The Mail

November 1 1999

The Mail

November 1 1999

The Mail

Bill Reid and art

There is sure to be a flurry of reaction against the exposé of the human side of Bill Reid, a man who grew to be a cultural icon (“Trade secrets,” Cover, Oct 18). Reid not only created art, but also manufactured it. He not only gained a reputation, but also self-consciously engineered his own celebrity. There is little to be surprised about here, nor does anything in the article seriously threaten the value of Reid’s work. What you do threaten are commonly held convictions that an artist should not stoop to hiring and exploiting assistants, indulge in erotic creation, be sick, get drunk or, in short, exhibit any human weakness. But, really, how far do an artists personal morals affect the value of his or her art? Does not the art stand on its own? The notion of art as investment has over the past 30 years eclipsed any appreciation of art for its intrinsic merits. If Canadians could appreciate art in and for itself, the kind of commodification that Reid perpetrated and was victimized by would find no audience.

Peter Eliot Weiss, Toronto

You have taken the Canadian penchant for self-mutilation to new heights with your pillorying of Bill Reid. The spineless artisans you quote should prove their mettle by emerging as significant artists, not by demeaning one

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of Canadas true greats. Do you think that creating a work as innovative as The Raven and the First Men, or as mindblowing as The Spirit of Haida Gwaii is as simple as “surfacing” or “scaling up”? Macleans complicity in tarnishing a successful Canadian embarrasses me. When Reid died, all you gave him was a note in Passages. Now, you give him a cover and 11 pages to discredit him. Lome Matheson, Pictou Island, N.S.

Thank you for your informative article on Bill Reid. Who knew?

Cheri Hamilton, Vancouver

Your story on Bill Reid is misleading and misrepresents a great Canadian artist. It is well-known that the masters over the centuries have used assistants to complete large pieces, but the work remains the product of the master’s artistic vision and is his creation. Reid’s stature in 20th-century art is such that prominent artists, curators and friends of Reid from all over the world have founded the Bill Reid Foundation. Together we are dedicated to preserving and perpetuating his legacy, which has four main pillars: the quality of his art;

Giving credit

I recall when the superb artist George Rammell first rented space in my Granville Island Studio to build Bill Reid’s Killer Whale project, which now stands before the aquarium in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. He went on to manage and oversee the building of The Spirit of Haida Gwaii. Rammell played a far more significant part than that of assistant, being absolutely central and fundamental to the success of both projects. What I found truly alarming and disappointing was the total lack of credit given to him, which appalled me far more than it did him. To my knowledge, Rammell has never criticized Bill Reid beyond saying, “It would have been nice to be granted some recognition.” He has always praised Reid as the great man he was. Possibly Reid’s stature would have been even greater had he been generous enough to give credit where it was due.

Barry Cogswell, Langley, B.C.

the bridges he built between First Nations and other peoples; his contributions to rekindling Northwest Coast art; and the enrichment of all of our lives. The art that is said to be Bill Reid’s is his art, and will remain so forever. Charles J. Connaghan, Chairman,

The Bill Reid Foundation, Vancouver

While writing a recently published book on native North American adornment, I interviewed many of the same native artists mentioned in your article. Yes, Bill Reid hired the finest native and non-native talents to realize his brilliant concepts and visions as he became increasingly ill with Parkinson’s disease. This was not a secret, and no one indicated that it hindered his or her own career. To the contrary, I recall a pride at having been connected with Reid in any capacity. Undoubtedly, they would have appreciated having their name publicly attached to a Bill Reid project on which they assisted. But this rarely happens in any artistic endeavour be it architecture, sculpture, painting or jewelry.

Lois Sherr Dubin, New York

The Mail

Establishing roots

Peter Weinrich makes excellent observations regarding fact and fiction and the fraudulent claims that are often made when tracing ancestors (“ ‘A gift,’ ” The Mail, Oct. 4). He notes that I was quoted in your Sept. 20 cover story, “The search for roots,” as saying that I can trace my ancestry back to a knight who accompanied William the Conqueror and goes on to say, skeptically, that “perhaps I can,” but “there were only 15 knights who can be proved to have been companions of William at the Battle of Hastings.” I am not a genealogist but an amateur researching the histories of my predecessors, both male and female. My ancestor in question was, indeed, on historian David Douglass list of men established with certainty to have fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The family lineage from the Conquest generation to the 1500s has been documented and published. While most data come from charters, legal cases and other documents, some information was derived from the Heraldic Visitations of the 1500s, where the facts could have been distorted. I am definitely not in a direct line of descent, but am happy in the belief that I am a remote descendant and that there is Norman blood in my veins, however diluted it may be.

