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Ellen Neel, Totem World model pole group shot

Ellen Neel, Grouping of totem poles, with Totemland at centre, red cedar [Lattimer Gallery, Vancouver BC, Apr 5-19]

Ellen Neel

Lattimer Gallery
Vancouver BC – Apr 5-19, 2014

Ellen Neel, West Wind Mask

Ellen Neel, West Wind Mask (1962), red cedar [Lattimer Gallery, Vancouver BC, Apr 5-19]

Ellen Neel, Totem World model pole

Ellen Neel, Totemland model pole (c. 1960), red cedar [Lattimer Gallery, Vancouver BC, Apr 5-19]

She passed away in 1966, but the legacy of Alert Bay-born artist Ellen Neel continues to be felt today. Not only is Neel remembered as the first woman to carve totem poles (for years she operated Totem Arts Studio in Stanley Park), she was also an inspiration to carvers Freda Diesang (Haida) and Doreen Jenson (Gitksan). Her grandson David Neel is also a noted carver, jeweller, painter and photographer.

While widely known for the five poles she produced for the Woodward’s Department Store in Edmonton in 1955, much of Neel’s work consists of masks and small-scale model poles produced for the tourist market. Some of these works are now housed in museum collections, but the majority can be found in private collections. An exemplary work from her later period, a Sun mask (1962), provides the centrepiece for her upcoming exhibition.

Neel’s work is often described as idiosyncratic, a term applied to artists who have broken from convention to develop their own style. For Neel, convention arrived through techniques her maternal grandfather, Charlie James, taught her, along with the myths and legends that formlines, crests and spirits align. It could also be said that stylistic variation comes not merely from the meeting of cultures, but from the conflicts that arise when one culture begins to speak for another.

Michael Turner

Ellen Neel, Sun Mask

Ellen Neel, Sun Mask (1963), red cedar [Lattimer Gallery, Vancouver BC, Apr 5-19]

 Sun, Jun 1, 2014