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Pin Medallion

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RTCFA No. NA0175
Pin Medallion
Artist: Bill Reid Birth: 1920 Death: 1998
Sterling silver, Diam. 1.9 in (4.8 cm).

Geographic Location: Queen Charlotte Islands
Region: Northwest Coast
Group / Tribe: Haida

/*Bill Reid, the extremely versatile artist who worked in every possible modern and old Northwest Coast artistic media, had become so famous by the late 1980s and early 1990s, that I abandoned any idea of being able to afford an example of his work, except for prints, which I have not collected. To my surprise, in 1990, Leona Lattimer pointed out to me a small silver pin medallion Bill Reid had made in 1954. While modest in size, its delicate and exacting workmanship reveals an artistry of the first order as well as an acute understanding of the form-line interrelationships that Bill Holm was later to codify in his famous study outlining the principles of Northwest Coast Indian art. This treatise unlocked for a whole new generation of Northwest Coast Indian artists the whole subsequent widespread renaissance in Northwest Coast Indian arts. But there were earlier artists who turned the keys in the lock for themselves as well as a few who had retained some of the old canons by instinct. Among these, Bill Reid was able to incorporate the entire Northwest Coast zeitgeist into his previous art training. This pin shows not only that talent, but also, that at the time of its making, he was still somewhat dependent on literal precedents he had studied by the old masters of Northwest Coast carving. I was extraordinarily lucky when Leona Lattimer offered to see if I could take the pin over to Bill Reid’s Vancouver apartment, where he was in residence. She called his wife, Martine, who agreed to have me pay a visit on the same afternoon I purchased this medallion, since Bill Reid’s Parkinsonism was under good control that day. I took an elevator up to the apartment and she graciously ushered me into the living room. There, by the window overlooking the expanse of Vancouver’s harbor, sat Bill Reid partially swathed in a comfortable blanket across his lap. We had a pleasant discussion, which centered about his admiration for Flemish, small scale carvings made from nuts depicting scenes of the Nativity and other religious scenes. I happen to have collected Northern renaissance wooden portrait medallions and was familiar with such carvings and expressed a co- admiration and told him I would send him a photograph of the very fine example in the medieval collections of the Cleveland Museum, the city of my birth, which I did. Somehow, I could totally coalesce in my own mind Bill Reid’s own small models for monumental projects carved in fruit wood with Medieval medallions, which in turn, in another media that of silver, seemed to display a similar kinship. Bill informed me that this medallion was adapted from an argillite plate depicting a wolf carved by the Haida artist, Tom Price, one of these older masters. Somehow, a synthesis passed between us concerning my newly acquired pin, Haida argillite carvings, and the northern Renaissance of Europe. I’ve never gotten over that short, but revelatory interview. When I walked out again on the street, I could hardly see straight. I have searched through the literature trying to find the argillite plate source for this early pin medallion of Bill Reid, but it has so far eluded me. I have yet to find it in any of the Canadian ethnological museums, nor have I seen it crop up in the literature on argillite carving. Perhaps someday, it will reveal itself. Though Bill Reid went on to greater mastery and much larger scale projects than this little piece to be held in the hand, it has continued to mean a great deal to me.*/ —Ralph T. Coe