Lou-ann Neel says jewelry has been one of her most rewarding artistic pursuits, though she can never leave off another discipline for long. “My hands need to carve, they need to sew, they need to paint,” she said. (BC Achievement image)

Lou-ann Neel says jewelry has been one of her most rewarding artistic pursuits, though she can never leave off another discipline for long. “My hands need to carve, they need to sew, they need to paint,” she said. (BC Achievement image)

Lou-ann Neel wins the Fulmer Award in First Nations Art

Originally from Alert Bay, Neel’s family is steeped in renowned Kwakwaka’wakw artists

Lou-ann Neel has been making art since high school, creating textiles, carving wood, engraving jewelry, painting and eventually getting into digital illustrations. She has a fine art degree from Emily Carr, and sells her designs online.

But it took receiving the Fulmer Award in Indigenous Art this November for Neel to see herself as an artist.

“I just didn’t think anything I did was anything special because I’ve been surrounded by artists my whole life, and my whole thing was, I want to be as good as them. I’ve never seen myself so much as an artist,” she said.

Her family is rich with artistic talent — Charlie James, Mungo Martin, Ellen Neel and Kevin Cranmer, to name a few.

“When I was learning to design, that’s when I realized it’s not just a great privilege to learn but it’s kind of a family obligation to continue our own family tradition.”

Art is something she’s compelled to do, but she never considered it a career – just a full-time passion outside of her day jobs in public administration, and currently as a curator for the Royal B.C. Museum. But receiving this award, along with five other Indigenous artists in B.C. — Cole Speck (also from Alert Bay), Jaalen Edenshaw, Kelly Robinson, Nathan Wilson and Evelyn Vanderhoop — caused Neel to take a second look at her own body of work.

Neel was born in Alert Bay, and returns as often as she can to participate in ceremonies and potlatches, spend time with family, and get in time on the land and sea.

Her art education began in high school where she was taught Kwakiutl art in an immersive Indigenous art, social studies and language program. Though living in Victoria by then, she was learning Kwak’wala language and being mentored by artists like George Hunt Jr., her brother Kevin Cranmer.

She pursued a career in public administration, but kept making art on the side, becoming a full-fledged as a multi-disciplinary artist in textiles, silversmithing, painting and carving.

In 2011, she discovered a laser engraving technique for jewelry. Other traditional artists scoffed at the laser work, but for Neel, whose enthusiasm for carving earned her carpal tunnel syndrome that stopped her from engraving, the laser was a natural adoption of technology.

“I’m still the one making the design, I’m just not hand-cutting each piece because I physically can’t. But that shouldn’t stop me from being able to create the kind of jewelry I’d love to put out there.”

She went to Emily Carr around that time, graduating four years later with a degree in fine arts focused on digital graphic design. It was while researching for a project that Neel learned about her grandmother, Ellen Neel, an artistic legend in Vancouver.

A rare female totem pole carver — she was one of a group who gave the UBC Thunderbirds their name by gifting a thunderbird totem in 1948 — Ellen was also among the first to put designs on everyday things like clothes and in architecture in the 1940s and ’50s.

A quick scroll through Neel’s online stores shows her design printed on all manner of things, from tote bags to chairs to classic art prints to silk neckties.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: First Nations carver making all the right cuts

READ MORE on Lou-ann Neel’s day job: Indigenous repatriation projects get new funding from BC government

Neel will often take her laptop to a beach with wifi access and work on digital designs, inspired by the landscape.

The winter weather has pushed her back inside to experiment with old-fashioned paint on canvas. True to her artist’s spirit, she’s come up with a new project of creating abstract paintings about how it feels to be in the big house. She wants to communicate the sense of life and fullness that comes from ceremonies and potlatches.

“I don’t care if I get locked up for the next four months here. I have all my supplies and goals that I’ve set for myself for oil painting.”

The B.C. Achievement Foundation recognizes accomplishments of British Columbians in community work, business, and art. It was founded in 2003. The Vancouver-based Fulmer Foundation is the title sponsor of the award.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


ArtIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Supernatural Treasures. (Lou-ann Neel)

Supernatural Treasures. (Lou-ann Neel)

A sample of some of Lou-ann Neel’s jewelry.

A sample of some of Lou-ann Neel’s jewelry.

Westcoast Storm. (Lou-ann Neel)

Westcoast Storm. (Lou-ann Neel)

Missing You, My Sister. (Lou-ann Neel)

Missing You, My Sister. (Lou-ann Neel)

Balance. (Lou-ann Neel)

Balance. (Lou-ann Neel)

Just Posted

New electric buses are coming to school districts. (Submitted photo)
New electric school buses will drive North Island forward

Travel on electric school buses is smoother, quieter, and healthier than traditional diesel buses

North Island Gazette file photo of Port McNeill council.
Port McNeill average priced home to pay $12 more in taxes

Residential property taxes in Port McNeill are going up

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

Opening ceremony in remembrance of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Awareness Day hosted by Quatsino First Nation. (Quatsino First Nation Facebook video screenshot)
VIDEO: Quatsino First Nation goes live for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Day

May 5 is when the message behind all the red dresses hanging comes into sharpest focus

North Island Gazette file photo of Port Hardy council.
Port Hardy council to send RCMP officer a letter of congratulations

Mayor Dennis Dugas said Corp. Chris Voller ‘obviously earned it and he did a great job up here’

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Island Health has confirmed COVID-19 exposures at Ecole des Deux Mondes in Campbell River on May 4 and 5, and at Mill Bay Nature School in Mill Bay on April 28, 29, 30 and May 3. (Metro Creative photo)
Two new COVID-19 school exposures confirmed by Island Health

Health authority contacting anyone exposed at Ecole des Deux Mondes, Mill Bay Nature School

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Most Read