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Rescue mission for Haida art

Bill Reid spent his life confronting public opinion. The artist, who was of Haida and European descent, was largely credited with inspiring a Haida renaissance with his masterful works of art. Some viewed Reid as a curiosity – an artist who navigated his way through two dissimilar worlds. Others viewed him with a more cynical eye and criticized him as a mimic with manufactured ties to the Haida community. CBC Archives explores the esteemed, influential and at times controversial career of Bill Reid.

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A small boat ferrying Bill Reid and a team of anthropologists approaches the southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Reid documents the rescue mission to salvage and relocate the last of the crumbling Haida totems as revealed in this CBC documentary. With a sense of excited urgency, Reid describes and catalogues the enormous poles on the approaching shore. As they are gently felled, the majestic cultural landmarks will creak and groan before they are prepared for transport. 
• According to Maria Tippett, author of Bill Reid: The Making of an Indian, many of the totem poles were badly damaged in the move to the University of British Columbia and the provincial museum. Deemed unsalvageable for outdoor exhibition, the totems were stored in sheds where they continued to decay. Carver Mungo Martin was hired by the university to duplicate the disintegrating poles.

• Harry Hawthorn, an anthropologist at the University of British Columbia, received a Canada Council grant to reconstruct a Haida village on campus in 1959. Hawthorn hired Reid and carver Mungo Martin to work on the site.

• Reid later recalled of the UBC project, "I was at the CBC when the grant came through, doing the news. I read the item about the grant over the air, and after the newscast I phoned Harry. Then I went up to the CBC executive offices and resigned. A glorious day. It was an amazing act of faith on Hawthorn's part. My entire wood-carving career up to then consisted of ten days of partially carving the little man on the pole with Mungo." -- Saturday Night, Fall 1982.
Medium: Television
Program: Pacific 8
Broadcast Date: May 21, 1959
Host: Bill Reid
Duration: 9:18

Last updated: March 14, 2012

Page consulted on May 29, 2014

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