Archive for June 2nd, 2010

I’ve been looking forward to the virtual gallery of Bill Reid’s works ever since I heard a first whisper of it over a year ago. However, perhaps I anticipated too much, because, now that The Raven’s Call is online, I find myself disappointed. I’ve bookmarked the site, and plan to return to it regularly, but, all the time I’m using it, I keep thinking that it could have been something much more.

The first problem with the site is the navigation. The home page offers four menu items – of which only two, Who was Bill Reid? and Bill Reid’s Art, actually deserve to be at the top of the menu. Of the other two, The Unfinished Story is amusing but slight, while In the Classroom appeals to a narrow group of visitors, and suggests possibly unjustified assumptions about the users of the site. Are visitors really elementary and high school classes, or are they mainly adult art lovers and students of First Nations culture?

The second problem is that while the site has an astonishing amount of material, both visual and aural, most of it is simply categorized and labeled as though it is a museum specimen. For instance, in Who Was Bill Reid? You can view a pictorial history of his life, and a series of aural clips by both Reid and others. Similarly, in Bill Reid’s Art, you can see slide shows labeled Sculptures and Containers; Paintings, Prints and Drawings, and Jewelery. However, because nothing is done to place any of this material in context, the effect is like browsing through the drawers of a museum archive.

The result is an experience is interesting but dry and minimally engaging – so much so that it fails to do justice to either Reid or his work. It is only in the biography Bill Reid’s Journey that any of this material is put into context. Rather than just the bare facts about where a photo was taken or when a piece of jewelry was created and what it is made of, I suspect that most users would prefer to have a few hundred words giving anecdotes and explanations of how each item fits into Reid’s life or development of an artist.

Still another problem is that site designers show more interest in fitting graphics into the viewing page that displaying them at a size where they can be studied in detail. This tendency is especially obvious in larger pieces like “Mythic Messengers,” where the insistence on presenting the work as a whole results in a view that is only marginally better than the thumbnail. Some details of these larger pieces would go a long way towards helping viewers appreciate Reid’s work.

I would like to say that The Raven’s Call is the online monument that Reid’s genius deserves. If nothing else, I would prefer to offer praise commensurate with the three years that the site took to assemble. However, in all honesty, I cannot. The Raven’s Call might almost be a remnant from the mid-1990s, rather than a modern site.

Even its terms of use, which tries to limit borrowing from the site to fair use, seems archaic in web terms. After all, Reid’s work is well known, so there can be no question of anyone claiming it as their own. For another, the pictures are low resolution, so any use of them is going to be extremely limited anyway. Had the site designers contented themselves with a Creative Commons Attribution license, asking only that borrowers acknowledge the source of the material they were using, there might be some chance of the license being respected. Instead, the site simply looks old-fashioned in opting for terms of use that cannot possibly be enforced.

I’d like to think that the present version of the site is only the beginning – that, slowly, it will evolve the context that is currently lacking. But, for now, the main impression I take away (aside from the awe that Reid’s work always leaves me with) is of good intentions and results that were far less than should have been.

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