William Ronald (Bill) Reid
1920 - 1998
The Chief's Staff (The Spirit of Haida Gwaii)
bronze sculpture with green patina
signed, editioned 6/9 and inscribed with the foundry mark of Trio Bronze
69 1/2 x 13 x 4 1/4 po 176.5 x 33 x 10.8 cm
Estimation : $125,000 - $175,000
Exposition à : Heffel Toronto – 13 avenue Hazelton
Private Collection, Vancouver
Sold sale of Canadian Post-War & Contemporary Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 25, 2010, lot 57
Peter and Joanne Brown Collection, Vancouver
Robert Bringhurst, The Black Canoe: Bill Reid and The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, 1991, page 9, the speaker's 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 new model for the Chief's staff in yellow cedar reproduced page 138; detailed close-up page 74; and Bill Reid working on an alder wood macquette 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
Bill Reid, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, Canadian Museum of History, http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/aborig/grand/gh04eng.shtml, accessed July 12, 2016
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, Bill Reid’s best-known and most extraordinary monumental work. This powerful sculpture of travelers in a boat is symbolic of the vital importance of the sea to Haida culture and the interlocking web of humans and animals in their mutual voyage through life. Each character in the boat has its own story, its own mythology.
Commenting on the destiny of this boat and the creatures carried within it, Reid said, "There is certainly no lack of activity in our little boat, but is there any purpose? Is the tall figure who may or may not be the Spirit of Haida Gwaii leading us, for we are all in the boat, to a sheltered beach beyond the rim of the world as he seems to be or is he lost in a dream of his own dreaming? The boat moves on, forever anchored in the same place."
Presiding over all is the dominant figure of the Chief, who, as Reid ambiguously and intriguingly proposed, "may or may not be the Spirit of Haida Gwaii." Dressed in regalia, he stands amidships, and the staff he holds, a symbol of his power, 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. Yeomans then handed the half-completed staff to Doug Zilkie, a carver from Vancouver Island, to finish it. Reid approved the new model 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, orcas were the chiefs of sea beings, controlling food resources. Robert Bringhurst writes of an even more profound level of meaning - "In Haida myth, while the gods are fully capable of taking human form, their archetypical incarnation is the killer whale." The killer whale is a highly significant 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 in the collection of the Royal BC Museum entitled Killer Whale Box with Beaver and Human.
On the staff under the Killer Whale are three figures: Raven, wearing the tall hat of wealth with potlatch rings, then in the centre, Ttsaamuus, the Snag, in his sea grizzly form 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. The main part of the staff with its figures matches the upper part of a historical speaker’s staff at the Smithsonian Institution, which was used by Xana of the Skidauqau, Town Mother of Masset in the early nineteenth century. It also matches figures on the upper part of a Xana memorial pole at Masset, in Haida Gwaii.
The Chief’s Staff exhibits 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 sculpture The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, it stands alone as a work of power and resonance.
Please note: this sculpture is mounted on a stone base that measures 14 x 14 x 4 ¼ inches.
Estimation : $125,000 - $175,000
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