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Robert Davidson: A Lifetime of Celebrating Haida Heritage

For more than fifty years now, Robert Davidson has worked as an artist and has produced an internationally acclaimed body of work. His work is found in a number of private and public collections including the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Canadian Museum of History in Hull, Quebec, and the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles. His Haida name is Guud Sans Glans which means "Eagle of the Dawn".

Davidson’s passion to revive and perpetuate a variety of forms of Haida cultural expression, including song, dance, and ceremony, has fueled his remarkable output throughout the years. He has been responsible among other things for carving and raising the first totem pole in his hometown of Massett in nearly 90 years when he was just 22 years old. His inspiration was to give his elders a chance to celebrate culture in a way they had not been able to in their lifetimes.

Davidson was born November 4, 1946, to a particularly notable family of artists. His great-grandfather was the famed Haida artist, Charles Edenshaw (1839 - 1924) whose superb artworks were well known in the Haida community and also collected and displayed in showrooms internationally, during the era before Haida culture was painfully silenced by the government.

While he was growing up, tangible cultural heritage had virtually disappeared from view in Massett. From an early age, Robert was surrounded by fine carving as both his father, Claude Davidson, and grandfather, Robert Davidson Sr. were respected carvers. Robert began carving at the age of 13 when his father insisted he carry on the family artistic tradition.

In 1965, Robert moved to Vancouver to complete his education at Point Grey Secondary School because his local community did not have a secondary school. Ironically, this move allowed him to learn more about the arts of the Haida Nation, through visits to the Vancouver Museum to see stunning artworks collected from Haida Gwaii.

In 1966, while demonstrating his carving work at Eaton’s in Vancouver, Davidson met the late Bill Reid, who then coached him on sculpture and design for the next eighteen months. Through Reid, he met anthropologist Wilson Duff and artist Bill Holm, and continued to learn about the Haida art. In 1967 he enrolled in the Vancouver School of Art (predecessor to the Emily Carr University of Art and Design), a place he credits for developing his drawing.

He has received many honors for his accomplishments, including an Inspire Award (formerly, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award) in art and culture, an Order of British Columbia; an Order of Canada, the Governor General’s Award for Visual Arts, the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement Award in the Visual Arts, and numerous honourary degrees from universities in Canada and the US.

He is a leading figure in the renaissance of Haida art and culture and is a founding member of the Rainbow Creek Dancers with his brother and fellow artist, Reg Davidson. He is also one of the founding members of the Haida Gwaii Singers Society, started by Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson.

He currently lives and works in White Rock, near Vancouver, and Massett, Haida Gwaii.

(above article from


Don't miss the chance to hear from leading Haida artist Robert Davidson at his artist talk on April 29th at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art! As a key figure in the revival of coastal indigenous art, Davidson's work is found in collections worldwide and he has received many honors for his accomplishments. Join us to learn about his passion for traditional Haida songs, dances, and ceremonies.

WHEN: Saturday, April 29, 1-2 pm WHERE: San Juan Islands Museum of Art

The artist talk is part of the weekend of special Robert Davidson events, sponsored by Jay and Suzy Wakefield. The free Best of the Fest Series of year-round monthly screenings is sponsored by SaviBank. No RSVP or ticket is required for this event.

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