Don Treble, Ottawa

As a long-standing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I want to thank you for your article “The Mormons’ genealogical gift” (Cover, Sept. 20). However, there was one small but very significant error. The article states that “it is part of the church’s mission to have its 11 million adherents identify their ancestors and baptize them into the faith,” and that it is “an affront sometimes to relatives of a different belief when a longdead common ancestor is baptized by proxy as a Mormon.” The members of the church who engage in identifying their ancestors do not baptize these individuals into the faith, forcing them

The Mail

to accept it as the article suggests. In fact, as it is noted in the pamphlet “Welcome to the Family Flistory Center”: “Members [of the church] identify their ancestors to ensure that the essential ordinances are performed on their behalf in sacred temples. Ancestors for whom the ordinances are performed are free to choose whether they accept these ordinances.” It is very important to note that no one is baptized “as a Mormon,” but the work is done so that those who have passed on might choose to become a member of the church if they wish. Of course, that is our hope.

Leslie D. Smith, London, Ont.

Unfortunately, the article “The search for roots” did not go quite far enough in telling your readers how they can build their family trees. Cemetery records are often an effective genealogical source. The cemetery is not only a custodian of a community’s and our nation’s most fascinating history, but also provides a research vehicle through tombstones and records. Norris P. Zucchet, President, Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries, Toronto

Restoring the herald

Retired herald painter Frank HirdRitter is right on target (“ ‘Neutered pussycat,’ ” The Mail, Sept. 13) concerning former governor general Roméo LeBlanc’s childish meddling with the nation’s heraldry. If one is sufficiently insecure and pained by medieval heraldic beasts sticking out their tongues, well, minor adjustments might be made, the tongue withdrawn. But an open mouth with bared fangs and unsheathed scarlet claws must be restored, for that is a reflection of our history, national honour and a warning to scoundrels. The magnificent mane indicates its maleness, therefore let the lion’s hint of paternal prowess also be restored to remind us of the dignity, vitality and courage of our forefathers.

Rolf Hartmann, Woodinville, Wash.

Model of health

“Do we need more doctors?” (Health, Oct. 18) was right on and one hopes the powers that be will take notice. As an occupational health nurse, I concur that a co-ordinated health system with many disciplines working together would reduce health-care costs and benefit patients. In occupational health settings, nurses conduct physical assessments, do health promotion, refer to other disciplines when necessary, direct emergency scenarios and perform many other duties. The physicians, psychologists, dietitians, safety personnel and environmentalists they work with are happy to have this screening done by professionally prepared occupational health nurses. In industry, it has been proven such a model works well and has for years. This same model, when tested in parts of the country, is also proving effective for both physicians and their patients. It leaves the doctor time to address the problems that he or she is trained for.

Eloise Berry, Windermere, B.C.

A view on separatism

So, U.S. President Bill Clinton has “put Lucien Bouchard in his place” at the Mont-Tremblant conference on federalism by announcing that only oppression justifies independence (“An airing of the dirty linen,” Canada, Oct. 18). Since when? Surely, the clearly expressed wish of a people to run its own affairs (Ukraine, Croatia, East Timor, etc.) or seek other arrangements (like reunification in the cases of Germany, Korea, Ireland, etc.) should be respected by the international community. According to Clintons logic, the FLQ had the right approach: terrorism would provoke repression, which would turn into oppression and eventually justify independence. Also, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien declared that seeking sovereignty because you speak a different language makes no sense because there are 600 languages in the world and only 200 countries. The PM overlooked the fact that the majority of countries in the

world are not federations but nationstates based largely on a distinct language. Successful federations are a rarity. François Bergeron, Toronto

Is our food safe?

Your articles on genetically modified organisms would cause the most stalwart shareholder in a food-processing company to consider divesting (“The food fight,” World, Oct. 18). The 21st century brings unimagined challenges for this planet—population pressure, environmental disintegration, climate change—all requiring novel solutions. Anyone familiar with GMO technology would agree it is a good candidate to supply solutions for these challenges. If the agri-biotech industry is hobbled by such one-sided articles, then will the public (i.e., taxes) be there to take up the job of supplying the needed solutions? Craig Newton, Vancouver

The aims of genetic modification may be straightforward, but the means are not. The genetic packets may be assembled with precision, but are implanted in the host DNA very much at random. What little independent testing of these organisms has been done seems to indicate the virus used to infect plant DNA with these genes can also infect animals that eat this food. I see no benefit from eating foods like corn and potatoes that have been modified to contain toxins in every cell, or that, like genetically modified canola and soybeans, will survive multiple drenchings of the herbicide Roundup. It’s time for the Canadian government to support the safest trend in food production: organic agriculture. Harvey Armstrong, Kaslo, B.C.

Thank you for your articles on genetically engineered food. It is sad that many Canadians know so little about this potentially hazardous situation. What is worse is the cavalier way Ottawa plays with our health. Identifying labels on this food should be mandatory so a trip to the grocery store isn’t such a gamble. Fran DeFoa, Woodbridge, Ont.