Saturday, January 08, 2005

lightning in Vancouver

Also around this time, I decided to use a free Peoples Express airline ticket for a trip to Seattle and Vancouver. I'd visited Vancouver for the first time in the late 1980s for speaking engagements resulting from my book (The Malling of America) but I never got to spend much time exploring. I had an old friend there (who had passed through that house in Berkeley hippie days) and we'd gotten reacquainted on one of those speaking gigs, so she would be my Vancouver area guide.

We were racing around the city one day and got to the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology late in the afternoon. We had less than a half hour before closing, but those few minutes changed my life. It was the first time I'd seen the dramatic Northwest Coast Native art, expressed mostly in wood: in painted masks, canoes, boxes and implements, and most dramatically of all, totem poles. This Museum was a wonder of this art. They also had some contemporary examples of masks and paintings, and a large sculpture, the first attempts in many years to revive these traditions and return them to the highest quality of the best work of the past.

I learned the sculpture was by Bill Reid, and later that another Northwest Coast artist, Robert Davidson, was becoming prominent. It took maybe a year, but I managed finally to get an assignment to write about them from Smithsonian Magazine. Bill Reid was pretty ill by then, but there was a major retrospective of Robert Davidson's work at the Museum of Civilization across the river from Canada's capital. I went there, met Davidson and his brother, Reg, also an artist. (Reg invited me to Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte island, for salmon fishing in the fall. I've always regretted not being able to take him up on that.)

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