Artist Statement - David Neel

From earliest memory I wanted to follow in the family footsteps and be a Native artist, although fate decreed that I would work a photographer in the USA before returning to the Vancouver. I soon met Beau Dick and Wayne Alfred, and I apprenticed as a carver for 2 years. Eager to learn, I travelled to Native villages in B.C. photographing Native leaders that became a book, Our Chiefs and Elders, and a travelling exhibition that opened at the UBC Museum of Anthropology. Over the next decade I completed several photographic documentaries; authored a second book, The Great Canoes; I did an extensive photographic documentary, spanning a decade, on the Pequot tribe of Connecticut for a permanent exhibition for the tribes museum.

David Neel finishing a traditional kwakiutl painting
David Neel finishing a traditional kwakiutl painting

With the assistance of a Smithsonian Institution Community Scholar Grant I studied the Native artifacts in the leading public collections internationally, such as the British Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian. Seeing firsthand the creativity of carvers in the 1800's inspired me to create a series of contemporary masks: Residential School Mask, Overpopulation Mask and Ellen Neel portrait mask that became a travelling exhibition. Working on The Great Canoes inspired me to carve a 26' canoe that made several traditional journeys. With Coquitlam students I carved a 32' canoe that is now on display at a Vancouver sky-train station. Masks and canoe came together for the 1999 Venice Biennale; where I did an exhibition of masks / performance, paddling my canoe in the canals of Venice.

David Neel carving a totem pole
David Neel carving a totem pole

My ancestors have been a major influence on my art practice, including: Dave Senior, Ellen Neel, Charlie James, Mungo Martin and my uncle Bob Neel who introduced me to hand engraving. It was not my intention to become a jeweler, but my interest in Kwakiutl design made hand engraving the perfect medium and I continue to use it to explore traditional design, which is highly complex with end-less possibilities. Currently I am studying early bentwood box designs and applying this knowledge to my hand engraving. My grandmother, Ellen Neel, is credited with introducing silk screen printing to N.W. Native art, which encouraged me to do print making: in addition to traditional design I have completed contemporary prints depicting current issues, such as: the Mohawk Oka Crisis of 1991 and Lakota Souix Dakota Pipeline protests of 2016.

David Neel talking and traditional canoe meeting
David Neel talking and traditional canoe meeting

I work in a number of creative media, which is unusual for an artist, so my art practice can be difficult to comprehend. Essentially my creative method is informed by my knowledge of traditional N.W. coast Native art, and my interest in history: past and present. I strive to create work that underlines the relevance of Native art as a contemporary medium of expression. I have come appreciate that the pursuit of knowledge and creative expansion is never ending for an artist. After 35 years as a Kwakiutl artist I have come to understand that tradition is a foundation to build upon and not a set of rules to limit creativity.

David Neel with canoe in Venice
David Neel with canoe in Venice

David Neel with son Edwin and daughter Ellena
David Neel with son Edwin and daughter Ellena


