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 Jim Hart  (1952 - )

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Lived/Active: British Columbia / Canada      Known for: wood carving, jewelry making, printmaking

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Ad Code: 3
"Sister" (Bear Mother & Child) - 12' red cedar, dated 2007. Collection of the Canada Council Art Bank.
"Sister" (Bear Mother & Child) - 12' red cedar, dated 2007. Collection of the Canada Council Art Bank.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Below excerpt from: "Reid Controversy" - The Canadian Encyclopedia (online)

In 1980, Haida artist Jim Hart was 27 and unfamiliar with city ways when he first arrived in Vancouver from the Queen Charlottes.  When his plane touched down at Vancouver airport, it seemed there were more people in the baggage claim area than in his entire home town of Masset. A slim but powerful carver with a long black ponytail, Hart soon got word that [Bill] Reid [see AskART] wanted him to work for him.  Little did he know that his first job would involve carving the finishing details - known as "surfacing" or putting "the skin on the bird," as one artist describes it.  At $10 an hour, Reid wanted him to surface his masterful creation, the 2.4-m-high yellow cedar Raven and the First Men.  Little did anyone else know that for the next four years, Hart's elegant and meticulous carving would give life to some of Reid's best-known work.  George Rammell (1952), the white Vancouver sculptor whose energy and artistic intelligence helped Reid realize the last 13 projects of his career, refers to it as the "tension on the surface - Jim was a master at that."  And, he adds, "Bill often talked about that tension. He didn't have the skills to do that at that point.  He never did, actually - he wasn't a surfacer like Jim, he was an intellectual anthropologist, not a craft-based artist."

Based on an original eight-centimetre boxwood carving done by Reid in 1970, The Raven and the First Men is a tourist favourite that is the centrepiece at the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology.  When it was finished, it elevated Reid's reputation from a brilliant Haida goldsmith to master sculptor and brought him a far broader audience.  But with his Parkinson's getting more severe, Reid needed help. "Bill was great at using experts," says Rammell. "He didn't hire you because of your chisel, he hired you for your soul, your whole energy. He expected us to dig him out of the fire. Some artists use clay - Bill used people."

...When Hart began the critical and laborious work of surfacing the sculpture, Reid gave him this terse advice: "Just finish it, get her done." That was the last he heard from Reid for a month. In all, Hart worked six months and was paid $10 an hour to finish the sculpture.  But it wasn't the wages that irked him.  His disappointment came when he watched a film on the making of the sculpture and realized there wasn't a single frame of him.  When he later asked Museum of Anthropology staff for a still photo of his work, he was told none could be found. "Eventually I got one," says Hart. "That proved I was there."

For Hart, it was a brutal lesson in the politics of the art world and how Reid used the media - particularly film and television - to magnify his influence. As a former CBC broadcaster, Reid had wide connections that served him well. "Bill didn't waste his energy," says Rammell. "He was feeding the machine. He understood that a lot of his fame had to do with television." In some of the productions documenting his work, Reid either wrote and narrated the script or was a co-producer, partly financing the projects or keeping the rights to final script approval. (Once, when Reid was unhappy about a documentary, he even asked another filmmaker to remake it.) Hart, now 47 and one of the superstars of Haida art, says he learned a huge lesson from Reid - and it had nothing to do with carving. "I learned a lot about how the game was played from Bill," he says. "They took lots of shots of me, but didn't put me in the film. I'm sure Bill had a lot to do with that, just knowing how he operates."

... In the world of Bill Reid Ltd., the financial stakes were also high.  In 1982, Vancouver's Equinox Gallery sold a gold version of the intricately patterned Dogfish Transformation Pendant, originally rendered in boxwood, to a local collector for around $100,000.  Friends say Reid was deliriously happy with the high price.  But although Reid had started the boxwood version, he made mistakes due to his illness and had to hand the work over to Hart, who says he salvaged it.  Rammell recalls seeing the original in its sorry form, then the finished version, and being "amazed at how it was done - it was impeccable.  Bill said he did it - and I still don't believe it.  It looked like something Jim would have done.  Some of the detail was too fine - Jim had the skills to do that."

Miller concurs. He says: "Most of the things Bill did at this time were a mess." Miller saw the boxwood carving at the beginning stages, roughed out with crude shapes. "Then, Bill went to the Charlottes where Jim Hart was and he came back with a masterpiece," said Miller. "It was Bill's vision and he directed the carving, but he couldn't do it with his own hands." Weeks later, Reid asked Miller to help him make a copy in gold.  But Miller's participation has never been noted.  Other spinoffs of the piece, meanwhile, were made under Reid's auspices; one was advertised for sale by Vancouver's Buschlen Mowatt Gallery in 1994 for $200,000.

