Bird of Paradox: The Unpublished Writings of Wilson Duff


313 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 0-88839-360-1
DDC 709'.01'1097111




Edited by E.N. Anderson
Reviewed by Thomas S. Abler

Thomas S. Abler is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Waterloo and the author of A Canadian Indian Bibliography, 1960-1970.


Over two decades ago, Wilson Duff ended his own life in his University
of British Columbia faculty office. At 51, he had not yet reached the
fruition of a lifetime of research on the cultures and art of the First
Nations of the north Pacific coast. In his later years, Duff had become
fascinated, almost to the point of obsession, with the art of the Haida
of the Queen Charlotte Islands. This book, compiled by E.N. Anderson, an
anthropologist at the University of California-Riverside, features
Duff’s unpublished writings on Haida art and myth.

For Duff, Haida art was rooted in the Haida worldview and cosmology. A
central figure in Haida mythology is Raven, the trickster-creator whom
Duff dubbed “the bird of paradox.” In

this book, he speculates on issues of gender and repressed sexuality in
the interplay between Raven and Frog, and the relation of these to

Nearly half of the book is taken up by Anderson’s “Introduction to
Wilson Duff,” which provides a superb summary of the research and
literature on people of the Northwest Coast, in addition to tracing
Duff’s intellectual development and the influences (including
psychology and art history) that shaped his view of the Haida artistic
canon. The final section of the book presents poems by Duff that were
inspired by his deep relationship with Haida art and myth.

This important and exciting book deserves to be read by all with an
interest in the great art tradition that originated and still flourishes
on British Columbia’s west coast.


“Bird of Paradox: The Unpublished Writings of Wilson Duff,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,