Sunday, 16 January 2011

Eagle Of The Dawn: The Art of Robert Davidson

Robert Davidson
Photograph by Martin Lipman
Image courtesy of:

"I feel it's up to us, to the artists who have achieved that classical period level, it's up to us to maintain that standard and to instill a standard."

A native of the Canadian Northwest Coast, sculptor, painter, jeweler, printmaker and master totem pole and mask carver, Robert Davidson is of Haida descent and one of the leading figures of the Haida cultural and artistic renaissance.  

Born in Hydaburg, Alaska, in 1946, Robert Davidson's Haida name is Guud San Glans (Eagle of the Dawn). In 1947 he moved to Massett on Hiada Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia) with his family where he lived until 1965; he then moved to Vancouver to attend Point Grey Secondary School. It was at Point Grey that he began to learn the fundamental techniques and processes of silk-screening. Then, in 1966, a pivotal event in Davidson's young life occurred: he met the artist, Bill Reid and through Reid, the anthropologist Wilson Duff and another artist, Bill Holm. It was through his connections with Reid, Duff and Holm that Davidson began to become interested in and learn about the ancient art of his ancestral (Haida) peoples and their culture. In pursuit of his artistic education, Davidson then enrolled in the Vancouver School of Art - the school he credits for helping to develop his drawing and design skills. 
(Source:, undated)

"Eagle Transforming Into Eagle" ~ 2002
Image courtesy of Eagle of the Dawn Ltd. at:

"Beaver" ~ 1974
Image courtesy of:

With an innate ability for being able to interpret traditional Haida forms, in a way, carving was almost second-nature to Davidson; it coursed through his bloodline. The artist himself credits his teachers and elders before him from whom he has learned the artistic 'vocabulary' of those traditions - both his father, Claude Davidson, and his grandfather, Robert Davidson Sr., were both respected carvers in Massett. But this personal artistic history goes further back: his great-grandfather, Charles Edenshaw, was a master Haida carver of repute. At the age of thirteen and on his father's insistence of carrying through with the family tradition, Davidson began to carve. Since then and throughout his artistic career, Davidson has used a variety of materials, both traditional and non-traditional, including bronze and gold (in 1997, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a $200 Haida mask gold coin designed by Davidson entitled, Raven Bringing Light to the World). (Source:

"Raven Bringing Light to the World"
$200 Haida Mask gold coin, issued by the Royal Canadian Mint in 1997
Image courtesy of:

Over the decades, Robert Davidson's work has become internationally recognized, respected and sought after by collectors and museums alike. As a result, his work can now be found in a number of important collections, both private and public, including the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Artists for Kids Gallery in North Vancouver, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, and at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, California. Not surprisingly, his accomplishments have earned Davidson numerous awards as well: in recognition of his invaluable contribution to First Nations art and culture, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award (1995); the Order of British Columbia; the Order of Canada (1996); and, most recently, the Governor General's Awards In Visual and Media Arts (2010). Additionally, Davidson holds several honourary degrees from various institutions such as, the University of Victoria, the Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Vancouver's Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.  (Sources:, undated;, 2010)

Davidson is still busy with commission work - in 2010, he was hard at work in his White Rock studio carving two commemorative totem poles for the 125th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the poles were erected in the east beach area in White Rock, British Columbia. (Source:, 2010)

"Two Finned Killer Whale"
Image courtesy of:

"Transformation" ~ 1972
Image courtesy of:

"The Happy Blowhole" ~ 1992
Photograph by Trevor Mills

"Dogfish" (bronze)

"Thunderbird" headdress
The above two images are courtesy of:

"Ravenous" ~ 2003
Photo by Kenji Nagai
Carvings by Haida artist, Robert Davidson

serigraph prints are by Robert Davidson
The four images above are courtesy of:

"Killer Whale Transforming Into A Thunderbird" ~ 2009
(From the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery)
Photograph by Trevor Mills
Image courtesy of:

"Frog" ~ 1974

"Beaver" ~ 1972

"Dogfish" ~ 1974

"I Am You And You Are Me" ~ 2008

"Sara's Birth Announcement" ~ 1973

"From Eagle Drum" ~ 1990

"Eagle Looking At Eagle" ~ 1992

"Frog" ~ 1989

"Hugging The World" ~ 1988

"Change of Address" ~ 1971

"Seawolf Inside Its Own Dorsal Fin" ~ 1983

"Raven Bringing Light To The World" ~ 1985

"Dogfish" ~ 1982

"Southeast Wind" ~ 2004
The above thirteen images are courtesy of:

"Sea Monster"

"Eagle Transforming" ~ 1992


"Halibut, Halibut, Halibut" ~ 2001

"T'Samuus ~ Sea Monster"


"Half A Soul"

"Are You Ready for the New Light?"

"Looking At Asymmetry"

"Put Your Complaints 'Ere"

"Split U"
The above ten serigraph prints are by Robert Davidson
Images are courtesy of:

"I Got My Life Back" (serigraph)

Davidson at work (on two commemorative totem poles) in his White Rock studio ~ 2010
The above two images are courtesy of:

"Supernatural Eye" ~ 2006
Photograph by Kenji Nagai
Image courtesy of:

Davidson with the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada
Photograph by Sgt. Serge Gouin, Rideau Hall ~ 2010
Image courtesy of:

Suggested readings:

Robert Davidson: Haida Printmaker (1979), by Hilary Stewart: Douglas & McIntyre

Robert Davidson: Eagle of the Dawn (1993), by Robert Davidson, Ian M. Thom, Aldona Jonaitis, Marianne Jones & the Vancouver Art Gallery: University of Washington Press

Eagle Transforming: The Art of Robert Davidson (1994), by Robert Davidson & Ulli Steltzer: Douglas & McIntyre

Down From The Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast (1998), by Peter L. Macnair, Robert Joseph & Bruce Grenville: Douglas & McIntyre

Raven Travelling: Two Centuries of Haida Art (2006), by Daina Augaitis & the Vancouver Art Gallery: Vancouver Art Gallery

Art of the Northwest Coast (2006), by Aldona Jonaitis: Douglas & McIntyre

No comments:

Post a Comment