Q & A with Shaena Soares

Shaena Soares – Submitted photo

You are a member of the Narragansett Tribe and an accomplished artist. Please tell us how your Narragansett heritage has influenced your creativity.

Well, since I can remember my maternal grandfather always taught me about my heritage and how I should be proud of it and how imperative it was to keep it alive. And since then, I’ve always felt dignity and pride in being Narragansett. In terms of it influencing my art, I’ve always loved drawing Indigenous people to represent where I came from because it always felt internally important to me.

When did you first begin to paint? 

I began painting at about 15 years old thanks to my high school art teacher Sydney Tillet. He was a huge influence in pushing me to expand my limits in art. He saw in me what I couldn’t see in myself artistically. And that was what birthed my painting with acrylic. May he continue to rest in peace.

Now bring us to today. What are your themes? 

I guess I don’t really have themes, I really go based on what I feel. I’m more of an inspiration-based artist versus a themes artist. And sometimes that can be challenging. especially when I have something that may not inspire me too much. But I always make sure I get the job done, because I love challenging myself so that I can continue to improve.

We noted while reading a recent issue of Motif Magazine – you drew the cover – that the Great Swamp Massacre is prominent in your thoughts and art. Can you explain? 

Yes, I can explain. When I decided to read King Philip’s war as part of my history curriculum for my children, it just so happened to coincide with what I’ve learned verbally, as well as the visions that I used to see as a child/teen. While reading the book with my children, I felt it was important to bring the book to the forefront of discussions as many New Englanders are unaware of the history that happened with the Narragansetts. I feel it was more of a thought-provoking piece to make people want to learn more about it. Especially because it is a huge part of Rhode Island’s history.

Watch a video about the Great Swamp Massacre.

Where will we find your public art? 

The most recent public art I’ve done was a mural inside a lounge that will be open soon in downtown Pawtucket. I also have the alewife utility box painting in downtown Providence at the entrance to the pedestrian bridge.

You also sell your works on commission. Give us some detail.

Yes! I’ve done many art commissions over the years and still do. Usually people will contact me for an array of things like paintings, logos, memorial pieces etc. I enjoy being able to do a lot of different things art wise.

Do you make jewelry and is it for sale? 

Yes! My mom taught me how to bead in my early teens, which took years to perfect. I do make peyote stitch earrings, dream catchers and loom work per request. Once in awhile, I will do vending events, but the majority of  times I do orders per request via Instagram.  

You have five children and you made the decision to home school them. Why? 

Yes! I have two sets of twins and a single child. And it’s been a blessing to be their mom. As for deciding to home school the oldest three, it’s definitely been a thought of mine for quite some time for many reasons. One of those many reasons was me hearing my oldest children start to regurgitate a lot of outdated information that I had learned in elementary school. I also started to see a lot of their own creativity take a back seat to the public school curriculum and as a mom I realized I had the power to change that for them and I did. I knew I could open their world up to more possibilities. So I did some research and took the proper steps to begin the process to withdraw them from the school department. And within their first year, I can already say I’ve seen improvements in all of them.

The Tomaquag Museum, headed by Loren Spears, one of our Advisory Board members, is devoted to the celebration of Native history and the telling of historical truths about the original inhabitants of Rhode Island. How can the public best support that mission?

Honestly, in my opinion the best way to support that mission is by educating yourself about the true history — whether that be reading recommended books, reaching out to the Tomaquag Museum or a tribal member who is knowledgeable in our history.

What’s next for you?

Honestly, after doing my last mural, it truly inspired me to do more. So, my hope would be bigger projects and bigger opportunities in regards to murals as time goes on.