Sheena Yakeleya

North Slave
Primary Art Type: 

Artist Story

My granny taught me how to sew with two needles onto hide and stroud when I was a teenager, but I didn’t really embrace it then. Now that my kids are older, I can enjoy the way sewing calms and relaxes me. My mother and auntie are accomplished artists and their patterns, colours and designs have always inspired me.

I started making beaded jewellery in 2012. I taught myself how to make a particular style of earrings and then people started asking me to make them for them too. Now I also make necklaces, rings, brooches and bracelets. I like to use delica beads and porcupine quills on natural materials like hide and birchbark.

My mother gave me a bunch of her patterns and I feel very lucky to have them. I also have my own sketchbook and draw all the time. These circles and doodles become my patterns. I love having an idea in my head and making it come to life, sometimes in a way that is even better than I originally thought. Seeing the finished piece is very special too. I get my inspiration from everything I see. I love purples and blues and how they blend together. I recently beaded the colours of the northern lights as a gradient in my flowers. I am inspired by the land that surrounds me.

I was introduced to birchbark biting from a lady who came here to teach it to students in the schools. I sat with her and learned about the art form. She left me her birchbark bitings and I turned them into earrings, and I started beading on the birchbark too.

When I sell my artwork, I typically have birchbark at my table to show people how to bite their own designs. It’s kind of like making a cutout snowflake from paper – each fold and bite mark makes a pattern. Through experimentation and practice, you get better at putting the shapes together to create an overall picture. It’s fun to see how the bitings turn out when the bark is unfolded to revile the design. There are not many people doing this anymore so I feel honoured to be passing this knowledge on.

I also use porcupine quills in my jewellery. I’m thankful for the quills I was gifted from my mother because they are so time consuming to process! I like both the natural and dyed quills depending on the beads and pattern I’m working on. I like to use them as fringe on earrings or inside the flowers. Gathering materials from the land is hard work that makes me appreciate the work of my ancestors who had to do that for everything they had.

Artist Bio: 

Sheena is a Dene Artist from Ford Good Hope and Tulita in the Sahtu Region. Sheena learned how to bead from the strong women in her life, but developed her own style making beaded jewellery in 2012. Since then she has refined her techniques of preserving birchbark to use as a canvas for beading and porcupine quillwork.  Sheena sells her artwork at arts festivals, a few retailers and craft shows. She has started holding workshops for youth and adults to pass on her traditional knowledge.

Last Updated: May 6, 2019

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