It is rare for a single work of sculpture to become the subject of a book at any time, much less at the moment of its installation. But Bill Reid's Spirit of Haida Gwaii is no ordinary sculpture. Commissioned for the courtyard of the new Canadian chancery in Washington, DC, it sits directly across the street from the National Gallery and is destined to become one of the major artistic landmarks of the capital and of the North American continent.
Of Haida and white parentage, Canadian artist Bill Reid has spent his life resurrecting the indigenous Northwest Coast tradition in the visual arts. Yet has never lost touch with the European media and techniques in which he was trained. He is equally famed for his totem poles and other large pieces in wood and bronze, and for his work on a minute scale in precious metal.
The Spirit of Haida Gwaii is a black bronze canoe, 6 metres long and filled to overflowing with the creatures of Haida mythology. Its passengers include the Raven, the Eagle, the Grizzly and his human wife, the Mouse Woman and the Dogfish Woman, among others. Amidships stands a human being, wrapped in the stylized skin of the mythical Seawolf, holding in his hand a smaller sculpture: a staff on which the story of creation, in Haida terms, is told.