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Vancouver Art Gallery presents the first major survey exhibition of iconic Haida artist Charles Edenshaw
Eagle Hat, c. 1890. Spruce root, paint. Museum of Anthropology, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Nb1.489. Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery.

VANCOUVER.- Charles Edenshaw was recognized in his time as an outstanding Haida artist and remains an iconic figure in Northwest Coast art. Working in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (1829-1920), he was an exceptional carver of wood, silver and argillite, combining traditional Haida design with an innovative and elegant personal style, and raising Northwest Coast art to new heights of sophistication. Opened on October 26, Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition Charles Edenshaw marks the first major survey of Edenshaw’s work, featuring over 200 pieces in all media from public and private collections from around the world.

“We are very proud and honoured to present the first career survey of Charles Edenshaw, one of the greatest luminaries of Haida art,” said Gallery director Kathleen S. Bartels. “This exhibition offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view the largest number of works by the artist ever assembled.”

Charles Edenshaw’s work serves as a testament to a tremendous individual spirit and a singular talent. “This exhibition is important in many way,” said Haida Chief and exhibition advisor James Hart. “All the pieces that Charles created carry the respect of his people, ancestors and his family. To be connected to this line of important Haida cultural prerogatives and the changing ways of our future, we must carry on, in the Haida Way.”

Curated by pre-eminent scholar of Northwest Coast art, Robin K. Wright, with Daina Augaitis, Charles Edenshaw is organized around five central themes. It begins with Haida Traditions, which affirms the Haida foundations of Edenshaw's craft. This section features both traditional objects made for family as well as commissioned objects such as model poles, houses and canoes that illustrated the Haida way of life to faraway audiences.

The way in which Edenshaw incorporated subjects from traditional Haida stories into his work is one of his crowning achievements. His development of overlapping and interwoven forms was unprecedented and brought new vitality to these subjects. The Narrative section of the exhibition highlights Edenshaw's extraordinary carved argillite platters and chests, where stories come to life in his design.

The Style section is dedicated to the artist's refined approach to line and form. It opens with his masterful painting on spruce-root hats woven by Isabella Edenshaw, and also includes painted baskets, model poles and carved bracelets that raised the art form to new heights of elegance and sophistication.

New Forms sheds light on how Edenshaw incorporated new materials and images that were introduced through increased contact with Europeans. This section includes innovative objects—carved canes, decorative mantle pieces and silver spoons—that feature hybrid forms and untraditional iconography such as floral designs, American emblems and exotic animals.

The exhibition concludes with a consideration of the artist's tremendous Legacies among artists past and present. Featuring copies of Edenshaw's designs as well as works by his contemporaries, this section also considers how successive generations of scholars have developed knowledge about Edenshaw's work that was never signed by the artist.

“Edenshaw left a legacy through his work and we are blessed that he committed his whole life to creating art for us to enjoy and study,” said Robert Davidson. “The magic of Edenshaw’s work embodies millennia of development of Haida art. One can relearn the magic and integrity of the history of the art form by studying his work.”

The Vancouver Art Gallery has a longstanding history of presenting First Nations Art since the 1940s. Since featuring B.C. Coast Indian Art in 1941, the Gallery has continued to present both contemporary and historic Northwest Coast art in landmark group exhibitions such as People of the Potlatch (1956), Arts of the Raven (1967), Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast (1998), Raven Travelling: Two Centuries of Haida Art (2006) and Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture (2012), as well as solo exhibitions of artists including Bill Reid, Robert Davidson, Marianne Nicolson and James Hart.

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