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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Reader's Diary #557- Ulli Steltzer: The Spirit of Haida Gwaii

On rare occasions when I travel to southern Canada I still manage to encounter one or two bozos who still aren't aware of Nunavut's existence. It's now been a decade since Nunavut got official territory status. Did said bozos never have one of these in their pocket?

Then, maybe we don't pay close attention to our money. Recognize the sculpture on the cover of the book above? It's Bill Reid's "The Spirit of Haida Gwaii" and it's on the Canadian twenty dollar bill.

It's also the subject of Ulli Steltzer's photography book published in 2006 by Douglas and McIntyre.

I've not reviewed a photography book before and hardly know how to go about it. I'm not a photographer myself-- then, I'm also not a writer, and that has never held me back.

I certainly enjoyed Steltzer's photos. They were black and white and I enjoyed the clarity, especially with the lighting which captured all the wonderful details and shadows of Reid's large (the canoe itself is twenty feet long), beautiful and fascinating masterpiece. I also appreciated seeing the creation in its infancy as a small table-top sized clay sculpture, to the messy plaster, wire and steel rods of the prototype, and the final shiny bronze of the end product. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to take in a Ron Mueck exhibition in Ottawa (you know, the guy that was too much for Calgarian sensitivities a couple months back). Asides from Mueck's absurdly scaled sculptures, we were treated to a short documentary film about how they were created. As an outsider in the art world, I love being let in to these behind the scenes scenes. Such was the case with The Spirit of Haida Gwaii. I especially appreciated seeing all the other artists and craftsmen that helped on Reid's project. What a sense of accomplishment everyone must feel when something likes this comes together. I wonder if at any point they all felt like they were the travelers in Reid's canoe.

Along with the photos, there's also a preface by Steltzer herself, a foreword by Reid, and a introduction by writer, curator and critic, Robin Laurence. While the obvious point can be made that a preface, a foreword, and an introduction seems more than a little redundant, I enjoyed their thoughts nonetheless. Each shared their thoughts on what was going on in the boat (fortunately without giving any definitive answers), each shared a little of the history behind the product. What does the sculpture mean today? What will it mean to those that experience it in the future? What I like most about the sculpture is that it seems to ask those very same questions.

5 comments:

Dale said...

Happy Holidays to you Mr. Mutford and family!

Allison said...

There is something to a black and white photograph. They hold something colour just doesn't capture.

Happy Christmas to you and yours!

Melanie said...

Adding holiday greetings to you and yours. Merry Christmas!

John Mutford said...

Thanks everyone!

GeraniumCat said...

I was very lucky to be given a copy of this book when it was first published - I think it's beautiful. I saw the Jade Canoe at Vancouver Airport and fell in love with it there. Nice to read your review!