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Dogfish Woman Transformation Pendant 1982

Dogfish Woman Transformation Pendant, 1982

Bill Reid, Dogfish Woman Transformation Pendant, 1982
Boxwood, 18k gold, Pendant: 8.0 cm (diameter); Chain: 5.5 cm (length)
SFU Bill Reid Collection, Vancouver

Dogfish Woman Transformation Pendant consists of a disk featuring the Dogfish Mother  and a separate, removable mask portraying her more human qualities—one the alter ego of the other.  The pendant is carved out of boxwood, a material Reid preferred for small-scale objects and prototypes because its tight, knot-free grain and resistance to splitting or chipping allowed him to achieve very fine detail. In 1983 Reid produced this same design in gold.


Bill Reid, The Dogfish Woman, 1983, offset lithograph print, SFU Bill Reid Collection, Vancouver.

In the early 1980s Reid had become inspired by transformation masks, in which human, animal, and supernatural beings are shown to live in the same time and space. They sometimes depict the supernatural ancestor of a lineage and its first human. Reid was transfixed by the theme of the Dogfish Mother, a supernatural being in Haida mythology whose legend has largely disappeared.  Her characteristics come partly from the dogfish itself, a small inshore shark common in Northwest Coast waters. In Reid’s characterization, she has “great cheeks, with gills like monstrous scars, [a] headdress reflecting the pointed shape of the dogfish head, and [a] grotesque labret [lip pendant]. . . . [Yet she is still] the most desirable and fascinating woman from mythtime.”  Her hooked nose signals metamorphosis—reminding us of the deep mystery of transformation that takes place with ingestion and respiration. Her spinal vertebrae, like the joints of most Haida creatures, contain animate life forms, in her case humans.


The Dogfish Mother is a major crest figure in Haida art, and Reid’s right to represent her in his artworks came through his Haida lineage. The heraldic rights to the Dogfish Mother are used by three clans, two from the Eagle side and one from the Raven of the Haida moieties, and include the Yaakw Llaanas, the lineage of Kwaayang, the wife of Daxhiigang (Charles Edenshaw, 1839–1940).


A drawing of the Dogfish Mother done by Daxhiigang in 1897 was collected by anthropologist Franz Boas for New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Reid copied this design for his Dogfish Brooch, c.1959, and clearly attributed it to Daxhiigang, as seen by the inscription on the back face. For both Daxhiigang and Reid, carving and drawing the Dogfish Mother was “an intensely personal meditation on the permanence of love in a world filled with death and sudden disappearances.”  Accordingly, Dogfish Woman Transformation Pendant can be seen as a small-scale wearable sculpture that is monumental in significance.


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