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The private Bill Reid

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.

Despite spending 45 years in the public spotlight, Bill Reid remains something of an enigma. Reid is renowned as a master carver and sculptor of Haida art but has sometimes been an unwilling icon for the Haida people. To his friends, he is equally complex. At times, he can be tempermental and silent but nonetheless he is eternally captivating. "He's a moody man," one friend bluntly admits before describing his fascinating psychological edge. In this excerpt from a CBC Radio documentary, friends and associates unveil the private Reid. 
• In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Aug. 9, 1996, Reid admitted to feelings of resentment towards his critics. "I sure am the Grand Old Man as far as the little cousins are concerned. Their new pastime is thinking up slighting things to say about poor old Bill who never did them any harm. 'Saw your frog, Bill. Liked the front part okay, but not the back.' 'Gee Bill, don't you think the whale is a bit unbalanced? If I'd been doing it, I wouldn't have done it that way.'"

• But many of Reid's friends considered him a master craftsman, mentor and innovator. Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss noted in 1982, "Of all the art of which traces remain, that of the Indians of the Northwest Coast is certainly one of the greatest. But at a time when the statuary of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, those of Soong China and of the European middle ages have irretrievably disappeared along with the men whose dreams they fed, our debt to Bill Reid, an incomparable artist, is that he has tended and revived a flame that was so close to dying. That is not all: for Bill Reid by his example and by his teachings has given rise to a prodigious artistic flowering, the results of which the Indian designers, sculptors and goldsmiths of British Columbia offer today to our wondering eyes."
Medium: Radio
Program: The Arts Tonight
Broadcast Date: March 1, 1994
Guest(s): Robert Davidson, Marjorie Halpin, Bill Reid, Doris Shadbolt
Reporter: Susan Feldman
Duration: 6:48

Last updated: July 18, 2013

Page consulted on February 18, 2014

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