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Iconic image from UBC carried by almost every Canadian Comment on this post ↓
July 13th, 2013 by Warren Swil

‘Raven and First Men’

sculpture by Bill Reid

featured on $20 bill

The Canadian $20 bill features an image (lower left) of “The Raven and First Men” sculpture by Bill Reid, on display at the MOA at UBC. Click image to enlarge.

THERE IS ONE IMAGE so iconic that almost every Canadian has one, right now, in his or her wallet.
The original is to be found at the Museum of Anthropology – a world famous institution – at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, B.C.
“The Raven and First Men” sculpture by Bill Reid is featured on the Canadian $20 bill.
The sculpture is the focal point of the Bill Reid Rotunda, which seems to have been specially designed to showcase this seminal artwork, lit from above by natural light flowing from the heavens through the skylight.
It is awe-inspiring.
As it was explained both in literature and by the expert docents guiding tours of the facility, “The Raven and First Men,” depicts the story of human creation – another version of Adam and Eve (or, for some, Adam and Steve).

The original of “The Raven and First Men” sculpture by Bill Reid is highlighted in its own Rotunda, lit from above by natural light pouring through a skylight. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

A MORE DETAILED ACCOUNT of the sculpture and it’s creation be found at the website of the Bill Reid Foundation.
 “The Raven and the First Men sculpture was commissioned by Walter and Marianne Koerner for the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the sculpture is currently on display,” the site tells us.
“It was carved from a giant block of laminated yellow cedar. The carving took two years to complete and was dedicated on April 1, 1980.
“In Haida culture, the Raven is the most powerful of mythical creatures. His appetites include lust, curiosity, and an irrepressible desire to interfere and change things, and to play tricks on the world and its creatures.”
Knowing this makes seeing the work up close even more inspiring. I did this on Wednesday with my cousins.
A visit to the museum was recommended by my next-door neighbor in Pasadena. Thank you, Gloria!

The web site of the Bill Reid Foundation, with details of the sculpture and its appearance on the Canadian $20 bill.

Including spectacular long-term displays of Northwest Coast First Nations art, and alternating exhibits of work by local and international artists, there are more than 10,000 objects from around the world on exhibit in the museum, which opened in 1976.
The building itself is a work of architectural art. Designed by renowned Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, it reflects “the post-and-beam structures of Northwest Coast First Nations,” according to the brochure for visitors that I picked up at the reception desk.
“Through provocative programming and vibrant contemporary exhibitions, MOA challenges visitors of all ages and backgrounds to learn more about themselves and other cultures,” the brochure adds.
It’s a noble purpose indeed.

THE DOMINANT EXHIBIT in almost every corner of the facility is the totem pole.
There must be a dozen different varieties, each with its own purpose and story. As was explained to us, each totem pole is distinctive; they were a means of record-keeping, communication and expression of identity for individuals and families before writing was known to First Nations tribes.

A totem pole used as a house support (and to communicate other messages), one of dozens on display at the MOA at UBC. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

Some of the stories are so personal they remain unknown.
Among the many functional aspects of the poles, they were used to support the wooden homes of tribesmen. But they also served as receptacles of the remains of deceased tribal leaders; as “title deeds” to the land on which they were buried; and as a means of laying claim to a family name, like “Beaver” or “Raven.”
Fascinating in all respects.
After a tour of the interior, we accompanied a guide for a 30-minute walk around the immaculately maintained grounds.
It was a warm, summers day. Our group included about 30, of all ages, ethnicities and national origins.
As she ended her presentation, our docent was given a warm round of applause.
It we well deserved – for her and the institution she represented.

 



2 Responses  
  • Gloria Cooper writes:
    July 13th, 2013

    You Are Welcome!! Great Story!! Brings back very fond memories of this incredible place. Thanks, Gloria

  • Gloria Cooper writes:
    December 13th, 2013

    I just re read this story about Bill Reid’s sculpture at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver.

    I have heard by ‘oral tradition’, that Bill Reid in his later years had quite a tremor in his hands. However, the story teller told us, his sacred hands did not tremor when he was carving.
    Sounds right to me, Gloria


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