Bill Neale: a retrospective

by Walace Wyss

One of the pillars of the automotive art community passed away peacefully at his home in Dallas, Texas, on January 25, 2021 at the age of 95. He was buried at Restland Cemetery at a private graveside family ceremony next to his beloved wife of 67 years, Nelda Lee Parks.

He was a Texan through and through. If you wanted to think of a guy who lived life to the fullest and then some, it was Bill. A flying veteran of WWII, he had a passion for all things mechanical, including airplanes, motorcycles and race cars. The Dallas Morning News wrote “...he rose from modest beginnings to become a successful advertising man and an internationally recognized artist of fine automotive paintings.”

Bill was there when it happened, whether it was the war or the growth of sports car racing in America. He was in the Navy, joining up right out of high school at 17, becoming a pilot in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the war he decided to go for art on the GI bill, and earned his Bachelor and Masters degrees from North Texas State University School of Art. He completed other graduate work at Chouinard in Los Angeles.

At first a commercial artist, he continued on a career as an art director for Tracy-Locke/ BBD&O Advertising under his mentor, Morris Hite. He rose at that agency to be part of the Board of Directors before he left to start his own agency, Point Communications. But you could say his real love, besides his family, was creating fine art, which he did in the evenings and he was among the first of his generation to paint race cars as fine art. His paintings and illustrations regularly appeared in major auto enthusiast publication in the country including Car and Driver, Sports Illustrated, Automobile Magazine and Road & Track. That was the commercial aspect—illustrate the story, but he also did hundreds of paintings for his own, as fine art.

...event poster signing

...with friend Carroll Shelby

He chose amateur racing, rather than continue with flying, campaigning many types of - MGs, a Corvette, a Lotus, a Triumph, and several Porsches and Cobras in SCCA. Many in the sport will remember him at events in the company of his lifelong friend, and fellow Texan , a failed chicken farmer named Carroll Hall Shelby. As Shelby progressed with the Cobra and the Shelby Mustang, Neale was often involved with portraying the factory team cars. Perhaps what he’s most famous for in the racing world was not his art accolades but rather his sense of humor, especially after he created and designed the fictitious Terlingua Racing Team which, to this day, maintains a world-wide following with a Neale-designed logo . Among the team’s activities was annual meet at the old ghost town, Terlingua, in Big Bend, Texas,.. with his lifetime buddies, where they indulged in off road motorcycles, hunting and the famed cookout that became the annual Terlingua Chili Cook-off... you could say that the group made chili cook-offs an “in” thing.

Neale is remembered for the art awards he won including from the Automotive Fine Arts Society , in the Texas Advertising Hall of Fame and the Texas Auto Racing Hall of Fame. He loved to give back to the community through his membership in the Dallas Salesmanship Club, the AFAS Children's Art Contest and the Carroll Shelby Heart Foundation.

In the fine art world, you'll find his masterful paintings as centerpieces for many private and museum collections around the globe. Among those who collected his art was the late founder of the Ferrari Market Letter, Gerald Roush, who said: “Bill’s paintings are historically accurate, impeccably detailed and emotionally irresistible.” One friend wrote: “Bill touched many lives in his roles as husband, brother, father, son, artist and friend. He will be missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him.”

He is survived by his three children Nan, Kurt, and Leslie, daughter-in-law Julie, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

I met him while covering the annual AFAS art show at Pebble Beach where I found Bill and Nelda tremendously accommodating, especially with newcomers who didn’t realize that automobiles can be the subject of fine art. They didn’t look down their nose at anybody new to the art world but patiently explained what Bill was trying to achieve in each work. Wallace Wyss

Bill was a strong supporter of AFAS and participated in every exhibition until illness prevented him from doing so. A close friend of Carroll Shelby, both  were always the life of the party. Just listening to Neale and Shelby spar verbally with different versions of very funny racing stories was a real treat. One could immediately know the location of Neale by the conversation volume and laughter coming from his exhibit booth. Bill was a fine artist as well as a successful businessman and was a great asset to AFAS. He will truly be missed by all of us who shared the many years of showing our automotive art together. Ken Eberts

Before joining the AFAS, I had admired so many of the member artists and one of my favorites was Bill Neale.  His watercolors, perspectives and graphics of each painting were amazing.  When I finally got to meet him and share space in the same tent with him, and everyone else, it was a great feeling to be among all of the great ones… Bill stood out and he welcomed me into the group with his own warm style.  He was a gentleman and always had a positive attitude and outlook... and he knew Shelby too.  What a guy and a true Texan to boot. I’ll miss him for all these reasons and so much more. We lost another great master. Richard Pietruska

While I've told this story many times, it so truly encapsulates both Bill and Nelda. I very much enjoyed my heated conversations with Nelda as we were political polar opposites... all in great fun and jest. One day at an AFAS exhibition in Pebble Beach many years ago, Nelda and I had completed one of our noisy jousts and when Nelda walked away, Bill said: "Nelda's tougher than a Blue Plate Special!". Their fondness for each other was unmistakable and embodied in that comment. I miss them both. Jay Koka

Bill Neale had a masterful painterly skill that he applied to the art and illustration of the automobile, but his creativity was not limited to that field.  He had a long and prosperous career in advertising which paired his creativity with his ability to communicate messages about the products & services he represented. His laid back, storytelling Texas persona helped him all his life, both in his chosen profession, but also in the everyday encounters with people to whom he generously gave his time and talent.  This was coupled with a savvy knowledge of business & people that made him successful in just about everything he put his hand to. Bill also worked well as a team player, especially evident during his long membership in the Automobile Fine Arts Society. He produced quality art that bore his unique style. He garnered many awards from judges & fellow members, and year after year sold to eager collectors. Behind the scenes he worked on nearly every level of the Association.   He was a sane and calming voice amidst a group of independent creative personalities. Knowing Bill through the AFAS changed the trajectory of my art career. He was a gracious gentleman and a true talent. He will live on through the warm memories of those who knew him, and through the many pieces of art that hang on collectors and friends walls throughout the world. What better tribute can a man and artist have? Jim Dietz

See the Bill Neale artist profile in the September 2018 issue of the magazine

motor>spirit - Rob Alen