Eagle of the Dawn, Northwest Coast Master

April 11 - June 11, 2008

Artist Talk & Reception:
Thursday, April 17th at 6:30pm

An exhibition of sculpture, works on paper, hide drums, cloth, copper,
and woven spruce-root basketry by renowned Haida artist Robert Davidson.
Works by Reg Davidson, Claude Davidson, Robert Davidson Sr.
and Charles Edenshaw are also on display.

Eagle Transforming into Eagle (2002)

The Artist:

Robert 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 Charles Davidson was born November 4, 1946 in Hydaburg Alaska.  His Haida name is Guud San Glans/Eagle of The Dawn.  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 silk-screening.  In 1966 he met Bill Reid and 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.

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.  Since that time, he has continued to explore the carved form in a variety of traditional and non-traditional media including bronze.  He is now the consummate Haida artist whose strong rhythms and personal style are recognizable and sought the world over.

For 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 the Artists for Kids Gallery in North Vancouver.  He has also received many honours for his accomplishments.  In 1995 he received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for his contribution to First Nations art and culture.  He holds honourary 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.  He has received the Order of British Columbia and in 1996 was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada.

The Eric Milliren & Steven
Muchnick Collection:

It is a pleasure for both of us to work with the curator and director of the C.N. Gorman Museum to present this show of Robert Davidson’s work, along with a few works by each of four of his family members, namely, his brother Reg, father Claude, grandfather Robert, Sr., and great grandfather Charles Edenshaw (who is considered the greatest Haida artist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries). It is also a pleasure to have Robert and his wife Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson as friends.

Our interest in Northwest Coast native art began in October 1985 when Steve was on a trip to Boston with a plane change in Chicago. He bought the current issue of Islands at O’Hare and found an article titled “Totem Pole Islands” that focuses on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands, ancestral home of the Haida First Nation, to use the Canadian term) and the other islands off the coast of British Columbia and that was replete with photographs of Northwest Coast art. The impact of the article was such that he simply fell in love with Haida art and, over time, the art of the Tsimshian and Tlingit.

Eric had a slight familiarity with the art beginning when he was six or seven because his father, the leader of a local Boy Scout troop, had turned a segment of a dead tree into a rather goofy-looking totem pole that was erected in their front yard.

Steve purchased the first piece in our collection in November 1985, and, when we became a couple in 1988, we found that we shared excitement about Northwest Coast art. We started collecting in earnest and about mid-1990, Eric pointed out that we were accumulating a collection of interesting pieces but that the collection had no overall organizing theme. We decided to begin collecting older pieces in addition to modern ones. Over time the collection has grown to over 225 pieces in various media and about 750 publications.


The Happy Blowhole (1992)

Eagle Transforming (1992)




Before the Snag (1997)



Artist Statement:

I’m at a crossroads right now where I’ve recycled the ideas of my teachers, of the old pieces, of the old examples I’ve been studying.  My challenge is to go beyond those recycled ideas and create a new vocabulary for myself.  The vocabulary I’ve been working with has come from the old pieces by Charles Edenshaw and other masters, it has come from my dad’s teachings, from my grandfather’s teachings, from Bill Reid’s teachings.  I’m continually challenging myself to expand from that knowledge.  At first I thought I was pushing the art form.  But I feel that’s presumptuous – it’s not up to me to say I’m doing that.  I have years and years of experience in the art form, and now I’m experimenting to see how far I can push my own understanding.

I feel that every artist reaches a point in their creative lifetime where they want to have their own story, their own signature.  It took many years before I was able to actually feel that I was crating my own style.  I still remember a spoon I engraved in 1974, where I felt for the first time I was crating something from my own experience.  Once I learned the vocabulary of the art, it became my privilege and responsibility to create within those boundaries and to challenge them within the language.  I would rather stay within those confines than step out of them.

Expanding my understanding of the art form is not unlike hosting a feast.  When I hosted my first feast, in 1980, I really bent a lot of people out of shape because of the way I did it without consultation.  It was a profound lesson.  The potlatch I hosted most recently came from the knowledge and experience of all of the potlatches and feasts I’ve hosted:  it came from coaching from my naani [grandmother], coaching from my uncles and some of my elders, and consulting with my clan.  But many of the teachers who guided me in the past are no longer here.  The potlatch is a public forum, and so it’s a way of establishing – and defining – the process.  The potlatch was the event, and the people who attended were part of the experience.  The next potlatch will grow from there.

I know that my experiments with the art form have a lot to do with my having a foot in each doorway:  it means changing from hosting a potlatch to working in the studio – it means changing paths from challenging myself in the potlatch to continuing this dialogue with a new vocabulary of Haida art and with new supernatural beings.  One feeds the other.  The art builds on the experience of hosting a feast, it builds on the experience of going to feasts.  When I start to draw an image, there’s an order to it that is already established.  It’s very much like using the letters of the alphabet to make words:  you don’t just draw the letters together and think you’re saying something.  The art is the same way; to carve a totem pole is the same way.  The art comes from experience – it’s not a whim.

From The Abstract Edge.

All images are courtesy and copyright of Eagle of the Dawn Ltd.
Any replication is expressly prohibited.