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The Raven and the First Men

One of Bill Reid's best-known sculptures. This sculpture, along with his The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, is depicted on the back of the Canadian $20 bill. The statue depicts the Haida creation myth.

 

The following is on a placard in the Bill Reid Rotunda, where the The Spirit of Haida Gwaii is on display, written by Arthur Erikson, the architect who designed the Museum of Anthropology:

 

"During the early planning stages of the Museum of Anthropology, Walter Koerner, the major benefactor of the Northwest Coast collection, mentioned to me that he had secured a very large block of yellow cedar that he was saving for a commissioned work by Bill Reid. From our preliminary studies of the site, it became apparent that the gun turrets, left over from Vancouver's dubious defense effort of World War II, were going to intrude into the planning of the museum.

 

One of the three turrets buried in concrete 15 feet thick that bisected the site latterly, one would form the edge of the west wall of the Great Hall, and the other the east wall intruding into the centre of the building in a way that the displays would surround the original gun emplacement. An enclosed rotunda shape sitting on the outer walls of the turret would define a special area with outside access to a view over the whole site.

 

Knowing of the Koerner commission, I suggested to Bill that he plan his work for the gun mount itself and I would provide for a skylight over it so that the natural light would flood it – like the light of the forest.

 

I did not witness the progress of the carving nor did I take in the implications of what Bill had done until his master-work emerged full size, and was conveyed through the roof onto its podium as the clear dome above was installed. When I saw it slowly lowered into its setting, the glowing golden image in yellow cedar radiated not the mischief of Raven the eternal Trickster, but that of Bill Reid himself, who could not contain his impish wit.

 

The gun turret, the symbol of war, base for destruction, was to be vanquished by his haunting portrayal of Creation."

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Taken on June 14, 2012