Where it all began…
These days, many people are reflecting on the past and how their lives have brought them to where they are today. I’m finding this crazy time especially reflective, as today marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of my gallery on South Granville.
In 1995, my lease was written up so that I could not sell anything until April 1st. However, I did not want to open my business on April Fools’ Day so we had the Gallery Opening Celebration begin at 6pm on March 31st. As I look through old photos, I see many familiar faces from that first night.
At the time, I was 33 years old and didn’t have the fear that experience and age brings. I took a leap of faith to open my own business on what was known at the time as Vancouver’s Gallery Row.
The first guests arriving to the opening show of the Douglas Reynolds Gallery, 1995.
Kwakwaka’wakw artist Beau Dick blessing the the gallery at the opening,
March 31, 1995.
Prior to opening the gallery, I had spent two years working at the Native Investment Trade Association (NITA). I had helped them set up a gallery space and worked with them until 1995 when the organization lost its lease on Melville and Thurlow. They were forced to move to an office tower, closing their small non-profit gallery. A good friend of mine, Audrey Williams, who had volunteered for me at NITA, offered me encouragement to open my own gallery space. Things lined up and we walked into the space on South Granville, signed a lease around March 10th and opened the doors three weeks later.
Fortunately, Red Path Gallery had signed a lease for the gallery space about two years previously. They had completely renovated the interior and then decided to close. They told me that I could assume the rest of their lease and have all the leasehold improvements for free. They even left me the sandwich board, ladders and basic office furnishings as they no longer needed them. Without it sounding too cliché, it was as though all the stars had aligned.
Speaking with Joe David on opening night, March 1995.
Word spread quickly through the community that I was opening on South Granville. Larry and Marie Rosso were great friends of mine and he created the logo for the gallery, which has remained the same to this day. I reconnected with Beau Dick, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Beau contacted me two weeks before the opening, telling me that not only did he have works for my opening exhibition, but he wanted to drum and bless the gallery at the opening reception. This experience solidified many of the relationships I have maintained throughout the years, and continue to have today, with artists in the Northwest Coast community.
In the early days, Haida artist Alvin Adkins came in a few times to do jewelry carving demonstrations at the gallery.
Myself and my mother at the opening.
As you can see in photos of the opening, the gallery was very sparse, as it was a humble beginning. Every dollar I had was put into purchasing artwork and everything was hung on the wall. I had never been involved with a gallery exhibition before and when I opened Isabelle Procter, who had worked in many high-end galleries over her career, came on as my Associate Director.
I’d spent $3,500 on catering and wine for the party and opened with great confidence and less than $150 in my bank account. Given we had no art to replace works that sold the opening night, Isabelle told me that we’d call this our Opening Exhibition and the art needed to hang for two weeks before purchased works could be taken home to allow others to see the exhibition. That gave us two weeks to purchase works from artists to replace the sold items on the walls, using the funds generated from the opening night’s sales.
Early days in the Douglas Reynolds Gallery.
We also celebrated at the opening with the release of two print editions – Three Finned Killer Whale, a five-print series by Haida artist Jim Hart, and Eagle, by Larry Rosso.
Opening night outside the gallery wearing a jacket designed by Haida artist Dorothy Grant.
Myself and Dorothy Grant the day after the opening, with Jim Hart’s newly released print edition hanging behind us.
It really was a time of friends and family coming together to create something special. Friends volunteered the evening of the celebration, while others helped paint and prepare the gallery in anticipation of the opening exhibition. The gallery has certainly evolved since opening with bars on the windows and wall-to-wall carpet!!
Past Shows and Events
In the early years, I always hosted an annual Anniversary Exhibition and in April 1997, I hosted an exhibition that aligned with the touring of the “Three Tenors”. For those who are too young to remember, the Three Tenors (Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti) had never toured together and it was a big event to see them in concert. I thought it would be a fun play on the idea to have a show featuring the “Three Haidas” as Bill Reid, Robert Davidson and Don Yeomans had also never done a show together.
