A year or two ago, some girlfriends and I visited the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver.
Whenever I think of Bill Reid’s art, I think of his sculpture The Raven and the First Men. I first saw this tremendous piece as a fourth grader at the Museum of Anthropology. It is carved from yellow cedar. The creation story it depicts has always stayed with me.
According to Haida legend, the Raven found himself alone one day on Rose Spit beach in Haida Gwaii. He saw an extraordinary clamshell and protruding from it were a number of small human beings. The Raven coaxed them to leave the shell to join him in his wonderful world. Some of the humans were hesitant at first, but they were overcome by curiosity, and eventually emerged from the partly open giant clamshell to become the first Haida.
– Bill Reid Foundation: http://www.billreidfoundation.org/banknote/raven.htm
Clamshells are rather mysterious after all. If you pick one up from a sandy beach, you can never be certain what may be hidden inside.
Bill Reid’s probably most other well-known sculpture, The Black Canoe, watches over the departures at Vancouver International Airport.
So what struck me at the gallery when I visited with my girlfriends those years ago was a teeny sculpture of a teaset. Small enough that I had to use a magnifying glass to view it clearly. The teapot, milk jug, and cup had been sculpted by the teenaged Bill Reid from a bit of classroom chalk and then carefully painted with his sister’s nail polish. It must have been a tedious high school lecture.