NOVEMBER 14, 1916


Born in Alert Bay, British Columbia (B.C.), Ellen’s mother was of the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) tribe. Neel’s grandfather, Charlie James, and uncle, Mungo Martin, were famous woodcarvers who taught Neel the art.  Marrying in 1939, she was an at-home mother until her husband suffered a stroke in 1943.  Completing a totem pole for the Totemland Society, Neel’s work began to be recognized internationally.  She opened a studio in Stanley Park and received commissions from the University of B.C. (UBC), a Danish museum (1953), and the Woodward’s Department Store (1953), among others.  Despite her accomplishments, poverty, health issues, the death of a son, and having her work overlooked by grantors caused her work to decline after 1961.  Ellen died in Vancouver on February 3, 1966.  Her totem pole Victory Through Honour (1948) is on the UBC campus and several of her works are in Stanley Park.  Neel inspired Freda Diesing, Doreen Jensen, and her grandson, David Neel.

Source:  “NEEL, Ellen May (Newman),” Canadian Women Artists History Initiative.  Retrieved 8/8/2020,
Photo:  Another Believer, 12/23/2012.  Permissive Use.  

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