the family crests. Reid grew up not knowing much about his Haida roots.  His mother had been ostracized by the tribe at least in part for marrying a white man.

“The Raven and the First Men,” carved by George Rammell under Bill Reid’s supervision, 1986, onyx.
Photograph of Bill Reid and “The Raven and the First Men” sculpture in 1980

Reid began exploring his Haida roots at the age of 23, but worked as a radio broadcaster for a decade until he decided to become a full-time artist. He blended native Haida themes with his own modernist aesthetic, creating exquisite works of art both large and small.

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“Killer Whale” by Bill Reid, 1984, bronze with jade patina. A poem written by the artist is written on a plaque below.
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“Skung Gwaii Robe” by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, 2002, printed canvas. Images of Skung Gwaii, an ancient Haida village, and the artist’s family are juxtaposed with the architectural plans for the elementary school located in Skidegate (another Haida community). Additional layering of text reflects indigenous philosophical concepts.

“It is the nature of an empty container that it holds nothing less than the potential of everything.”

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“Con-tinu-Uma” by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, 2007-2008, historical bent box c. 1850, copper leaf, acrylic paint.

Notice the symmetry of the images in this decorated box. The animals represented are divided into small parts and rearranged, so that a head may be separated from a body, tail or limbs.

decorated box
decorated box
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“Art opens windows to the space between ourselves” by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, 2015; video 14:25.

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“Swg’ag’an Sockeye Salmon Pool” by Bill Reid, 1991, serigraph on paper
“Dogfish mural” cast by Nancy Brignall from a mold of yellow cedar dogfish door by Bill Reid, 1991, Papier mâché

Jewelry pieces by Bill Reid:


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The hummingbird is a joyful messenger: When a hummingbird hovers nearby, you will receive a message of healing. Copper represented great wealth and prestige for the owner. It was used at potlatches and also as currency. It symbolized light, salmon and other basic elements for life.


Stopping in at the gift shop after seeing the exhibit, I purchased a few small things to use as gifts or party favors.  Although the art pieces for sale were beautiful, I contented myself with taking pictures of some of them!

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These eagle masks by Coastal Salish artists are for sale ($2,500 and $1,600 respectively) in the gift shop.

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“I have lived intimately with the strange and beautiful beasts and heroes of Haida mythology and learned to know them as part of myself.” – Bill Reid, 1967



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