(1961 - Present)
Ken McNeil was born in Prince Rupert, British Columbia on July 28, 1961. He is Tahltan-Tlingit/Nisga’a and began working in the artistic tradition of the Tahltan-Tlingit at the early age of 14. His family crest is the Wolf.
Ken was fortunate to have as his main teacher his uncle, Dempsey Bob, a world renowned master artist, who was able to inspire as well as guide his young nephew in the concepts and intricacy of the Northwest Coast art of their grandfathers. Ken learned discipline, form and the need to ensure that the work was complete and “done right” before it was released to the ultimate owner. The need to finish well has been a trademark of Ken’s since he took on the challenge to become a full-time artist in 1987.
Ken received his artistic training in a traditional fashion. As a youth, he spent much of his time watching his uncle develop his now famous style. He asked for the opportunity to learn the art form and his uncle agreed to teach him on the understanding that Ken, too, would be required to pass on his knowledge in the future. He learned from trying to duplicate and interpret the work Dempsey Bob was creating and to understand the stories that the pieces represented. His maternal aunts have also taught him about the relationship of wood and the traditional Tahltan-Tlingit beadwork they are able to so exquisitely produce. He has studied and learned the Nisga’a style of his father’s heritage and has shown his ability to produce stunning carvings with equal ability in both Northwest styles.
In 1980, Ken took a position teaching design, carving and blankets at his mother’s home village of Telegraph Creek. Later in 1994, he, along with Stan Bevan, led a carving program at the Tsimshian village of Kitselas.
Ken has been asked to create regalia and ceremonial objects for the Hereditary Chiefs in the Northwest. This is an important undertaking, and one which each carver who is asked accepts as an honour. Ken and Stan Bevan received their first major commission in 1989, when they were asked to create four individual crest poles for a housing project in Terrace. This was an important event in their careers and provided them with the opportunity to showcase their talent to a very wide audience.
Ken McNeil did not make the transition to full-time carving until 1987. It was a huge leap to move from supplementing an income with occasional works, to leaving behind the guaranteed paycheck for the uncertainty of an artistic career. However, Ken has made the transition smoothly and has continued to develop a style and individualistic perspective that will be identified as his own for many years to come.
In 2006-2007 Ken worked with his uncle Dempsey Bob on a monumental project called “Fog Woman.” This sculpture is situated at the Vancouver International Airport. Also in September 2006 Ken and Stan along with Dempsey as an advisor began teaching a formal Northwest Coast Native Art Course at the Northwest Community College in Terrace, BC. This credited course – The Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art- is the first of its kind at a college level in BC.