The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, 1986-1991, Bill Reid
Date of Issue
April 30, 1996
Masterpieces of Canadian Art
Series Time Span
1988 - 2002
Perforation or Dimension
12.5 x 13
Ashton-Potter Canada Limited.
Based on a sculpture by William Ronald Reid. Designed by Pierre-Yves Pelletier.
William Ronald Reid, "The Spirit of Haida Gwaii", 1991 Canadian Embassy, Washington, United States
Collectors who have been following trends in Canadian art over the past two decades will be well aware of Haida artist Bill Reid, now considered one of Canada's finest sculptors and most important living artists. Reid's magnificent sculpture, "The Spirit of Haida Gwaii", has been chosen as the artwork for the ninth stamp in Canada Post Corporation's Masterpieces of Canadian Art series. Massive, overwhelming and rich with meaning, Reid's black bronze sculpture features a fantastic canoe-bound collection of half-human, half-animal figures from Haida spiritual beliefs. The five tonne sculpture was installed at the Canadian embassy in Washington in 1991. It is so big that it had to be lifted by crane in order to be lowered down through a smoke-hole into a pool of water. The work is so impressive that a plaster cast of the sculpture is also prominently displayed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, and a replica was commissioned for Vancouver Airport's International Terminal. The idea for "The Spirit of Haida Gwaii" was born in 1985 when Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson asked Bill Reid to create a sculpture for the entry court of the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. Reid suggested a canoe full of travellers, an image which could serve as a symbolic bridge between cultures. The crowded canoe holds thirteen passengers (not including stowaways). They appear in the shape of humans, bears, rodents, birds, a wolf and an amphibian, yet upon closer inspection, each character bears both human and animal likeness. "The Spirit of Haida Gwaii" is Reid's largest and most complex work. The sculpture is made of cast bronze with black patina. Starting from the initial small clay sketch, it took five years to produce the 4900 kg (10,800 lb.), 6 m (19'10") long, 3.5 m (12'9") high final product. The work took place in Reid's Vancouver studio, and at a foundry in Beacon, New York. The sculpture went through a number of transformations including a plaster model, full-size prototype, complete plaster mold, and a hollow mold; all this before the months of welding, carving and recarving. Its surface was treated with commercial shoe polish to protect it from exposure. The name Haida Gwaii, translated as "The Islands of the People", is actually the short version of a Haida phrase which means "The Island at the Boundary of the World". This refers to an archipelago more commonly known to Canadians as the Queen Charlotte Islands. Captain George Dixon named the islands after his British merchant ship Queen Charlotte in 1787. But Haida people inhabited these islands long before Captain Dixon cruised by. Archaeological evidence and cultural memory suggest that the Haida first made these islands their home some 8,000 years ago. Born in Victoria B.C. on January 12, 1920, William Ronald Reid set out an artistic life from very early on. He attended a private school run by Alice Carr, artist Emily Carr's sister. His grandfather's uncle, Charles Edenshaw, was known as the grandmaster of Haida argillite carving. Argillite is a sedimentary rock found in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Son of a Haida mother and naturalized Canadian father, Reid worked for ten years as a CBC radio announcer before studying Haida carving techniques at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The Haida are known for many beautiful and distinctive artistic traditions, including the giant totem poles lining the fronts of their rectangular wooden houses. Reid was fascinated by the history, legends and artistic traditions he studied. Those studies changed his life, and Reid is now recognized around the world as one of the greatest carvers of the modern age. Throughout his artistic career, Reid has experimented with a variety of media including jewellery-making, silk screening, carving canoes and totem poles, European art techniques and illustration, as well as sculpting with bronze and other materials. In all of his work, Reid draws upon his Haida heritage for inspiration, and it is widely felt that the power and grace of his work have done much to revive Northwest Coast Native arts that might otherwise have slipped into obscurity. French anthropologist Claude Levis-Strauss wrote that "our debt to Bill Reid, an incomparable artist, is that he has tented and revived a flame that was so close to dying." Bill Reid has received honorary degrees from five Canadian universities. He has won several awards recognizing artistic excellence, and has been studied and praised by people from many disciplines. Moving a five-tonne, six-metre sculpture onto a postage stamp is no small feat. But designer Pierre-Yves Pelletier has captured the extraordinary power and scale of Reid's massive sculpture. M. Pelletier has worked on previous stamps in the Masterpiece series and is also responsible for the design of the seven-year long World War II stamp series. Collectors will be impressed by the sheer magnitude of the work, based as it is upon elaborate photographs of the original taken at the Canadian Embassy in Washington by Harry Foster. Foster works for the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec.
Canada Post Corporation. Canada's Stamps Details, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1996, p. 5-8.