Bill Reid

b. 1920 – d. 1998

No other contemporary Northwest Coast artist has received the critical acclaim accorded Bill Reid. Reid’s reputation as an artist derives in part from the pivotal role he has played in the rebirth of Northern Art.

In 1948, when Reid decided to emulate his grandfather, Charles Gladstone, and become a silversmith and goldsmith, he did so not only by training as a jeweler but also by studying and analyzing old pieces stored in museums. As an expert jeweler, he introduced complex traditional European jewelry techniques (e.g. repousse) to the manufacture of Northwest Coast metalwork. In fact, no other Northwest Coast artist who works in precious metals has had the range of techniques that Reid commanded.

In analyzing museum specimens, Reid, along with Bill Holm, has been largely responsible for the modern understanding of the principles of Northern two-dimensional design. Thus Bill Reid was the first artist born in the twentieth century to comprehend the formal rules of this complex intellectualized art tradition, the principles of which had been lost to the few remaining Haida artists who practiced their craft in argillite and silver.

Another facet of Reid’s role in the revitalization of Northern art has been that of a communicator, but a communicator with a difference, someone inside the art industry yet with skills honed by ten years of broadcasting industry. Bill Reid’s abilities as a wordsmith have provided us with a passionate inside look at this art, a counterpoint to Bill Holm’s formal analysis.

Not only has Reid shared his understanding of Haida art with the public through the written word, film, and his work in wood, silver, gold, and other more or less exotic materials, he has also passed on his skills to younger artists.

Macnair, Peter, The Legacy; Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver B.C., 1984.