Photo: William (Bill) McLennan (1948-2020)
William (Bill) McLennan, renowned for his vast knowledge of Northwest Coast First Nations art, was a change maker for many First Nations artists and their practices throughout British Columbia. If you are engaged with the First Nations art community in any way, you will have undoubtedly come across his name, his writings and, if you were lucky enough, Bill himself.
Bill held a deep passion and intimate knowledge of Indigenous peoples and their art and their histories. It was Bill’s discovery through extensive research that infrared film could reveal Northwest coast paintings that had disappeared under the patina of age. The research led to an exhibit and ultimately the influential book he wrote with colleague, Karen Duffek, The Transforming Image: Painted Arts of Northwest Coast First Nations. Just before his untimely death, Bill had completed another book with Karen Duffek and Jordan Wilson, Where the Power Is: Indigenous Perspectives on Northwest Coast Art.
Bill fuelled his passion for First Nations art through his work with museums, non-profit organizations, and youth. He had a close working relationship with artist Bill Reid and helped numerous artists through his mentorship, advice, or even offering up his home to those artists who needed a place to stay while visiting Vancouver.
An advocate for repatriating First Nations Art to its rightful owners, his goal was to bring back Northwest Coast art to British Columbia from wherever it is currently housed. Speaking at the BC Achievement Artists’ Talk in November 2019, Bill shared his determination to repatriate First Nations Art objects with the audience:
“They are the history of the Northwest Coast. Those pieces need to come back because of the knowledge that’s embedded in there. The knowledge can be extracted by contemporary First Nations artists.”
Bill took pride in celebrating First Nation Art in BC while supporting emerging and established artists. He was a committed advisor for over 15 years to BC Achievement’s First Nations Art program.
Bill was celebrated through an online tribute coordinated by the Museum of Anthropology. His knowledge, kind spirit and guidance is greatly missed by the many he lifted up, but his legacy continues to elevate and inspire us all.
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