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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 23, 2002 - Issue 57


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Robert Davidson - Giving New Life to Haida Art and to the Culture it Expresses

Thanks to Robert Davidson and Gary at Spirit Wrestler

Robert DavidsonROBERT DAVIDSON is one of Canada’s most respected and important contemporary artists. A Northwest Coast native of Haida descent, he is a master carver of totem poles and masks and works in a variety of other media as a printmaker, painter and jeweler. He is also a leading figure in the renaissance of Haida art and culture. Robert Davidson is best known as an impeccable craftsman whose creative and personal interpretation of traditional Haida form is unparalleled.

Robert Davidson was surrounded by fine carving from an early age as both his father, Claude Davidson and grandfather, Robert Davidson Sr. were respected carvers in Massett. His great grandfather was the famed Haida carver Charles Edenshaw. Robert began carving at the age of 13 when his father insisted he carry on the family artistic tradition.

Robert Charles Davidson, whose Haida name is Guud San Glans (Eagle of the Dawn), was born November 4, 1946 in Hydaburg, Alaska. He moved with his family to Massett on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) in 1947 and lived there until 1965 when he moved to Vancouver to complete his education at Point Grey Secondary School. It was here that he first learned the fundamentals of silkscreening. In 1966 he met Bill Reid and soon after, began an eighteen month apprenticeship that launched his career as an artist. Through Reid, he met anthropologist Wilson Duff, artist Bill Holm and learned much about the Haida people and their art. In 1967 he enrolled in the Vancouver School of Art, a place he credits for developing his drawing and design skills.

Hugging The WorldRobert Davidson's period of apprenticeship was brief, and he mastered much of the sophistication of Haida art in his twenties. He carved a totem pole for the village of Masset and, encouraged and aided by his family, raised it with appropriate ceremonies in 1969. A series of exquisite prints in the 1970s expanded his reputation, and in 1978 he completed a commission from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to create a distinctive memorial to Charles Edenshaw, who had been declared an artist of national significance. Unfortunately, the traditional Haida house with its carved and painted memorial housefront burned to the ground a year later.

A commission in 1984 from the Maclean Hunter Company for its new headquarters in Toronto resulted in possibly the oddest pole raising on record. The triple Three Watchmen pole was lowered into place in an atrium by a 15-storey crane from the sky world. In 1986, the Pepsi Cola company commissioned a set of three poles called Three Variations on Killer Whale Myths for its international sculpture park outside New York City.

Salmon Come BackFor more than thirty years, Robert Davidson has worked as an artist and has produced an internationally acclaimed body of work. His work is found in a number of important private and public collections including the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles and of course, the Artists For Kids Gallery in North Vancouver. He has also received many honors for his accomplishments. In 1995 he received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for his contribution to First Nations art and culture. He holds honorary degrees from the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas and, the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver.

Raven Bringing Light to the World.In March of 1997, the Order of Canada was bestowed upon Davidson by the Governor General of Canada and during the same month the Royal Canadian Mint released a 22 Kt gold coin in the image of his masterpiece entitled, Raven Bringing Light to the World.

Robert Davidson has always taken seriously his trusteeship of his Haida knowledge and much of the focus of his life has been in reclaiming the art form and the old songs and stories. Davidson is an accomplished singer and drummer. With his younger brother, Reg, he founded the Rainbow Creek Dancers, which performs at major ceremonies and potlatches.


Welcome to Spirit Wrestler Gallery
The gallery is located in the former Alhambra Hotel building at 8 Water Street, in historic Gastown. The Alhambra was built on the site of Gassy Jack Deighton's second saloon after the fire of 1886, which destroyed the city of Vancouver. This is the oldest brick building in Vancouver and was constructed from the bricks that served as ballast for the ships calling at Hastings Mills for timber.

Massett, BC Map

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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