Bill Reid (1937-1961)

Some examples of the work of Northwest Coast Native Master Artist Dave Neel Senior

Dave Neel Senior, smallest totem pole
Dave Senior carving the "worldest smallest totem pole"

David Lyle Neel (1937-1961) was the eldest son of artist and carver Ellen May Neel (née Newman, 1916-1966). He is also the grandson of the celebrated carver Charlie James (abt. 1875-1938). David spent his early years in Alert Bay. After he moved to Vancouver, he learned to carve along side his mother and her uncle Mungo Martin (abt. 1879-1962). Newspaper articles of the period suggest that throughout the 1950s David played a lead role in Ellen Neel's carving and retail business "The Totem Arts Studio". In 1954, the City of Vancouver commissioned David to carve "The World's Smallest Totem Pole" for visiting comedian Bob Hope. The following year, David worked in collaboration with his mother and siblings in the production of a series of large-scale poles for the Westmount Mall in Edmonton. Mungo Martin, during his 1954 potlatch, invested David with the name Gla-Gla-Kla-Wis.

Dave Neel Senior, Ellen Neel
Dave Senior with his mother, Ellen Neel. He learned to carve from an early age and learned to love the art as a child

David was also among the first Kwakiutl artists to take art lessons at Euro Canadian institutions. He took painting classes on Saturday afternoons at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and news accounts indicate that in 1950 he won a scholarship from The Vancouver School of Art, the precursor of Emily Carr University. By the late 1950s, his work art often expressed Kwakiutl subject matter though he used Western painting conventions. David Lyle Neel is most noted for his painting of a Hamasta and a Thunderbird pole that appears on the cover of a special edition of The Native Voice, published in 1958.

Dave Neel Senior, Aboriginal Painting 1
Dave Senior Painting of a Raven mask dancer used as a cover for the Native Voice in 1958

Although David was primed to lead the Northwest Coast art world in the 1960s, he died in September 1961 within days of his twenty-fourth birthday and the course of Northwest Coast Art changed forever. David Lyle Neel is the father of photographer, carver, painter, and jewelry-maker David Anthony Neel (b. 1960). David Lyle's grandchildren Edwin (b. 1990) and Ellena Neel (b. 1992) learned to carve from their father David A. Neel and have studied art at Emily Carr University. Through their work Gla-Gla-Kla-Wis's legacies live on.

By Carolyn Butler Palmer, Ph.D.

Dave Neel Senior, thunderbird
Dave Senior Carving of a Thunderbird and Killer Whale, circa 1958
Yellow Cedar
Dave Neel Senior, Aboriginal Painting 2
Dave Senior Painting - The North Wind
Oil paint on board. Circa 1955
Dave Neel Senior, Aboriginal Painting 3
Dave Senior Painting - Untitled
Oil on board. Circa 1957
Dave Neel Senior, Aboriginal Painting 4
Dave Senior Painting - Hok-Hok Dancer
Acrylic on illustration board. Circa 1956
Dave Neel Senior, Aboriginal Painting 5
Dave Senior Painting - The Canoe Carver
Acrylic on Illustration board. Circa 1956
Dave Neel Senior, Ellen Neel, Ted Neel, Bob Neel, Dave Neel, Totem Pole
Ellen Neel and her sons painting a totem pole together
Dave is the third from the left
Dave Neel Senior, Native Voice
A cover of the Native Voice magazine, with an "Indian princess" holding artwork by Dave Neel