...Martine Reid acknowledges that, by the 1980s, her husband "was probably not very capable of carving hard metals."  He could, she said in an interview, carve wax - from which moulds were made for casting pieces of jewelry - and do repoussé work: shaping or ornamenting metal by hammering on the back.  In the case of the boxwood Dogfish Transformation Pendant, which she now owns, she insists the work is Reid's: "Jim Hart never touched that - he must be thinking of something else."  And even when others did the work, she says, the pieces are Reid's because "the designs are Bill's.  No piece has been allowed on the market without Bill's standard of craftsmanship being accepted by him." Vancouver goldsmith Chang Sun, who acknowledges that he did many pieces for Reid, also says that, ultimately, the authorship of those works remains Reid's. "I'm just the hands," says Sun, who often engraved Reid's signature, from a stencil, onto the pieces he worked on.  Everything was, Sun adds, "Reid's design. I don't think it's mine."

...Hart also says he salvaged another valuable Reid boxwood carving: a 10-cm killer whale. Again, Reid started the original.  But his increasing hand tremors, according to Hart, made it "impossible." Hart adds: "I could see the hint of what he was heading for, but it was pretty rough.  There was enough wood left to do stuff with it - so I just took it over and did it for him." (Reid's physical contribution consisted of the waves at the base of the statue.)  It was the prototype for the 5.4-m bronze killer whale sculpture, actually made by Rammell and installed at the Vancouver Aquarium in 1984.  Neither Rammell's nor Hart's name appears anywhere on the sculpture - a small plaque features only Reid's name.  And to this day, the Vancouver Aquarium Web site credits Reid with having "sculpted" the work.

In the early days, Hart was happy for the work from Reid and still praises him for championing the Haida people and their art.  Still, he soon grew tired of being "kept in the back-room" and "treated as a pair of hands."  But Reid made it hard for Hart to leave.  At one point, Reid bought Hart a Toyota Land Cruiser and had him work off the cost.  Reid offered a similar deal to Clayton Gladstone, another Haida carver, in the late 1980s: some believe it was Reid's way of keeping his Haida workers dependent once they reached the city.

...Hart and others remember how Reid would create the illusion of control when people came to watch him work. "He'd show off for them," Hart says. "He'd grab a tool and start jimmying around, pile right in there and destroy an area.  Then we'd clean it up.  He was so strong to carry on under all that torment, but he'd end up giving the best he could, cutting his fingers or making some kind of mess of himself and also making a mess of some part of the work. But that was the game.  It was showmanship: showing people he was the master, that it was his work and his project."

During the making of The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, it was a running joke with workers on the project: if Reid came to the studio, he'd be followed shortly by his entourage, a constant stream of collectors, dignitaries, museum directors and gallery owners.  (One day, architect Arthur Erickson - who designed the Canadian Embassy in Washington and set his old friend Reid up for the commission for the sculpture - brought American actress Shirley MacLaine to the studio to see it being made.) Usually, Reid would start giving orders to the workers in front of the guests, proclaiming in his deep, sonorous voice: "Ah, they just don't get it. They just can't do it." Then he would walk away. "We had to put up with this stuff," says Rammell, "and I found it humiliating." Maclean's October 18, 1999


For the whole article see:

Submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke, Art Historian and Collector, West Vancouver, British Columbia


In 1999, a year after Bill Reid's death, the UBC Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver decided to preserve a 50 foot house-frontal totem, on its grounds, carved by Bill Reid and Douglas Cranmer in the 1950s.  It would be taken down and moved inside out of the elements, where it had been standing since its creation.  To replace it, the museum and the Canada Council Millennium Arts Fund commissioned Jim Hart to carve a new pole.  Hart carved the 50 foot 750 year old Western red cedar totem and presided over the pole-raising ceremony, attended by 2500 people, on October 1, 2000.  He was assisted in the project by team of artists that included carvers Paul White, Oliver Bell, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Nika Collison and Ernie Collison.  The totem is named "The Respect to Bill Reid Pole".

"I want to pay respect to him (Bill Reid). I learned a lot by being with him; I learned a lot by watching him, too. He is one of us?The idea of the pole is that Bill was holding us on his shoulders as a people for a time" - Jim Hart, 2000.

Source: UBC Museum of Anthropology

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Jim Hart is one of the Northwest Coast's most accomplished artists.  His monumental sculptures, poles, prints, and jewelry can be found in collections throughout the world.  Bridging classical and contemporary forms, Jim's work is valued internationally for its beauty, integrity, and innovation.

In August 1999, at the Memorial Chieftainship Potlatch at Old Massett, Haida Gwaii, Jim raised a 17 metre (55 foot) totem pole that he and his assistants carved in honour of his family.  At this time, Jim received his name as Haida hereditary chief, 7idansuu (pronounced "ee-dan-soo").  This name was once held by Charles Edenshaw (ca.1839-1924) [see AskART], the master carver from whom Jim is descended.

