Mental Floss

The Honey-Voiced Announcer: Bill Reid

Andréa Fernandes

Eleven years ago yesterday, Bill Reid (1920-1998) passed away. At the request of reader Katie, today's "Feel Art Again" post features Reid, "one of Canada's greatest artists," who is famous for his Haida jewelry and sculptures. (Shown above are his Wolf Pendant and "Raven and the First Men.")

1. Bill Reid was of European descent on his father's side and from one of the First Nations on his mother's side. His mother "was a life-long, ardent anglophile" and never told Reid about his Haida heritage; he found out himself as a teen. When Canadian law changed, enabling the children of First Nations mothers and European fathers to gain Indian status, Reid immediately applied for recognition as an Indian.

2. As a "honey-voiced news announcer" for CBC Radio in Toronto, Reid wrote and narrated a television documentary exploring the Totem Poles on the Queen Charlotte Islands. He also narrated another documentary on the "People of Potlatch" exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

3. Visiting Haida Gwaii in 1954, Reid saw a pair of bracelets engraved by Charles Edenshaw, a great carver who also happened to be Reid's uncle. After seeing the bracelets, "the world was not the same" for Reid. In addition to his inspiration and instruction in Haida jewelry-making, Reid also studied the craft of jewelry-making at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute and London School of Design.

4. According to one source, "no other contemporary Northwest Coast artist has received the critical acclaim accorded Bill Reid." Reid also received recognition from universities and his country as a whole. He was granted nine honorary degrees, received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Lifetime Achievement, and was made a member of the Order of British Columbia. His work has also been featured on the $20 note and on a stamp.

5. Reid struggled with Parkinson's for 25 years, which meant he would sometimes only have a few hours, maybe even just a few minutes, of productive time. After his death from Parkinson's in 1998, his friends and relatives brought his ashes to Haida Gwaii via canoe. The canoe was Reid's "Lootaas," which he had carved for Expo 86.

Larger versions of Wolf Pendant and "Raven and the First Men" are available. Fans should check out the Bill Reid Gallery; the Bill Reid Foundation; the Canadian Museum of Civilization's Reid exhibition; Jack Long's documentary on the artist; and this children's guide to Canadian art. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.