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Haida Masterworks: the ancestral spirit lives on 2009

Opened Saturday, September 26, 2009

As the most significant exhibition collection at the gallery to date, Haida Masterworks is the culmination of many years in the making.

The Haida art form continues to speak the language that reaffirms a connection to their ancestry, their land and their people.  This is a culture rich in artistic expression and complex in social organization.

This rare exhibition will exclusively feature original works by First Nations artisans originating from Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).  The connection between artists and Haida Gwaii is undeniable and unbreakable.  Heavily influenced by their culture, both past and present, the traditional and contemporary merge, blend and separate based on each artist’s individual style.

Art and culture are intertwined – it’s their history, stories and clans – who they are as a people that make it crucial to their everyday lives.  They take their inspiration from the land and fuse it with realistic, mythical and spiritual beings.

No other west coast art form has experienced the same impact as the Haida, from the range of medium to the complexity of form lines. Their visual style of tightly constructed ovoid shapes, U-shapes and linear patterns are imbused with cultural messages.

“[As an artist] your mind always seeks a pattern. That’s how it identifies the work and its functions. If you want to be innovative in your work, you have to destroy the mind’s propensity to make everything look the same, because it wants familarity.” – Artist Don Yeomans

With its depth and broad range, this exhibition will demonstrate how the individual and sophisticated styles of each artist can bring forth a fresh, progressive version of this historic art form.  It is the largest display of original works presented by the gallery with such luminary artists as Christian White, Reg Davidson, Isabel Rorick, Don Yeomans, Merle Anderson, Darrell White, Jesse Brillon, Garner Moody, Derek White, Marcel Russ and Ron Russ as well as emerging talents Gwaai Edenshaw, Kryan Yeomans and Ernest Swanson.

Indigenous materials are crucial to their work and Argillite, in particular, the highly prized black shale stone is an integral part of this exhibition.  Argillite, the oldest medium used for the curio trade in Canada, is a limited resource and the most valued of Haida media.  Cedar wood is used for masks, panels, paddles, and the iconic totem; as well as other materials such as spruce root for basketry, shells for embellishment, deer hide for functional ceremonial objects such as drums, and various metals for jewelry are more in abundance on the west coast.

Bracelets carved with their crest figures became the new normal for First Nations women to replace their body tattoes, which was primarily influenced by European contact and missionary infiltration.  This allowed women to easily remove the bracelets when the church ministers came to visit.  Haida Masterworks presents jewelry by Gerry Marks, Rick Adkins, Jesse Brillon, Alvin Adkins, Christian White, Jim McGuire and other masters of the medium.

Deeply immersed in their cultural traditions, the Haida take great pride in perserving these traditions to ensure that their vital legacy is protected and left for future generations.

Celebrating the most widely recognized coastal nation is a unique privilege for Coastal Peoples, and it is an honour for the Gallery to share these intriguing works with those who appreciate and are inspired by it.  We welcome you to experience and enjoy it in person or online.





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