Women of Interest – Ellen Neel

Ellen Neel

Ellen Neel, was born November 14, 1916, in Alert Bay, British Columbia, and died in 1966 at the age of 49. Neel became the first woman who was known to have been a professional totem pole carver. She learned the Northwest Art of carving from her grandfather, Charlie James, who was a renowned totem pole carver. Neel began selling her work at twelve years of age. She inspired other First Nations women to take up carving. After Neel’s husband became seriously ill and was unable to support the family, Ellen went into full time carving. A financial breakthrough occurred when she completed the Totemland Pole for the Totemland Society of Vancouver. She went on to establish the Totem Art Studios in Stanley Park Vancouver. Subsequently, Neel was approached in 1955 by Woodward’s Department Store and commissioned to create five totem poles for an Edmonton shopping mall. Ellen’s grandson has carried on the family tradition and today is an active carver in British Columbia.