Keena – Native Indian Artist – 1949 – 1995
Keena was born to a Mohawk father and French-Canadian mother in 1949. She was given up to be adopted and, until she was a young teenager, grew up in an orphanage. She was taken in as a foster child to a strict French-Canadian home. She always knew she was native although she had never been told this. Keena said she was from the bear tribe. She began working with red clay when she was in her twenties and this small beginning translated into creating a world of colourful figurines in different tribal costumes. A favorite theme of hers was mother and child and she eventually had three children herself. She often incorporated this into her bigger sculptures with other creatures like the wolf, the eagle, the bear and the turtle. She hand-sculpted vases and decorated them with ceramic paints and she created a multitude of multi-faceted masks to ward off evil.
In 2005, one of her Nativity scenes was used on a Canadian 85 cent stamp and this year another of her Nativity scenes is being displayed at St. Joseph’s Oratory.
Permission to show Keena’s works by her daughter, Yanishka Beljaars.
36 thoughts on “Keena – Native Indian Artist”
I always loved my mothers art work, I know that she is very pleased that her name still lives on!! I miss you very much and I’ll be seeing you soon mom!!!
Love your son Naiche Beljaars
I have one of Keena’s small costumed native people, purchased many years ago. This little fellow sits on my desk an ever-present good spirit, peaking through small airplants attached to bark and near arrowheads I found as a child. I discovered your webpage wanting to remember more about Keena and in search of her work. Thank you for showing some of your mother’s creations which I love.
I remember the love that she put into each piece. I know that she is amazing the angels and God himself with her talents. Thank you for keeping her alive in other peoples hearts as well as ours. Her very grateful nephew.
We were blessed to have known Keena and for many years, watched her children grow up to adulthood. I miss you immensely, Keena.
My whole nativity scene is made with Keena’s little people. Some day they will be passed on to my daughter who recognized Keena’s sculptures in a shop far away from home, at the age of 2!! I treasure every piece I own. A little owl, other little animals, along with the people. I add an acorn, some pine cones, a stick or two, some bark. Perfect nativity.
Thanks for sharing these pictures, Yanishka.
I have good memories of Keena from when my husband Ken and I lived in Montreal. We worked at la maison de l’amitié and had a kids club. I also have one or two of her pieces.
Thanks for sharing these pictures.
years ago I did buy for my mom a lovely sculpture , mother and baby, made in “argile” or
signed below keena..
my mum always treasured that sculpture, and now I have it over a shelf in my living room after the passing of mum (97)..
today, my mum and dad passing anniversary….
I just happened to type KEENA artist on google…
and here it is!!
so happy to hear about her life and see some of her other work!!
My uncle lived in Montreal back in the late 70s early 80s. Sadly he passed away this November. I now have is collection 6 pieces by Keena. I was lucky to also find several newspaper articles he had saved about Keena. It was nice to read about the artist of this beautiful art work. Looking forward to finding the perfect spot to display this collection.
I have a dear couple of Keena’s native people, a man and a woman. The man wears a feathered head-dress and carries a large feather.There is a beautiful turquoise colour on his back with a sunshine at the base. The woman has long braids. Both figures are smiling and have stood together in various positions on the mantel piece here in Victoria, B.C. since they were purchased from a little art shop in Toronto in 1993. Thank you Kenna. They are my most treasured possessions.
Lors de notre voyage au canada. Nous avons acheter 7 figure en terre cuite representant La mere et l enfant le couple l indienne la grand mere et l enfant Une mere assis avec un panier etdes legume J aimerai savoir s il ont de la valeur c etait en 1993 Je vous remercie de nouvelles. Bernard
iam red lake nation northern minnesota.
i recently purchase a figurine at a flea market and noticed on the bottom it was inscribe “keena” and just out of curiousity and given our technology i was able to look this up and found this site. i would love to get at least a match for this piece would you be willing to help me do this. it is a beautiful piece and reading about your mother gave me and my family inspiration to want to have more work…my email is email@example.com
I find this work attractive, and with the artists name Keena, it gives me a greater interest, as it is also my name, an old Irish one.
I have a small husband and wife sculpture (they are hugging and facing each other) A friend gave it to me 4 yrs ago,and I love it,it’s so beautiful. I am so pleased to find out the talented artist who made it. Alice
Wish my my mother was around to read the wonderful comments on this great article about her. Thank you everyone!
I am the proud owner of two pieces, by Keena.
A 2″tall mother and child and a 6″tall family.
I van feel KEENA’S energy in her pieces.
I HAVE A BEAUTIFUL RED CLAY SCULPTER FROM KEENA THAT WAS GIVEN TO MY FATHER AND MYSELF FROM KEENA!
I REMEMBER THAT DAY 23RD OF DECEMBER 1980’S THE DAY MY DAD (GEORGE FROM ENCADREMENTS LAURIER 240 LAURIER WEST)DELIVERED SOME CUSTOME FRAMES TO YOUR MOMS HOME IN OUTREMONT THAT NIGHT (I THINK IN PREPARATION FOR A VERNISAGE)SHE WAS VERY THANKFUL THAT WE TOOK THE TIME TO FINISH AND DELIVER THESE FRAMES TO HER HOME PERSONALLY !SHE SHOWED US WHAT SHE WAS EXIBITING IN HER HOME ! THEY HAD A VERY NICE RELATIONSHIP ‘MY DAD AND KEENA’ YOU COULD SEE IT WHEN THEY SPOKE….I ALSO REMEMBER THAT SHE ALWAYS CAME TO OUR SHOP ON HALLOWEEN WITH THE LITTLE??MY DAD ALWAYS MADE SURE HE HAD SOMETHING!