In anticipation of a crowd, we set up tents in the parking lot and, given there was half a million dollars in Bill Reid jewelry alone, we hired security for the back as well as two Mounties in Red Serge to stand at the front door.
Mounties at the opening of the Three Haidas show, 1997.
The Three Haidas show brought about 700 people to the gallery for the opening night of the exhibition. Many guests hung out in the decorated parking lot and never even made it inside.
In October of that year, I also hosted my first solo show with Don Yeomans. He had always thought he would do his first solo show with his first dealer, Bud Mintz, but Bud passed before any exhibition ever came to fruition. It was certainly an exciting time as it was a privilege to host Don’s first solo show and he, his wife Trace, and I had become close friends at that point.
Don Yeomans at his first solo show, with Bill Reid and Norman Ryall, a gallery client.
There were a few group shows following this exhibition, but the next significant show, to me, was a solo exhibition for Larry Rosso in November 1999. Larry suffered from bone marrow cancer and his health was declining at the time. This show was done in part for financial reasons, but also because Larry, for all of his accomplishments in his art career, had never been honoured with a solo show.
For this show, Larry carved a wood panel that became the template for a new door for the gallery. These glass inserts were an edition of five, and were released at the exhibition. This was the first modification I had done to the gallery facade and it inspired not only a few modifications to future entrance ways to the gallery but also led to the idea of the “Door” show in 2001.
Larry and Marie Rosso stand in front of Larry’s red cedar panel and the gallery’s new glass door featuring the same design.
The featured work on the invitation for Opening Doors to the Northwest Coast was a modern interpretation of an Atlakim Door Mask done by Salish/Kwakwaka’wakw artist Klatle-Bhi. The Door mask is one of the spirits that is called out by Grouse in the Atlakim dance during the Kwakwaka’wakw winter ceremony. The mask represents a door through which the human initiate enters the spirit realm.
Additionally, the exhibition focused on actual Doors, and examples of carved doors by various artists were included in the show. The event was also an opportunity to “open the doors” to artists who had not previously shown works in the gallery.
On top of numerous shows, the gallery has also become a sort of gathering space for different intimate events, from private birthday celebrations to a wedding reception for Alvin and Eileen Adkins, to various fundraisers and celebrations of life for both Gerry Dudoward (1999) and Tom Eneas (2018).
The Haida Gwaii Singers, with Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson in the centre, performing at the gallery in 2002 during an event creating awareness and support for the Songs of Haida Gwaii “Legacy Project”. This event also featured an exhibition of photographs by Ulli Steltzer.
Robert Davidson drumming at the Haida Songs Project
event at the gallery, 2002.
Another show that I particularly enjoyed was the exhibition Modern Family NWC, which opened in summer 2012 and featured the works of the Yeomans family – Don's wood carvings, Trace's suede panels, their daughter Crystal’s fashion designs and son Kyran's documentary film. Following the exhibition, we had a beer garden in the back parking lot to raise funds for the charity, Out in Schools.
Don and Trace Yeomans speaking at the opening of Modern Family NWC.
The gallery moments before opening for the show.
Myself, Bonnie Gordon and Kyran Yeomans during the Out in School Beer Garden.
In 2015 the gallery celebrated its 20th anniversary with a show called Materiality. I encouraged artists to use traditional as well as modern materials to create new works. One artist experimented with creating a work in stainless steel, and another, Tom Eneas, decided to carve a large mask in redwood from the California forest, which proved to be more challenging than he expected. It was a magical afternoon, with Robert Davidson, Don Yeomans, and Beau Dick all sharing remarks.
Over the years, the gallery was made available for various private functions, too. MPP Jody Wilson-Raybould used the gallery on three occasions, while numerous other clients and corporations have also rented out the space for private events and client appreciation nights.
Myself, Jody Wilson-Raybould and long time gallery friend Kisos Obomsawin.
