Signed without Signature: Works by Isabella and Charles Edenshaw
Exhibition opening Thursday, November 25, 7-9 pm in The O’Brian Gallery at the UBC Museum of Anthropology
Objects made by 19th-century Haida artists can be seen in museums and private collections around the world. The names of the carvers, painters, and weavers who made these works were, however, rarely recorded.
Isabella and Charles Edenshaw—also known by their Haida names Qwii.aang and Da.a xiigang—were prolific artists who lived and worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time of profound culture change on the Northwest Coast. Although they never signed their work, each developed personal styles and inventive forms of expression that continue to inspire their artist-descendents today.
In this exhibition, MOA curator Bill McLennan focuses on Charles Edenshaw’s metalwork and painting, and Isabella Edenshaw’s basketry, to see how each artist created a recognizable “signature” and how it evolved through their long careers.
Drawing on MOA’s own collection, as well as those of private collectors and major institutions such as McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Museum of Vancouver, Royal British Columbia Museum, and Royal Ontario Museum, Signed without Signature will inaugurate The O’Brian Gallery, named in recognition of The Michael O’Brian Family Foundation’s recent gift of $1 million to the Museum. New exhibit cases, custom-designed by Milan’s Goppion Laboratorio (the same firm that designed MOA’s Multiversity Galleries casework), will showcase works ranging in material from gold, silver, wood, abalone, ivory, bone, and paint, and in form from fine jewelry and extraordinary woven and painted hats to objects of everyday use, including spoons, walking sticks, and napkin rings.
Besides the work of Charles and Isabella Edenshaw, the exhibition features works by other Haida artists, some of whom were their contemporaries, such as John Cross and Tom Price, and others who are either their descendents (such as their nephew, Charles Gladstone), or who continue to be inspired by their legacy. Artists of today whose works are in the show include Chief 7idansuu (Jim Hart), Robert Davidson, Ben Davidson, Bill Reid, Isabel Rorick, Ernest Swanson, and Darrell White, among others.
By showing the work of others alongside that of the Edenshaws, the exhibition addresses such questions as: What is the aesthetic that makes their work recognizable and so respected? How has it remained contemporary for
more than 100 years? Questions are raised as well about the process of attribution of unsigned artworks – a process that continues today, and is illustrated by a selection of materials in the show whose makers have yet to be identified.
Exhibition curated by Bill McLennan, text co-written and edited by Karen Duffek. Designed by Skooker Broome and David Cunningham
Thanks to MOA’s many Haida community advisors, in particular Chief 7idansuu (Jim Hart), and to the lenders: McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Museum of Vancouver, Royal British Columbia Museum, Royal Ontario Museum, and private collectors. Media sponsor: The Georgia Straight.
Watch Bill McLennan explain the process of scanning NWC bracelets on MOA’s youtube.
(from top) Detail, Walking stick by Charles Edenshaw, c. 1853-1920. MOA 7091; Spruce root hat (top view) woven by Isabella Edenshaw, painted by Charles Edenshaw, before 1980. MOA Nb1.489; Silver bracelet (beaver design) by Charles Edenshaw, c. 1890. MOA Nb1.742.