Keena is more than a friend to me, she is my sister. I can’t speak of her in the past, because she is an authentic good person and artist, and she is still alive through her art pieces and also through her children. The last time I saw her, she asked me to take care of her chidren if she ‘ld go back to heavens and I promissed and I’ll keep my promiss all my time on earth. I’m far and poor, but no need to be close and wealthy, the Great Spirit hears me and takes care.
Send us some of your peace Keena.
My name is also Keena and I’m from the eastern townships in Quebec. I think my mother heard “keena” in a lullaby and decided to call me that.. I was just wondering if anyone knew what it means?
Great artwork by the way 🙂 I wish I could have some of her art too 😛
I remember your Dad, And how he always made us feel welcome in his store. Thank you for your kind words!
The meaning of the name is Running squirrel 🙂
To everyone that would like more art work of Kenna’s.
We barely have anything left of hers, so what we do have we will be keeping to be able to pass onto our children.I hope you understand 🙂
Hi Yanishka, I recently acquired 2pcs of your mother’s pottery. They are stunning! Can you give me any information on them; 1st is a statue of what may be a wedding couple. 5″tall he is in black/tan & she in white w a veil bearing a yellow/turquoise shawl w a sun emblem. 2nd is a male 5″ tall wearing an orange/yellow shirt w yellow belt w turquoise dotrepresenting a stone and black pants. He seems to be representing the native dress atire of course. The are both red clay. Any information ie: names or year of production would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Annette firstname.lastname@example.org
A piece of Keena’s work is being auctioned off on the auction for action facebook page for such a wonderful cause. What a treasure.
Dear Yanishka – what a pleasure and surprise to have come across this beautiful tribute to Keena – as a special person, mother and artist.
The larger sculptures are so familiar, and we have our own precious little ‘creche’ and small masks Keena chose for us, but it is her pots which now amaze me and bring her spirit alive – treasure them!
Hello I recently purchased some antique art and I believe there is a very nice red clay woman with the Keenan signature and Blackfoot on the bottom. I am wondering if there is anywhere to put this piece for others to appreciate as I have no where in my place that suits it. Any suggestions please let me know. Thanks
I lived on the same street in Montreal as Keena for a few years and got to know her and her work quite well. In fact I acquired 2 pieces of her work and a kitten from one of her cat litters. I had that cat for many years. She gave me a name for him. Elijah Blue named after one of Cher’s kids.
Delighted to find web site for Keena. I have a crib set with mother and child in crib , father and three Chiefs, one with corn, one with papoose and third with a pelt, also tiny duck, owl and squirrel. I love them thanks to Louise (in Canada) who knew that I would appreciate them.
I have a beautiful Keena, creation of Mother and Child. I found her, I think, at an estate sale. Recently, I moved a long distance, and am still unpacking and came across this lovely piece of art. I wanted to say thank you to all of the people that wrote on this blog. I did not know Keena, but she and I were born the same year. I love this beautiful piece of work and will treasure it always. Thank you especially to the family members that wrote notes here. What a talented woman, Keena!!
Pour la personne qui demande la signification du prénom Keena,
Il me semble que Keena m’avait dit que ça signifiait écureuil, j’arrêté ici je n’ose écrire écureuil volant, mais peut-être est- ce aussi la dernière version, ses enfants seraient à même de vous répondre.
Pour ma part j’ai soigné Keena à Villa Medica, une blessure à la cheville, ses enfants s’en rappelleront sûrement car ils venaient la voir régulièrement.
Dans mon cas, je peux dire que si ses mocassins ne faisaient pas de bruit ils ont tout de même laissé une empreinte indélébile dans mon coeur. Elle avait une personnalité très forte et avait la qualité de beaucoup de femmes amérindiennes un esprit libre. Moi aussi j’ai 2 très petites statuettes un chef amérindien et un mini harfang des neiges. Je lui avait aussi acheté une toile que j’ai donné à un ami en remerciement d’un travail qu’il avait fait, le thème c’est une oie et l’âme de son compagnon. La semaine dernière j’ai acheté une toile de 1970 à l’encan et le personnage est une amérindienne. Un message à ses enfants. Peut-etre que monsieur Blaizel d’encan Montréal pourrait vous informer s’il voit passer d’autres oeuvres de votre mère.
Thanks, Yanishka, for posting pictures of your mum’s work! I love her sculpture I have of a mother with arms wrapped around her child standing between her legs. I also love the two paintings she gave us at our wedding. One of a mother sitting, holding her baby, connected to the roots, ancestors beneath her, and the fire, the sun, the teepee. The other is a wolf howling in the dark sky, and his howl connects him to the moon.
I’d love to see one of her very large sculptures again some day!
Yanishka, so pleased to see this tribute to your mom! If you remember, I had her come into my classes to do clay sculpture. I also visited your house several times and was thrilled to see some off her very large pieces. I own 7 of her small figures and a miniature nativity scene which I had asked her to make for my mum. This last I just posted on Facebook. I also proudly own a sculpture by you and two by Irkar which your mom had you make as gifts for your teacher!
I am happy to have found your site. We were given some of your figures years ago – they are a family treasure. As Métis we respect that your honour the past.
Yanishka, this is Vera, Jacob’s mom from Hutchison St a long time ago. I have just moved, and now have a proper place to put a piece that your mom gave me, a lovely sculpture that is two-sided. One side is of a beautiful woman with a turtle, bird and sun; the other is of a nude woman and a more ambiguous (somewhat eerie) figure of a woman behind/above her. I remember your mom with great fondness, she was kind and beautiful and so talented. Was very sad to hear of her passing, those many years ago. I am happy to properly display her beautiful work now in my home. If you would like a photo of this work, let me know.
Hi I have a collection of 10 sculture of Keena for sale in perfect condition
Hi I’m looking for yanishka,
I have some of Keena’s art to return to you.