Otto Neals was born in South Carolina in 1930. At the age of four, he and his family moved north to New York, settling in Brooklyn. Otto remembers his fascination with art beginning at four or five years old under the care of his older cousin David, who used to sketch. He watched and imitated his cousin’s drawing skills. While studying commercial art in high school, he developed his artistic talents on his own with encouragement from his teachers.
After graduating from high school in 1949, he worked at a few factory jobs before passing the exam for the United States Postal Service, where he began his career. Mr. Neals was employed at the Brooklyn Post Office for 36 years, working his way up to head illustrator. While there, he created hundreds of signs and illustrations for the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island City postal branches. His favorite project is a beautifully carved 4′ x 8′ wood panel entitled “Spirit Of 76” based on the commemorative stamp issued that year for the 1976 Bicentennial.
Mr. Neals studied painting briefly at the Brooklyn Museum School with Isaac Soyer and printmaking at the Bob Blackburn Printmaking Workshop. In addition to painting, Neals is proficient in the graphic arts, viscosity printing, etching, woodcut, and lithography. His skills as a sculptor were basically self-taught, initiated through the painter and sculptor Vivian S. Key, who established herself during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s. It was she who gave Otto a set of stone-cutting tools, encouraging him to work with stone sculpture. His commissioned bronze sculpture, 1995 – “Peter and His Dog,” the beloved classic children’s book character from Ezra Jack Keats, is now a permanent part of the Imagination Playground in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. For this, Neals was given the NYC Arts Commission’s award of excellence in design.
The traditions and human condition of people of African ancestry is a central issue expressed in his art. In the African American community, Otto Neals was a founding member of the Weusi Gallery — an artists’ cooperative that sought awareness of Pan-African cultures to the Harlem Community in the late 1960’s. He was an active participant in the Fulton Art Fair, Brooklyn NY, since 1958, along with artists such as Ernest Crichlow, Jacob Lawrence, Tom Feelings, Vincent Smith, Selvin Goldbourne, and Vivian Keys.
His artwork has been exhibited at institutions, museums, galleries, universities, and libraries across the country. His works are included in public collections in the USA and abroad in such places as The Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; Howard University, Washington, D.C.; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; Ghana National Museum, Ghana; Columbia Museum, Columbia, SC; and in private collections including David Dinkins, Former Mayor of NYC; Hon. John Lewis, Congressman, Georgia; celebrities — Harry Belafonte, Oprah Winfrey, Gil Noble, producer “Like It Is” NY; to name a few.