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MOA receives $1.1M Northwest Coast art collection

The Museum of Anthropology is now home to a diverse new collection of Northwest Coast art, including early works by renowned Haida artist Bill Reid, thanks to a generous gift from late Calgary philanthropist Margaret Perkins Hess.

Marmie—as she was known to her friends and loved ones—was a long-time art collector who especially enjoyed collecting and promoting Northwest Coast art. She died Sept. 2, 2016, at the age of 100. Her estate is donating her significant collection of Northwest Coast metalwork, carved masks, weavings, totem poles and other unique items to MOA.

Bill Reid (Haida). Selected works in gold and silver, 1955 – 1970. Collection of Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess. MOA collection: 3258/2 – 11. Photo by Martin Dee.

“Marmie was an early champion of Indigenous art and culture, supporting artists such as Bill Reid early on in his career,” said Dale Boniface, Marmie’s long-time friend and co-executor of her estate. “We are delighted to fulfill Marmie’s wishes to see her beloved collection find a home at MOA, where her artworks can be appreciated and celebrated by all museum visitors.”

“UBC is honoured and delighted that Margaret Hess has entrusted MOA with this remarkable collection of Indigenous art,” said Professor Santa J. Ono, president of UBC. “These works will not only enhance MOA’s collection of Northwest Coast art, but will foster greater awareness and understanding of Indigenous cultures for our campus community, museum visitors and the wider B.C. community.”

Marmie, who operated Spencer Creek Ranch near Calgary for most of her life, was an avid art collector who also counted members of the Group of Seven among her friends. She became enamoured with Indigenous art during travels to B.C. and Nunavut, and developed strong relationships with Indigenous artists along the way. In 1970, she founded Calgary Galleries to create a platform to showcase Indigenous art for a wider audience.

Bill Reid (Haida). Gold and abalone brooch with killer whale motif. Collection of Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess. MOA collection: 3258/10. Photo by Martin Dee.

The donation is especially significant for MOA as it includes rarely seen items created by Bill Reid early in his career, including masks, a gold brooch, a silver box and an argillite figure. The donation also includes a number of carvings by Victoria-based carver Henry Hunt, significantly enhancing the museum’s previously small collection of Hunt carvings.

“To me, it’s a wonderful surprise to see all the great pieces, and that they’re back here on the coast for people to study,” said James Hart, a Haida hereditary chief and master carver who worked closely with Bill Reid for many years and carved the Respect to Bill Reid pole behind MOA.

“We are thrilled to add this diverse collection to MOA,” said Karen Duffek, MOA’s curator of contemporary visual arts and Pacific Northwest. “These pieces tell an important story about Indigenous art in the 20th century, highlighting a period when the artists played pivotal roles in the resurgence of Northwest Coast art practices.”

A selection from Marmie’s collection is now on display at MOA opposite the Bill Reid Rotunda.