Robert Davidson

Robert Charles Davidson (born 4 November 1946) is a Canadian artist of Haida heritage. Robert’s Haida name is G̲uud San Glans, which means “Eagle of the Dawn”. He is known internationally as a carver of totem poles and masks, printmaker, painter and jeweller. Robert is a leading figure in the renaissance of Haida art and culture.

For more than fifty years now, Robert has worked as an artist and has produced an internationally acclaimed body of work. His work is found in several private and public collections including the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Canadian Museum of History in Hull, Quebec, the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles.

Robert’s passion to revive and perpetuate a variety of forms of Haida cultural expression, including song, dance and ceremony, has fuelled his remarkable output throughout the years. He has been responsible among other things for carving and raising the first totem pole in his hometown of Massett in nearly 90 years when he was just 22 years old. His inspiration was to give his elders a chance to celebrate culture in a way they had not been able to in their lifetimes.

Robert was born to a particularly notable family of artists. His great grandfather was the famed Haida artist, Charles Edenshaw (1839 – 1924) whose superb artworks were well known in the Haida community and collected and displayed in showrooms internationally, during the era before Haida culture was painfully silenced by the government.

While he was growing up, tangible culture heritage had virtually disappeared in Massett. From an early age, Robert was surrounded by fine carving as both his father, Claude Davidson and grandfather, Robert Davidson Sr. were respected carvers.  Robert began carving at the age of 13 when his father insisted, he carry on the family artistic tradition.

In 1965, Robert moved to Vancouver to complete his education at Point Grey Secondary School because his local community did not have a secondary school. Ironically, this move allowed him to learn more about the arts of the Haida Nation, through visits to the Vancouver Museum to see stunning artworks collected from Haida Gwaii.

In 1966, while demonstrating his carving work at Eaton’s in Vancouver, Robert met the late Bill Reid, who then coached him on sculpture and design for the next eighteen months. Through Reid, he met anthropologist Wilson Duff and artist Bill Holm, and continued to learn about the Haida art. In 1967 he enrolled in the Vancouver School of Art (predecessor to the Emily Carr University of Art and Design), a place he credits for developing his drawing.

He has received many honours for his accomplishments, including: An Inspire Award (formerly, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award) in art and culture, an Order of British Columbia; an Order of Canada, the Governor General’s Award for Visual Arts, the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement Award in the Visual Arts, and numerous honorary degrees from universities in Canada and the US.

He is a leading figure in the renaissance of Haida art and culture and is a founding member of the Rainbow Creek Dancers with his brother and fellow artist, Reg Davidson. He is also one of the founding members of the Haida Gwaii Singers Society, started by Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson.

Robert currently lives and works in White Rock, near Vancouver, and Massett, Haida Gwaii. We encountered Robert through his Late son Ben Davidson. Ben is also a celebrated Haida Artist. Together with Robert we share the ambition to create a European exhibition about the Haida Art across the generations of the notable Davidson Family.

Want to see more of Robert? He was the subject of the documentary, Haida Modern, which premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2019.

Work from this artist