The Respect To Bill Reid Pole

Cedar, Tools & Paint - Bill Reid - Haida Artist

"These were objects of bright pride, to be admired in the newness of their crisp curved lines, the powerful flow of sure elegant curves and recesses - Yes, in the brightness of fresh paint." - Bill Reid, Out of the Silence, 1971
  • Natural pigments (paints) used on cedar carvings are made from the following materials mixed with a protein-based binder, such as chewed salmon eggs: black comes from magnetite (iron ore) or bone burned down to charcoal; red comes from hematite (also an iron ore); and blue/green comes from glauconite or celadonate, which are also called "green earth". There are very few sites on the Northwest Coast where green earth is found and, because of its rarity, this substance is highly prized. The sites are owned by families and are representative of high status.

  • Paintbrush handles are cylindrical, with one spatulate end. Into this, porcupine guard hairs, sea otter hairs, or other fibres are inserted, bound, and trimmed at broad or sharp angles according to the artist's needs.

  • Traditional woodworking tools include bone-pointed drills, stone hammers, wooden wedges, and chisels, adzes, and knives with blades of stone, bone, antler, and shell. These days, many carvers use a chainsaw to rough out large carvings, then turn to smaller, traditional tools to complete the work by hand.

  • Northwest Coast artists carve cedar into objects of everyday as well as ceremonial use. These include houses, canoes, boxes, dishes, ladles, fishhooks, screens, masks, whistles, rattles, headdresses, and totem poles.

  • Red cedar is preferred for carving totem poles and canoes, since the wood is relatively soft, straight-grained, and long-lasting. Yellow cedar is less plentiful, and checks (cracks) differently than red cedar. It is mainly used to carve smaller objects.

  • Fibre for basketry, clothing, rope and regalia is made from the shredded inner bark of the cedar tree. The outer bark is used for kindling. Cedar and spruce root hats and baskets with woven designs are made mostly by women. If the designs are painted on, this is usually done by men.

  • Red cedar is used to carve many different kinds of structural and commemorative totem poles: free-standing memorial and mortuary poles; house interior or frontal poles; houseposts (used for support in structures such as bighouses). Haida mortuary poles (to honor the dead) are distinguished by being carved and then raised so that the narrow end of the pole is in the ground, and the wide end is in the air. This is to allow enough room to support a box holding the remains of the deceased.
  • Bentwood boxes made from cedar are constructed ingeniously from a single plank of wood, which is notched in three places, then steamed and bent to form the four sides of a box. The single seam is pegged or sewn together with cedar root, and a base attached. The advantage of this technology is that it results in a box (or vessel) that is watertight, and can be used for cooking as well as storage. In the absence of ceramic technology on the Northwest Coast, bentwood boxes thus served the same purposes as clay pots, dishes, bowls and vessels in other cultures.

  • Carved cedar masks, boxes, bowls, and other objects are sometimes inlaid with abalone, opercula or other shells, or painted using acrylics or enamel.

  • In the early- to mid-19th century, collectors often sought to protect the cedar objects they purchased by coating them in clear preservatives such as copper-based cuprinol. Over time, however, these preservatives sometimes had the opposite effect, turning brightly painted surfaces a uniform brown, and masking the designs beneath.

  • Bill Reid carved his famous Haida Bear out of a single giant block of red cedar wood. It was commissioned by Dr. Walter Koerner in 1963 for his grandchildren to play on in his garden. Reid's famous sculpture The Raven and the First Men is carved out of a block made of 106 pieces of laminated yellow cedar.

  • The Museum's massive front doors were created out of laminated Western red cedar by four master Gitxsan carvers in 1976. The doors are carved on both sides and are designed to swing open and closed on special occasions.

  • The smallest cedar totem pole in the collection of the Museum of Anthropology is by Roy Hanuse. Carved in 1972, the pole measures 4.4 cm in height - the same as a matchstick!

Copyright 2002