Born in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1953, Neely studied at Alfred University and received his master’s degree in fine arts from Ohio University in 1982. An important step in his career as potter was a period that he spent in Japan studying and doing research. While there, he worked in Tokyo for several years, and attended Kyoto University of Arts for two years as a postgraduate research scholar. Since 1984, Neely has been a professor of ceramics at Utah State University. Along with being a renowned potter, he is also an active educator and an innovative and prolific researcher.