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January 28 2020

Masterpieces Donated to the Vancouver Art Gallery

Vancouver Sun

John Mackie writes that Donald Ellis, founder and owner of his eponymous gallery, has donated five important works by the Haida master artist Charles Edenshaw to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Edenshaw, who is also known by his Indigenous names Tahayghen or Da.a xiigang, is widely considered the most accomplished early-modern First Nations artist of the Northwest Coast. The two bracelets (one gold, one silver), and three silver spoons donated to the VAG are among his finest work. 

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Donald Ellis explained that 'both the bracelets have very important provenance. Edenshaw gave the large silver bracelet to Chief Shakes (in Alaska) in the 19th century, which was then given to his daughter, Mary Ebbetts Hunt. She was Tlingit and brought Chilkat weaving to Vancouver Island.' Hunt passed the bracelet down through her family. 'The gold bracelet remained in the Edenshaw family until they sold it a little while ago.'

Edenshaw’s artworks are highly sought after today and in the permanent collections of many of the world’s great museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Field Museum in Chicago, and the Berlin Ethnological Museum in Germany. As the Vancouver Sun notes, the major Edenshaw collections in B.C. 'are at the Museum of Vancouver and the UBC Museum of Anthropology, not the Vancouver Art Gallery.'

The Vancouver Art Gallery is one of few Canadian institutions to openly recognize the artistic importance of Northwest Coast carvers. In 2013, the VAG staged a groundbreaking Edenshaw exhibition, in which the majority of art on show had to be borrowed from other institutions and private collectors. In addition to the two Edenshaw pieces already in the VAG’s collection (a model argillite totem and a woven Haida hat that his wife made and he painted), Donald Ellis’s donation was a substantial contribution toward advancing the VAG’s goal of showcasing this master Northwest Coast artist.

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Masterpieces Donated to the Vancouver Art Gallery