By Alyssa Gallant
Doug and Bill Reid carving Wasco (Haida sea wolf) at Totem Park, ubc, as part of the Haida House Project, 1961. moa 2784/3 (printed in 2009); photo by Takao Tanabe.
In 1958, Doug Cranmer received a phone call from Bill Reid inviting him to help on a carving project that had been commissioned by the Museum of Anthropology (MOA). Until earlier that summer, Doug had spent most of his life fishing and working in the lumber industry, occasionally studying carving with his step- grandfather, Mungo Martin. However, that summer the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had imposed its first ten day ban on fishing and in response Doug claimed that he would never fish again. That year would also be his last logging. He moved to Vancouver to work with Bill Reid and, as Doug later stated, “That was the beginning of my carving career.”
In the nearly three years the two men worked together, they experimented with various carving techniques and ways of copying images from other, older Haida poles. In truth, the two men were at the time, quite inexperienced
in carving. It has since been rumoured that Reid taught Doug how to use the carving tools, such as the adze and chainsaw, and how to carve in general. However, Reid had this to say: “Nobody, I’m sure, including me, could have influenced Doug one iota in any direction…if he learned anything in that period it was just improving his technique. He retained his own style, which he still does.” Doug worked on the project with Reid until 1961, when he accidentally adzed his Achilles tendon and had to spend five weeks in the hospital. However, the two would work together again in 1962 and 1963 restoring the Wa’kas, Nhe-is-bik and Sis-kaulas poles in Stanley Park.
After his time working with Bill Reid, Doug began carving full-time, and opened one of the first Native-run art galleries in Canada. His work gained international respect and he experimented with a variety of styles and influences – Kwakwaka’wakw and Haida being only two of many. Doug’s work was very much his own, and it is being brought together in the first ever solo exhibit of his work in MOA’s Kesu’.
Though Bill Reid’s influence on the work of Doug Cranmer is questionable, Doug, when asked if he had ever worked with Bill Reid would respond, in fun, with, “Yes, I taught him everything he knew.”