Local artists mourn theft of Bill Reid works

  • May. 28, 2008 6:00 p.m.

By Judy McKinley-Twelve works of art by Haida artist Bill Reid were stolen from the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology late Friday (May 23) or early Saturday (May 24).Fifteen pieces were stolen in all, including three Inca pieces. The works by Bill Reid include three bracelets and a well-known engraved gold box from whose top emerges an eagle.The work was stolen from a reinforced security glass case, even though the Museum of Anthropology has been awarded the highest security standards available to museums.”We are so taken aback, this is so unexpected,” said museum director Dr. Anthony Shelton.The theft has been front page news across the country, and the museum and the many who have been impacted by Reid’s legacy are devastated.”We could lose a part of our history,” said Tim Boyko, a master carver who apprenticed with Reid in the mid-80s. “I look at him and I see the next evolution in Haida art. It’s important to have those pieces in the history of Haida artistry.””There are no real words that can convey our loss,” said curator Vince Collison. “We’re still in shock. Bill Reid is revered for his impact because of who is, and how much he meant, and that is reflected in his art. It’s a loss not only for the Haida Nation but for Canada and for BC.””I didn’t realize I had gotten pretty close to him until the opening,” said artist Jim Hart who worked with Reid and just raised a totem pole in his tribute at the new Bill Reid Gallery for Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver. “It was a nostalgic walk hearing his voice, and the loss is quite emotional. The point is, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. He’s not here to make any more art. It would be a fantastic thing to get it back and really celebrate these works.”There is hope for the return of the pieces.”The MOA has been a friend for the most part and taken care of these pieces, and there is no blame on them. We’re just praying for a good outcome,” said Mr. Collison.Chris Collinson, president of the Haida Gwaii Museum and a carver himself, agrees: “We have to remain optimistic, and hope that whoever this was, an individual or a group, has a conscience. And realize that these are our treasures. A part of Bill is in those pieces.”While the pieces include an argillite panel pipe, most of them are gold. Mr. Hart feels the theft was quite targeted by someone who knows the true value of the work. Museum officials fear that the thieves are planning to melt them down for the metal.”The value of the metal itself is $15,932 Canadian at today’s gold prices,” said Dr. Shelton, “but the actual monetary value of the pieces as art is about $2 million.” Beyond that, the value to Canada is “immeasurable. These are signature pieces of a First Nations art, and signature pieces of the creativity of Canada. We have lost part of Canada, and part of the Haida legacy.”For this reason UBC has offered a $50,000 reward for any information leading to the recovery of the pieces and to the identification of the perpetrators.The museum closed Saturday to accommodate investigations by the RCMP, but has subsequently re-opened and staff are being particularly vigilant as they move into their new wing. Photographs of the artworks can be seen on the UBC web site at HYPERLINK “javascript:ol(‘http://www.ubc.ca/stolenart’);”www.ubc.ca/stolenartAnyone with any information concerning this theft can contact the RCMP UBC Detachment at 604-224-1322. Persons wishing to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or leave anonymous information at HYPERLINK “javascript:ol(‘http://www.bccrimestoppers.com/’);”www.bccrimestoppers.com