1 of 3
"Canoe with Mythic Travellers"
Charles Edenshaw, "Canoe with Mythic Travellers," ca. 1886, argillite, bone, Collection of the Vancouver Museum.
2 of 3
Tom Price, "Rattle," ca. 1880, wood, paint. Collection of the Smithsonian Institute.
3 of 3
Bill Reid, "Killer Whale," 1986, bronze, glass, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
RAVEN TRAVELLING: Two Centuries of Haida Art
Vancouver Art Gallery
June 10-Sept 17, 2006
By Paula Gustafson
Three hundred prime examples of Haida art created over a period of 200 years add up to another outstanding summer exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
A sure audience-pleaser, Raven Travelling offers a survey of the remarkable breadth and range of traditional and contemporary Haida art, as well as giving viewers an opportunity to trace the artistic lineage between three luminaries: Charles Edenshaw, Bill Reid and Robert Davidson.
Charles Edenshaw (1839-1920) was the finest Northwest Coast artist of his time. He worked in a diversity of media — gold, silver, argillite, wood and stone — carving totem poles, bentwood boxes, masks and jewellery during a time of rapid social change in many West Coast native communities. A remarkably erudite man, he spoke five local languages and was acquainted with Greek mythology, classical art, Christianity as promulgated by Anglican missionaries, and Franz Boas, Marius Barbeau and other anthropologists who travelled the BC coast.
When Bill Reid (1920-1998) began searching his Haida roots, he studied the form lines and design compositions in works attributed to Edenshaw in museum collections. “Edenshaw was my Rosetta stone,” he declared, recognizing that his great grandfather’s sculptures and relief carvings were masterworks from one of the oldest and most distinctive art styles in the world.
Reid’s artistic successor, Robert Davidson, also traces his ancestry back to Charles Edenshaw. Davidson, however, has taken Haida iconography to new and innovative heights. During the past four decades, his elegant sculptures and complex, energetic prints have attracted increasing appreciation for the rich legacy of Haida art. In his work and in his engagement with Haida cultural life, Davidson continues to honour the privileges and obligations of being an Edenshaw.
Among the historic artifacts featured in Raven Travelling is a wooden rattle in the shape of a bear’s head. Carved by Tom Price (Chief Ninstints) around 1880, this loan from the Smithsonian Institution is one of more than an estimated 500,000 objects collected from the Northwest Coast by anthropologists and museum collectors. By the early 1920s, more Northwest Coast art was in museums than along the entire British Columbia coast. This re-distribution of cultural objects — now discredited as a form of cultural genocide — nevertheless made Haida and other northern coast art styles famous throughout the world.
The Vancouver Art Gallery has a commendable record of showcasing First Nations art, beginning in 1956 withPeople of the Potlatch and highlighted by the landmark Arts of the Raven curated by Doris Shadbolt in 1967,Images Stone BC in 1975, the 1974 Bill Reid retrospective exhibition, and Robert Davidson: Eagle of the Dawn in 1993. Eight years ago, Down from the Shimmering Sky dramatically presented carved and painted masks from the West Coast. Until now, however, none of these exhibitions has focused solely on one geographic area. Raven Travelling’s curators have turned their sights to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), revealing the many narratives embedded in its land and waters and celebrating the ongoing artistic development of its people.