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Burning the Globe

by Kathy Sinclair

on Thursday, October 28, sculptor George Rammell created a fire. On a cement platform at the Vancouver college where he teaches, to the sounds of a first nations drummer and singer and applause, he set an article from the Globe & Mail in flames.

Rammell was one of the late Bill Reid's assistants. Reid, a Haida artist, died of Parkinson's disease last year. A recent article in Maclean's (and others, including the one that appeared in the Globe & Mail) alleges that Reid was not the sole artist of many of his works, and that therefore his ownership of some of his best-known pieces is invalid.

Rammell is angry angry because although he was quoted correctly, his words were taken out of context and used to support the idea that Reid's assistants, not Reid himself, deserve the credit for Reid's works. He calls this "dirty laundry journalism."

It's true that Reid did employ others to help with his sculptures. In fact, from the time he contracted the debilitating Parkinson's disease in 1980, the actual sculpting of his pieces was done, sometimes entirely, by assistants. That's something no one is trying to hide, least of all George Rammell, who played a large part in the construction of The Jade Canoe, a huge sculpture which now resides at the Vancouver airport.

But Rammell maintains that Bill Reid provided the vision behind his works. Apprenticeships and assistants are common in the arts even Michelangelo had a little help.

And on October 28, as Rammell burned a pile of cedar chips as an offering to Bill Reid, and a newspaper article went up in flames, it was an important moment for art. It was an important moment for freedom of speech and for our responsibility to fight back when the media misrepresents someone's words, deeds, and life. And it was an important moment for all who knew and admired Bill Reid.


Kathy Sinclair is canadian content's B.C. correspondent.
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