Born June 6, 1990, Edwin James Thomas Neel began his promising carving career at a young age. Although his formative years were spent in Nong Prue, Thailand, the young artist later returned to Canada where he followed a successful line of Kwakwaka’wakw carvers who informed his artistic style. His father is a well-known Kwakwaka’wakw artist, David Neel, his paternal great grandmother was Ellen Neel, and three-time great uncle was Mungo Martin.
Neel first started producing art in 2006 and, by 2011, was studying at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He was formally trained in Kwakwaka’wakw formline under his father and was instructed on the Nuu-chah-nulth style by artist Ron Marshall at a later date, after which he began to employ Nuu-chah-nulth elements more frequently in his work. In 2015, Edwin received the YVR Art Foundation Youth Artist Scholarship, in recognition of his impact on the contemporary Northwest Coast art market.
Primarily producing sculptural works, Neel continues to use traditional materials, carving in both red and yellow Cedar, as well as Alder. While continuing to produce works using conventional materials and elements, Neel contrarily strives to explore the paradox of creating contemporary works in a market that maintains a certain amount of insularity in relation to many First Nations cultures. This juxtaposition of traditional and modern is what motivates Neel and several of his contemporaries and is informing a new understanding on what constitutes “authenticity” in First Nations art.