Travel and Community
Through my work at the gallery, I have been presented with many unique opportunities to travel throughout Canada and around the world alongside many artists in the Northwest Coast art community.
In 1998, I joined Beau Dick, Dempsey Bob, David Neel, Martine Reid (on behalf of Bill Reid) and others to attend the reopening of Canada House in Trafalgar Square, in the UK. Canada House had been closed for many years, and each of the artists had been asked to carve one piece that would be displayed at the reopening. The artists were presented to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the opening ceremony.
I was asked to join the group as a consultant to hang the art, but I think I was also asked because I was the best person to make sure that Beau Dick made it to London and back without incident…
David Neel, Cheryl Higgs, myself, Beau Dick and Dempsey Bob on the Thames River in London, 1998.
I’ve also had the honour of attending many potlatches and pole raisings around British Columbia, and there have been travels to Haida Gwaii, and Alert Bay, amongst other communities. One trip was to Juneau Alaska for the opening of the Walter Soboleff Building at the Sealaska Heritage Institute, where I had been invited by David Boxley (Jr) to attend the opening ceremonies.
Tsimshian artist David R. Boxley performing at the opening of the Walter Soboleff Building at the Sealaska Heritage Institute in 2015.
On top of cultural events, I have attended Indigenous exhibition openings at the MOMA, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, as well as exhibits in other cities around the world. Last year I had the pleasure of going to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., as well as New York City, to give lectures. I spoke about Northwest Coast formline and how commerce, as well as culture, has driven the development of the art form to what we see it as today.
Attending a pole raising at the Haida Gwaii Heritage Centre at Ḵay Llnagaayin Skidegate, Haida Gwaii.
As I look back on the last twenty-five years, I tend to gloss over the stressful moments. There have certainly been dramatic times, from gallery break-ins, to 9/11, the stock market crash, and today. Through the networks of artists and friends, we’ve always found a way to move forward. As I reflect, I think about what a unique business opportunity that has developed with the gallery. I have made so many friendships with clients and artists on a personal level, and they have all brought a lot of joy into my life.
In particular, this weekend also marks the third anniversary of Beau Dick's passing as well as the passing of two other friends and artists of the gallery who we, unfortunately, lost this past weekend – Gerry Marks and Val Malesku.
A couple of months ago, we thought we’d send a newsletter tying silver jewelry into our “silver” anniversary, but we decided last week that it seemed more appropriate to reflect on the last twenty-five years and offer a bit of a retrospective of life at the gallery.
Bear Pendant by Bill Reid with silver chain by Georg Jensen, 1991.
Together, with my team, we’ve had the pleasure of working with many talented artists and committed patrons, and we have seen numerous beautiful works come through the gallery doors.
Sometimes, though, treasures pass through our hands so quickly that we don’t get a chance to showcase them. This quintessential Bear necklace by Bill Reid, paired with a chain by Danish silversmith Georg Jensen, was one such piece. It was going to be the focal piece of the newsletter, and we decided to include an image of it here even though a few days ago it found a home. It’s quite a unique pendant, and we wanted to take the opportunity to share it with you. Bill created this piece for a Vancouver-based textile artist (and friend) who worked with him on several projects.
As we celebrate our Silver Anniversary, the gallery doors are locked but we are working inside. Couriers are still working if by chance a piece of art might help brighten your day.
The next 25 years…
Who knows where the future will lead, but I hope the Douglas Reynolds Gallery will be here celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2045. Although I hope I will have retired by then, as I will be 82, my idea of retirement is probably working fifteen to twenty hours a week and still keeping myself involved in different ways.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the walk down memory lane. Our next newsletter will be sent out in a couple of weeks and will follow our more familiar approach exploring the world of printmaking on the Northwest Coast.
I’m going to toast the gallery’s 25th anniversary tonight at home. I hope that if you have a glass in hand, you will join me in the celebration.