Reid, William (Ronald) 1920-1998

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REID, William (Ronald) 1920-1998

PERSONAL: Born January 12, 1920, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; died March 13, 1998; son of William Ronald and Sophie (Gladstone) Reid; married; wife's name Martine. Education: Attended Victoria College; Ryerson Technical Institute of Jewelry, Toronto, 1948; apprenticed with his grandfather, Charles Gladstone, and studied Haida art.

CAREER: Artist and author. Radio announcer for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and privately owned stations.

AWARDS, HONORS: Molson Award, 1977; Royal Bank Award for Outstanding Canadian Achievement, 1990; Lifetime National Aboriginal Achievement Award, 1994. Honorary degrees from University of British Columbia and Trent University, 1976, York University, 1978, and University of Victoria and Canadian Conference of the Arts, 1979.


Out of the Silence, Amon Carter Museum (New York, NY), 1971.

(With Bill Holm) Form and Freedom: A Dialogue on Northwest Coast Indian Art, Institute for the Arts, Rice University (Houston, TX), 1975.

(With Robert Bringhurst) The Raven Steals the Light, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA), 1984.

Robert Bringhurst, editor, Solitary Raven: The Selected Writings of Bill Reid, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA), 2000.


The Salvage of the Last of the Totem Poles from the Queen Charlotte Islands, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1958.

People of the Potlatch, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1958.

SIDELIGHTS: Internationally renowned Native American artist William "Bill" Reid was considered by many art observers as one of the finest creators of the Northwest Pacific Coast art form. Reid was one of Canada's most celebrated artists, and his works remain on exhibit in museums and galleries throughout the world. He has been credited with revitalizing the ancient artistic techniques of the Haida people, who lived along Canada's northwest coast. Reid worked in a number of mediums, utilizing materials as diverse as cedar, precious metals, argillite, and ink on paper. He created everything from massive bronze sculptures and cedar totem poles, to small pieces of jewelry. Among his greatest achievements is "The Spirit of Haida Gwaii," a 10,800-pound bronze canoe that adorns the courtyard of the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. Like "The Spirit of Haida Gwaii," his well-known cedar carving "Raven Discovering Mankind in a Clamshell" was inspired by Haida legends and mythology. Over the course of his career, Reid accumulated numerous awards for his artistic achievements and dedication to preserve traditional Native American culture. Among these was the prestigious Canadian Native Arts Foundation's Lifetime Achievement award in 1994. Reid was the first person to ever receive the award. A contributor for Encyclopedia of World Biography discussed Reid's legacy and why he received such recognition. "Reid's role in recognizing and revitalizing the highest standards of traditional Haida craftsmanship was significant in helping place Northwest Coast art on the world stage and in giving younger artists a foundation upon which to build their own understanding of Haida form," the contributor wrote. Reid died March 13, 1998, after a twenty-year battle with Parkinson's disease. In addition to his art, he wrote, illustrated, and otherwise contributed to many books in which he discussed Haida art and culture.

Reid was born January 12, 1920, in Victoria, British Columbia, and spent most of his life in that Canadian province. While growing up, Reid had little exposure to his Native-American roots, because his Haida mother had left her people when she married William Reid, of German and Scottish descent. During his childhood, Reid's family moved back and forth between Victoria and Hyder, Alaska. After attending Victoria College, Reid began his professional career as an announcer with the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and various local radio stations in Vancouver and Toronto. His earliest art training was in European jewelry techniques. He began exploring Haida and Northwest Coast art forms during trips to Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. The museum's collection included a totem pole from the village of Tanu, where his mother grew up. Reid's education in Haida art continued when he discovered the work of artists Charles Gladstone (1877-1954) and Charles Eden Shaw (1840-1920). Gladstone, who was Reid's maternal grandfather, and Eden Shaw were the last in a line of Haida silversmiths and argillite carvers. At the age of twenty-three, Reid began an apprenticeship with his grandfather in the rural village of Skidgate, located in Haida Gwaii, which is also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. After his apprenticeship, in which he learned much from his grandfather, Reid enrolled at Toronto's Ryerson Technical Institute, where he studied jewelry-making and design. By the early 1950s, Reid had moved back to British Columbia and set out to make it as an artist. Observers have noted Reid's ability to integrate his modern jewelry-making teachings with classic Haida art forms. James D. Campbell, writing in the St. James Guide to Native American Artists, discussed Reid's adeptness of integrating the two forms. "Reid's use of new techniques and materials in his art has been widely acknowledged. He demonstrates a talent for innovation while remaining true to the essential principles of the formline style of Haida art," Campbell wrote.

In addition to focusing on his own art, Reid led somewhat of a crusade to keep Haida art form and culture alive. In 1958, for example, he made a television documentary for the CBC about an expedition to salvage totem poles from Haida Gwaii. He followed this up with another CBC documentary called People of the Potlatch, which details one of his people's most sacred ceremonies. Most of Reid's art works contain images of animals considered sacred by the Haida, including ravens, eagles and bears, all of which played important roles in Haida creation stories. Reid published a few books, in which he wrote about some of these legends. Among these are Out of the Silence and The Raven Steals the Light, co-written by Robert Bringhurst. In fact, Bringhurst compiled and edited a number of Reid's writings and essays for Solitary Raven: The Selected Writings of Bill Reid, published in 2000. "Reid's rich, thoughtful, passionate writings deserve preservation in this fine, beautifully-illustrated volume," wrote Patricia Monagham, who reviewed Solitary Raven for Booklist.



Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

St. James Guide to Native North American Artists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.



Biography, winter, 2001, p. 242.

Booklist, June 1, 2001, p. 1820.

Maclean's, October 18, 1999, p. 30; October 25, 1999, p. 10.

Saturday Night, November, 1998, pp. 72-73.