Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Spirit of Haida Gwaii

The upper lobby of the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is centered around a huge sculpture by Haida artist Bill Reid, named "Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe" (Haida Gwaii means "Islands of the People"). The islands are two large and 150 small islands to the north of Vancouver Island; until 2010, we knew them as the Queen Charlotte Islands. These days, they have reverted to their old name, Haida Gwaii.

The indigenous population are the Haida Nation. They numbered around 10,00 persons when the white man arrived; now there are about 4,000 people living on the islands.

Bill Reid was a multi-faceted Haida artist (1920 - 1998) who worked in gold, silver, wood (I watched him carving a totem pole long ago), stone and bronze, creating works celebrating the cultural heritage of the Haida.

Plaque section. Sorry about the flash reflection.

The "Spirit" sculpture is cast bronze with a jade green patina, 20 feet long, 13 feet high. It represents a native dugout canoe, carrying a bear/human family and the mythical animals they share the land with.

"... not so long ago, disaster befell Haida Gwaii. Few humans survived and even the supernatural beings were driven from their rock bound houses to the shelter of the surrounding forests and oceans, on the turbulent surface of which rides this magic canoe." (From plaque) 

Left to right, the creatures represented on this side are the bear, his human wife, with their twin cubs sheltered between them, then at the second oar, a beaver. Third oar, a dogfish woman. the raven (at the steering oar on the far side) and mouse woman at the stern are difficult to distinguish.

The wolf, with the eagle's wing between his teeth.

Seen from the other side, the eagle shows his distress by grabbing the bear's paw in his beak. The tall figure in the hat "may or may not be the Spirit of the Haida Gwaii," says Bill Reid.

The beaver, hard at work, as beavers are wont.

Detail: the beaver's tail.

My favourite character; Reid calls him the Ancient Reluctant Conscript. His cape would be woven of spruce bark strips, as is his peaked hat.

Consistent with Haida tradition, the significance of the passengers is highly symbolic. The variety and interdependence of the canoe's occupants represents the natural environment on which the ancient Haida relied for their very survival: the passengers are diverse, and not always in harmony, yet they must depend on one another to live. (Wikipedia)
In the years that I lived on the North Coast, and on Vancouver Island, I learned this; we're all in this together, whatever comes.
The fact that the cunning trickster, Raven, holds the steering oar is likely symbolic of nature's unpredictability.

Description of the creatures in the dugout.

History and construction of the sculpture.

1 comment:

  1. That is such a beautiful sculpture. Now that we fly mostly Pacific Coastal, we rarely get inside the main terminal. - Margy


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