Lot # 048
Post-War & Contemporary Art Live auction

William Ronald (Bill) Reid
1920 - 1998 Canadian

The Raven and the First Men
22 karat gold sculpture
signed, editioned 1/5 and dated 1991
2 3/4 x 2 1/2 x 2 in  7 x 6.3 x 5.1cm

Acquired directly from the Artist
Private Collection, Vancouver
Sold sale of Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 24, 2005, lot 197
Property of an Important Estate, British Columbia

Doris Shadbolt, Bill Reid, 1986, pages 140, 144 and 145, the original boxwood carving from which this work results reproduced pages 142, 144 and 145
Karen Duffek, Bill Reid: Beyond the Essential Form, 1986, page 13
"Bill Reid's 'Raven and the First Men' Sculpture Up for Auction," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 27, 2005
Terri Theodore, "Bill Reid's Well Known Raven and the First Men Sculpture Goes Up for Auction," Canadian Press, October 29, 2005

While working for the CBC in Toronto, Bill Reid studied jewellery-making from 1948 to 1950 at the Ryerson Institute of Technology. In 1951 he returned to Vancouver and opened his own jewellery workshop, making objects with traditional Haida motifs. Reid received a Canada Council Senior Grant in 1968 that enabled him to spend a year at the Central School of Design in London, England, where he worked on advanced methods of casting in gold and silver. On his return to Canada in 1969, he set up a workshop in Montreal, where the original boxwood version of this image was carved. Reid was groundbreaking in his application of modern techniques to Haida images, and as Karen Duffek writes, “The goldsmithing techniques he commands have enabled him to push beyond the possibilities known to past masters. Through repoussé, casting, soldering…Reid has extended Northwest Coast jewellery into three dimensions. Past technology only allowed shallow engraving of designs on to the metal’s surface.”

The original 1970 boxwood carving of this subject, entitled Raven Discovering Mankind in the Clam Shell, from which this work results, was considered by Reid (and many others) to be his finest work. In 1973 Reid returned to Vancouver to work on the huge yellow cedar version entitled The Raven and the First Men for the collection of the UBC Museum of Anthropology, which was completed in 1980. The Raven, the central character in the myth that this work expresses, was, according to Reid’s telling of this important Haida myth, a creature with an unquenchable desire to change things and play tricks on the world. Walking along a deserted beach, and frustrated over the lack of living things to interact with, the Raven called to the empty sky - and to his delight, heard an answering cry at his feet. There was a gigantic clamshell, full of little humans, cowering in terror at his enormous shadow. The story goes on to relate how the Raven pulled the humans out into the world and transformed them into the male and female predecessors of the Haida people. Doris Shadbolt writes of this image: “The Raven discovering humankind in a clamshell marks an important point in his career…because it indicated a significant break with the old tradition. Reid’s verbal retelling of the story behind the carvings is marked by a sense of ridiculous and quixotic mystery which the boxwood carving captures and which seems precisely related to its size. There is humour in the huge and cocky raven squatting possessively on his prize, and in the humanoids outrageously oversized for their clamshell, while dwarfed by their unfeeling discoverer, squirming out of its murky interior or crawling back in presumed apprehension at the prospects outside. We are witnessing the precise moment marking the beginning, not only of biological existence for man but also of human consciousness and feeling.”

Reid’s grandmother was from the Raven clan, and he strongly identified with this character. Shadbolt writes that Reid saw the Raven as “the original wunderkind whose world-shaping, wonder-making transformations had nothing to do with pious good intentions but emerged from an improbable but fortuitous creative intuition…A toughened survivor without illusions, able to cope with all the unpredictables life hurled at him, the Raven – perhaps the first existentialist – presents a world that cannot be reduced to a neat system since it is by nature illogical and unintelligible.” In this rare and precious gold sculpture, which in its scale and exquisite detail parallels the irreplaceable boxwood carving, Reid has embodied this great myth, moving from the past to the present, both Haida and universal.

This important sculpture image is reproduced on the 2005 Bank of Canada $20 bill. The weight of the gold is 270 grams.

Available for post auction sale.
Price: $145,250 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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