2016 A Portrait of the Mashantucket Pequot Mashantucket Pequot Museum
2005 The Ten Commandments Grunt Gallery, Vancouver, BC
2004 Living Legends Indian Art Centre, Hull, Quebec
2003 Echoes of the Ancestors North Vancouver Arts Space
2000 David Neel - Living Traditions Art Gallery of Peterborough
1999 Walas-Kwis-Gila' (Travels Great Distances) Venice Biennale - Venice, Italy
1998 David Neel - Living Traditions Kamloops Art Gallery
1993-95 Photographs of Native Leaders and Related Works Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography - National Gallery, Ottawa, ON,
Prince George Art Gallery, Prince George, BC
Espace Hortense, St. Camille, QU
Campbell River Museum, Campbell River, BC
1997 Prints by David Neel Courtenay District Museum, Courtenay, BC
1997 Photographs of Native Leaders and Related Works Terrace Art Gallery, Terrace, BC
1997 Traditions & Innovations: Masks by David Neel Quintana Gallery, Portland OR
1996 Spirit of the Earth Yukon Art Centre, Whitehorse, YT
1995 Spirit of the Earth Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay, ON
1994 Images of Native America Smithsonian Institution - NMAI, New York, NY
1993 Spirit of the Earth Vancouver Museum, Vancouver, BC
1992 Heroes and Legends Gallery 1450, Victoria, BC
1992 Heroes Ufundi Gallery, Ottawa, ON
1991 Beyond Boundaries Gallery 1450, Victoria, BC
1991 To Speak for Ourselves: Portraits of Chiefs & Elders National Archives of Canada, Ottawa, ON
1991-95 Our Chiefs and Elders UBC Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, BC
Burke Museum, Seattle, WA
Vernon Museum, Vernon, BC
Kamloops Museum, Kamloops, BC
Native Heritage Centre, Duncan, BC
Langley Museum, Langley, BC
Richmond Museum, Richmond, BC
Delta Museum, Delta, BC Courtenay District Museum, Courtenay, BC
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, BC
Skidegate Museum, Queen Charlotte City, BC
Kwagiutl Museum, Cape Mudge, BC
Calgary Performing Arts Centre, Calgary, AB
San Francisco Camera Work, San Francisco, CA
1986 Deep Ellum Artists Series Allen Street Gallery, Dallas, TX
1985 State/Thomas Freedman's Town LTV Center, Dallas, TX
1985 State Thomas/Freedman's Town Still Light Gallery, Dallas, TX


2018 Form as Meaning: Prints from the Pacific Northwest Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, BC
2017 Closer to Home Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, BC
2017 Ellen Neel - The First Woman Totem Pole Carver Legacy Gallery, Victoria, BC
2016 Across the Turtles Back MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, SK
2015 Pushing the Boundaries North Vancouver Gallery, N. Vancouver, BC
2015 Looking Back at You Confederation Art Centre, Charlottetown, PEI
2015 Resource: A Living Archive Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey, BC
2014 The War Department Indian Arts Institute of America, Santa Fe, NM
2013 Pushing the Boundaries North Vancouver Gallery, N. Vancouver, BC
2013 Out of the Darkness Emily Carr University, Vancouver, BC
2011 Portraits of Canadian Newsmakers National Portrait Gallery of Canada
2011 Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal Artists National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON
2009 AYP - Indigenous Voices Reply Burke Museum, Seattle, WA
2006 About Face Wheelwright Museum, Santa Fe, NM
2006 Changing Hands - 2 Eitljorg Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Museum of Art and Design, New York, NY
Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, Santa Fe
Philbrook Museum, Tulsa, OK
Anchorage Museum, Anchorage, AK
Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN
2006 Royal Canada House Exhibition Canada House, London, England
2005 Dzunukwa: The Wild Woman Quintana Galleries, Portland, OR
2005 Modern Masters Cline Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
2004 Face to Face Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey, BC
2004 Identities: Canadian Portraits McMicheal Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, ON
2002 Recent Acquisitions Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ
2001 Vancouver Collects Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC
2001 Exploring the Collection: Prevalent Concerns Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops, BC
2001 Long Time: Selections from the Permanent Collection Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC
2001 Portrait Gallery of Canada National Archives of Canada, Ottawa, ON
2000 Beyond Borders Coninx Museum, Zurich, Switzerland
2000 The Powwow: Inside and Out MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, SK
2000 Journeys Towards Knowledge University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia
2000 A Century of Canadians at Work National Archives of Canada, Ottawa
1999 Artist for the new Millennium' 2 Man Show Gallery 10, Scottsdale, AZ
1998 Celebrating the Season: Vessels for the Feast The Stonington Gallery, Seattle, WA
1998 Masks from the Northwest Coast Gallery 10, Santa Fe, NM
1998 Kentucky Head, Heart and Hands Kentucky Art & Craft Museum, Louisville KY
1997 Redefining Tradition: A Selection of First Nations Artists Whatcom Museum, Whatcom, WA
1997 Them Equals Us Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, ON
1997 State of the Art National Archives of Canada, Ottawa, ON
1997 Treasured Memories National Archives of Canada, Ottawa, ON
1997 Captain Vancouver: Four Native Perspectives Confederation Art Centre, Charlottetown, PEI
1997 7th Native American Fine Arts Invitational The Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ
1997 Transformations Quintana Art Gallery, Portland, OR
1997 Strong Hearts: Aboriginal Voices & Visions Smithsonian Institute, New York, NY
1996 Partial Recall: Photographs of Native North America Museum of the American Indian, New York, NY
1996 Aboriginal Portraits from the National Archives of Canada National Archives of Canada, Ottawa, ON
1995 First Nations Art Canadian Embassy, Moscow, Russia
1994 All Roads are Good Smithsonian Institution, New York, NY
1994 Spirit Faces Inuit Gallery, Vancouver, BC
1994 First Nations Contemporary Art Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, BC
1993 Indian Territories: 20th Century Native American Artists Renee Fotouhi Gallery, East Hampton, NY
1993 Partial Recall Tyler Galleries, Philadelphia, PA
1993 Artropolis 1993 Vancouver, BC
1993 The Contemporary Camera Red Head Gallery, Toronto, ON
1993 Facing History National Archives of Canada, Ottawa, ON
1993 Partial Recall Boulder Art Center, Boulder, CO
1993 Guatemalan/Canadian Indigenous Art Exhibition Guatemala City, Guatemala
1993 Personal Histories Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey, BC
1992 First Nations Photography Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA
1992 Means of Knowing Exposure Gallery, Vancouver, BC
1992 Canadian Inuit, Northwest Coast Art Seoul Arts Centre, Seoul, Korea
1992 Celebration of First Nations Art Sponsored by Syncrude. Tour of Canadian cities
1992 Native America: Reflecting Contemporary Realities National tour of museums in the US
1992 New Territories: 350/500 Years After Maison de la Culture, Montreal, PQ
1992 First Nations Art 1992 Woodlands Cultural Centre, Brantford, ON
1992 Native American Exhibition Kulturhuset, Stockholm, Sweden


