The Way Home
David Neel was an infant when his father, a traditional Kwakiutl artist, returned to the ancestors, triggering a series of events that would separate David from his homeland and its rich cultural traditions for twenty-five years. When he saw a potlatch mask carved by his great-great-grandfather in a museum in Fort Worth, Texas, the encounter inspired the young photographer to rekindle a childhood dream to follow in the footsteps of his father.
Drawing on memories, legends, and his own art and portrait photography, David Neel recounts his struggle to reconnect with his culture after decades of separation and a childhood marred by trauma and abuse. He returned to the Pacific Coast in 1987, where he apprenticed with master carvers from his father’s village. The art of his ancestors and the teachings of the people he met helped make up for the lost years and fuelled his creativity. His career as a multimedia artist also gave him the opportunity to meet and photograph leading artists, knowledgeable elders, and prominent people from around the world. In time he was a recognized artist, with his artwork presented in more than forty solo and sixty group exhibitions.
The Way Home is an uplifting tale that affirms the healing power of returning home. It is also a testament to the strength of the human spirit to overcome great obstacles, and to the power and endurance of Indigenous culture and art.
This memoir is a must-read for anyone interested in Canadian art and artists, particularly Indigenous art, as well as those learning about or active in cultural revitalization in Indigenous communities.
- 2020, Short-listed - Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, The Writers' Trust of Canada
The Way Home is filled with portrait photography that conveys stories that cannot be told by words alone. In this image-filled memoir we are also invited into Neel’s creative journey through his descriptions and photos of his own carved masks and his precious metal jewelry.
A spellbinding memoir with universal reach … beautifully told and illustrated … Neel's memoir is written with the same calm mastery he brings to all his art. This is a wise, eloquent, and deeply moving book.' — 2020 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury (Helen Knott, Sandra Martin, and Ronald Wright)
David A. Neel, carver, jeweller, painter, printmaker, writer, and photographer, comes from a family of traditional Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw artists, including Dave Neel Sr., Ellen Neel, Mungo Martin, and Charlie James. In addition to apprenticing with carvers in Alert Bay, he received training in writing and photography from the University of Kansas and Mount Royal College in Alberta. He is the author of Our Chiefs and Elders: Words and Photographs of Native Leaders (1992) and The Great Canoes: Reviving a Northwest Coast Tradition (1995). He is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw traditional art and culture.
Foreword by Carolyn Butler-Palmer
1 Beginnings: Far from Home
2 Photography: Transformation
3 Masks: Homecoming
4 Lessons: Chiefs and Elders
5 Resurgence: The Great Canoes
6 Home Again: Coming Full Circle
Living Indigenous Leadership
Native Narratives on Building Strong Communities
Breathing Life into the Stone Fort Treaty
An Anishnabe Understanding of Treaty One
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