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LOT 049

William Ronald (Bill) Reid
1920 - 1998

The Chief's Staff (The Spirit of Haida Gwaii)
bronze sculpture
signed and editioned AP 1/3
69 1/2 x 13 x 4 1/4 in 176.5 x 33 x 10.8 cm

Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000

Sold for: $140,400

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Private Collection, USA

Robert Bringhurst, The Black Canoe, Bill Reid and The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, 1991, page 61, the Speaker Staff from which the mold was made for The Chief’s Staff for The Spirit of Haida Gwaii reproduced pages 12, 149, 158 and 159, Don Yeomans carving the Speaker Staff in yellow cedar reproduced page 138, detailed close~up page 74 and Bill Reid working on an alder wood maquette for the Killer Whale on The Chief’s Staff reproduced page 139
Bill Reid, All the Gallant Beasts and Monsters, Buschlen Mowatt Gallery, 1992, the 1990 carved yellow cedar sculpture entitled Speaker Staff from which the mold was made for the Chief's Staff for The Spirit of Haida Gwaii reproduced page 34
Karen Duffek and Charlotte Townsend-Gault, editors, Bill Reid and Beyond, Expanding on Modern Native Art, 2004, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii reproduced figure 18

During his lifetime Bill Reid achieved international acclaim as both a jeweller and a sculptor, playing a pivotal role in rebuilding an understanding of Haida art and bringing it to world attention. In numerous works he sought to fuse Haida expressive forms with the conventions of western modernism. Pieces such as the 1970 boxwood carving The Raven Discovering Mankind in a Clamshell find inspiration in western sculptural traditions, as well as the more freely sculptural and narrative works created by late nineteenth century Haida argillite carvers. Major monumental works in his oeuvre include the six totem poles carved with Doug Cranmer at the University of British Columbia (1958 - 1962); the house frontal pole at the Skidegate band council office (1978); The Raven and the First Men, a yellow-cedar sculpture at the UBC Museum of Anthropology (1980); the bronze Killer Whale, Chief of the Undersea World, outside the Vancouver Aquarium (1984); the plaster cast for it in the Canadian Museum of Civilization; and The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, a six-metre bronze sculpture at the Canadian embassy in Washington, DC (1991). The Jade Canoe, a second casting of the bronze, was completed for the Vancouver International Airport in 1994; it is an impressive sculpture which is reproduced on the Canadian $20 bill.
This sculpture is a cast of the speaker’s staff that is held in the right hand of the Kilstlaai or Chief in The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, Reid’s best-known and most extraordinary monumental work. Dressed in regalia, the Chief stands amidships, and the staff he holds indicates he is ready for action and communication. The Chief’s Staff is a sculpture within a sculpture, thus it is fitting that it was also produced on its own as a free-standing work. While going through the laborious process of creating the prototype for the large sculpture, Reid became dissatisfied with the plaster prototype for the speaker’s staff. He commissioned Don Yeomans, a young Haida carver, to rework the staff in yellow cedar – he completed it with the assistance of Doug Zilkie – and Reid approved it in 1990. The plaster model for the Killer Whale at the staff’s top was also put aside and a new version modeled in wax by George Rammell in January of 1991.
The Killer Whale atop the staff is an important figure in Haida mythology, symbolizing power and beauty. In their undersea realm, they were the chiefs of sea beings, controlling food resources. The Killer Whale is an important image for Reid, depicted in the monumental bronze sculpture Chief of the Undersea World, the large sculpture Killer Whale and in smaller works such as a 1982 boxwood carving and also in his jewellery, most notably appearing on the top of a gold box. On the staff under the Killer Whale are three figures: Raven, wearing the tall hat of wealth with potlatch rings, then Ttsaamuus, the Snag, in his Sea Grizzly form in the centre, with finned arms and a killer whale’s tail, from whose mouth emerges Raven again, in a younger form. The entwined Raven and Sea Grizzly figures express the interconnection of these mythological beings, and echo the large three-dimensional Raven and Bear figures in The Spirit of Haida Gwaii. Robert Bringhurst writes, “The lower figures – the Raven with the tall hat, and the Sea Grizzly form of the Snag – are precise quotations from an older speaker’s staff, now in storage at the Smithsonian Institution.” This older staff, purchased at Masset in 1883 by a collector, is believed to have been owned by Xana of the Skidauqau, Town Mother of Masset in the early nineteenth century.
The Chief’s Staff exemplifies Reid’s characteristic elegance and fineness of line in a powerful fusion of Haida traditional form and contemporary awareness. An important element of the iconic The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, it stands alone as a work of power and resonance.
This sculpture is number one of three artist’s proofs from an edition of nine. It is mounted on a marble base that measures 4 ¼ x 12 x 12 inches.

Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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