David Neel

Northwest Coast Native Artist David Neel from Kwakwaka'wakw Nation

Kwakwaka’wakw Nation

David Neel has been creating art in the Kwakwaka’wakw style for over thirty years. His paintings, printmaking, carvings, and jewelry are all informed by his heritage, which includes several successful artists: Dave Neel Sr., his father; Ellen Neel, his grandmother; Mungo Martin, his great-great uncle; and Charlie James, his great-great-great grandfather. While many of his pieces are more contemporary in their material and design, Neel learned carving in the traditional style by his family and peers in his father’s village.

While Neel portrays meaningful stories and traditional values in all of his pieces, he says he finds jewelry the most impactful art form. He appreciates the fact that clients attach their own meaning to his jewelry and that it is used to mark important, personal events in people’s lives.

Neel has exhibited his work in many public institutions, including solo exhibitions at: the National Portrait Gallery of Canada; The Smithsonian Institution – NMAI; the Venice Biennale, and his work is represented in numerous public collections. His children are following in family legacy; studying art at the Emily Carr University and working with their father.

Works by this Artist (Present + Past + Public)

Present Works

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  • Bukwus Mask

    David Neel

    $6,500.00 CAD

    Red Cedar wood, Cedar bark, Horse hair, Acrylic paint
    21 x 13.5 x 9″
    30 x 15 x 9″ (including hair)

    Bukwus, also known as the Wild Man of the Woods, is an eerie supernatural creature from the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. This figure can be found lurking at the edge of a stream or in the shadows of the forest, always in search of souls that he can steal for himself. The souls that are caught by the Bukwus can be seen hovering near him, and are eternally condemned to misery, hunger, wandering, and evilness.

    In his new book, The Way Home: David Neel, David features the full story of how the Bukwus figure came to be. As the story goes, there was once a group of villagers who went fishing for salmon together every fall. One man wanted to become a strong warrior, and would walk a great distance from their fishing camp each morning to bathe in the freezing mountain stream and purify himself. However, one morning, the man could not find his way back to the camp. No matter what he tried, he would always end up back at the mountain stream. His friends from the camp eventually went searching for him, but they were unable to find their friend.

    Upon the group’s return to the fishing camp the following year, the man was spotted by two of the women while they were canoeing. They quickly ran back to the camp to tell the others, who went out the next day to search for him. To their shock, when they found their friend, they realized that he had become a Wildman. Although they tried to catch him, he jumped far above their heads and escaped back into the woods. After coming up with a plan, they returned the next day and managed to capture the man, though it took a dozen men to hold him down and bind him. With the help of a shaman, they were eventually able to tame their lost friend, and he returned to his life as a villager. Still, he remained stronger and faster than any other man, becoming a great warrior for his people.

    David Neel’s Bukwus Mask exemplifies several of the distinct features traditionally used to depict this Wild Man of the Woods. The mask is given a shadowy, human-like form, emphasizes the attributes of the human skull. It is painted in dark colour tones that are commonly associated with the forest, and features deeply sunken eyes, a strong protruding brow, hollowed cheeks, and a hooked nose. During ceremonies, the firelight casts dark shadows across these features, creating ominous shadows that accentuate this creature’s dark nature.

  • Bear & Wren Pendant

    David Neel

    $4,800.00 CAD

    14K Yellow Gold, Platinum, Engraved

    The Bear and the Wren are two figures who play significant roles in the oral history of Northwest Coast. The Bear is one of the most important figures in crest and shamanic art, and is referred to as the Master of the Forest and the Elder Kinsman. Bears are considered to be a close relation to mankind, and are therefore seen as the link between the human and non-human realms, or between the natural and the supernatural. As a crest figure, the Bear symbolizes courage, strength, authority and learned humility.

    Although the Bear is featured in many legends and superstitions on the Northwest Coast, the Wren is a much less common figure in oral tradition. Alongside the Raven, the Otter, and the Mink, the Wren was one of the first creatures to exist in the beginning of the world. Due to its magical and spiritual qualities, the Wren was associated with eliminating many of the creatures on earth. It is most commonly depicted on masks, often with the features of both human and bird.

    According to the oral traditions of the Pacific Northwest Coast, there was once a confrontation between the Bear and the Wren. One day, both creatures were out in the forest when the Bear decided to bully the Wren. The Bear bragged about his larger size, threatening to crush the Wren. Undaunted, the Wren gathered up a few twigs, and flew inside of the Bear through his nose. Once he reached the Bear’s stomach, the Wren started a fire and quickly flew out again. It was this story that inspired the imagery seen on this pendant.

Past Works

The artist’s Past Works at our Gallery have now sold; however, a custom order may be possible if the artist is available and accepting commissions.