Artist: Bill Henderson
Tribal Affiliation: Weiwaikum
Bill was born into the Weiwaikum tribe in 1950, one of nine sons of the late Chief Sam Henderson (1905 – 1982) and his wife May Quocksister Henderson. As a child, Bill learned the ways of an artist by watching his father, a self-taught carver. Sam and May Henderson are well remembered as protectors of ancient customs, and they instilled in all their children respect for their cultural heritage.
At age seven, Bill carved a little whale plaque for his grade 1 teacher; it is still proudly displayed at Campbellton School. Young Bill would draw and paint stylized figures from Kwakwaka’wakw mythology on pieces of left over plywood in his father’s shed – a shed he has carved in now for nearly half a century.
In his late teens, Bill took up carving more seriously and at 19 he began to sell his work. Since then, he has honed his skills while preserving the family’s traditional style in carvings, dance masks, paddles, bowls and plaques. While he was always drawn to painting and the culture of carving, Bill never dreamed that his work would become sought after in a global marketplace.
A professional Native dancer, Bill performs at numerous potlatches and ceremonies. The symbolism of the mystic character he portrays in dance can be seen in his art, be it the Crooked Beak of Heaven, the Grizzly Bear, or the Sea Monster. The dance “Hunter of the Woods” was given to Bill by his father during a potlatch; it belongs to him alone.
Using methods handed down through time, Bill still fashions his own tools; blades from old net fishing knives are bent, tempered, sharpened and then attached to cedar handles with fishing twine.
Bill works to capture natural and supernatural figures in his work; legend and history are infused into each carving. In crafting eagles, bears and his killer whales, he depicts how the resources of air, land and sea were important and life-giving to his people.
(excerpts from “Totem Legend” by Christine Scott)
The Museum at Campbell River, BC
City Hall, Ishikari, Japan
Kwagiulth Museum and Cultural Centre, Quadra Island, BC
mentor to his nephews, Junior and Greg Henderson, and Tom Hunt.