Jim was born in 1952 into the Eagle Clan at Old Massett.  He began carving seriously in 1979, and worked for Bill Reid [see AskART] from 1980 to 1984.  He assisted with several of Bill's large-scale sculptures including The Raven and the First Men (at the Museum of Anthropology) and The Lord of the Undersea (at the Vancouver Aquarium).  Jim also worked for acclaimed Haida artist Robert Davidson [see AskART].  After refining his jewelry-making techniques in Vancouver for two years, Jim moved back to Haida Gwaii.  He now divides his time between Old Massett and Vancouver.

Jim is committed to working with emerging young artists from his community and, as a hereditary chief, has many responsibilities to carry out for his people.  In his words, he enjoys "working for outsiders because they are interested in Haida art and culture," but he knows that he needs to "bring it back to (his) people - to the youth who are taking new directions." -Jim Hart, 2000

Source: Virtual Museum of Canada/ UBC Museum of Anthropology

Submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke, Art Historian and Collector, West Vancouver, British Columbia

Biography from Canadian Museum of Civilization:
The youngest of the Haida carvers to show great promise is Jim Hart, who in 1988 supervised the construction of the Haida house in the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  He was born in Masset, and is a descendant of the famous shaman Dr. Kudé.  Jim Hart apprenticed with Bill Reid [see AskART] on the monumental sculpture The Raven and the First Men. Previously, he had worked with Robert Davidson [see AskART] on the Charles Edenshaw [see AskART] Memorial Longhouse.

During his early years as an artist, Jim Hart exercised his skills in many media, including silver and gold jewellery, and prints that explore the range of supernatural and human beings that were appropriate to his family.  He also carved a replica of a pole that once stood at Masset in the last century and that now graces the outdoor Haida village at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.  A bronze miniature of this pole stands as a tribute to the pioneer ethnologist Marius Barbeau in the salon named after him at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

In 1993, the Canadian Museum of Civilization commissioned Jim Hart to create a manda'a figure, whose traditional purpose was to support the coffin of a Haida chief.  This sculpture takes its inspiration from a piece collected from Skedans by Charles F. Newcombe for the Field Museum, but Hart has embellished it with his own distinctive designs on the tail.  The idea for this commission rose from the popularity of the manda'a figure of a Wasgo (or Sea Wolf) that Bill Reid carved for the Museum of Anthropology in 1964, based on a nineteenth-century one by Charles Edenshaw at the Royal British Columbia Museum.

Another challenge undertaken by Jim Hart was recreating on a monumental scale a small shamanic piece depicting a man and woman straddling a huge Frog carved by an unnamed master of Haida art, probably in the 1870s.  This unknown artist is probably the author of a piece acquired by the Glenbow Museum from a New York collection in 1975, depicting a Chinese immigrant with a prominent queue and typical costume of the period, as well as a secret society headpiece (VII-B-110) in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  Jim Hart finished the tribute to the unknown artist early in 1995.

At an impressive potlatch held in Masset in 1995, the current Chief Edenshaw (Morris White) designated Jim Hart as his heir.

Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

Biography from American Museum of Natural History:
Jim Hart, Advising Artist to Totems to Turquoise: Native North American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest [for the American Museum of Natural History].

A Hereditary Chief of the Haida Nation and one of the Northwest Coast's most accomplished artists, Jim Hart is the great-great-grandson of Charles Edenshaw [see AskART], a great Haida artist whose carved works are recognized as masterpieces of international importance.

Hart was an assistant carver to renowned Haida carver Bill Reid (1920-1998) [see AskART]. As one of the youngest of the Haida carvers showing great promise, Hart supervised the construction of the Haida house exhibit in the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. Hart's monumental sculptures, poles, prints, and jewelry can be found in collections around the world. Bridging classical and contemporary forms, his work is valued for its beauty, integrity, and innovation. Hart's Three Watchmen bronze totem pole and another carved wooden totem pole are both on display during the exhibition at the Museum, along with selected jewelry.

Source: American Museum of Natural History


Celebrated artist Jim Hart has created pieces for clients around the world, including a 30-foot totem pole for the Swedish royal family.  Hart always strives to adhere closely to the classic Haida style.

"When I was a kid, my great-aunts would tell me how valuable Haida art was. But I took it all for granted. It was only late in high school that I began to realize that we have an art style and a culture that are truly great."

"Looking at old Haida pieces, in museums mostly, I get so excited, realizing that that was our written language. It just makes me want to carve, carve, carve."

"Today, it's what you do with that language that's what counts. Our art represents who we are. So I really feel pressure to do well, and to spend the time on a piece to finish it properly. Because it's representing me. It's representing my people."

Source: American Museum of Natural History

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