Vancouver Art Gallery Canadian Embassy, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Thunder Bay Art Gallery Smithsonian Institution - NMAI
Kwagiutl Museum Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
Carleton University Gallery Burke Museum
Seattle Art Museum Camosun College
Vancouver Centennial Museum Glenbow Museum
Royal BC Museum Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
Museum of Civilization National Archives of Canada
UBC Museum of Anthropology Canada Council Art Bank
Indian Art Centre Mashantucket Pequot Museum
Heard Museum Anchorage Museum of History and Art
McMicheal Canadian Art Collection Surrey Art Gallery
Denver Art Gallery, Denver, CO  


2017 Hnatyshyn Foundation Indigenous Art Award
2012 Mashantucket Pequot Museum, Groton, CT
2009 Bronze for Cedar Valley Community School, Lynnwood, WA
2008 British Museum, London, England
2008 Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History
2005 National Geographic Society, Washington, DC. Designs film festival award
2004 Carved 32' canoe for Coquitlam School Board, Coquitlam, BC
2003 Totem pole for VanCity Credit Union, North Vancouver, BC
2002 BC Arts Council Grant
2002 Numerous commissions for private collections
2000 Photographed Hauberg Collection for the Seattle Art Museum using Kwakiutl dancers
1997 Project Assistance for Visual Artists award
1996 Two photography exhibitions for Mashantucket Pequot Museum
1996 Carved 26' traditional oceangoing canoe from 500 year old cedar log
1992 Photographic portraits for 'Pathways of Tradition' exhibition, National Museum of the American Indian
1992 Community Scholar Study grant, Smithsonian Institute
1991 Artist Assistance grant, BC Ministry of Municipal Affairs (mask series)
1991 Canada Council Explorations Grant: Contemporary Mask Series
1989 Kodak Canada Grant
1989 Photographed Northwest Coast bighouses for the Museum of Civilization
1988 Canada Council project grant for 'Our Chiefs and Elders'
1988 Mungo Martin Memorial Award
1988 BC Indian Arts and Crafts Society grant
1987 Arness Foundation grant
1987 Mungo Martin Memorial Award