Growing up, mixed-media artist Sheila “She” Keene noticed a lack of women leaders in her small town. She did not see female CEOs, politicians, or business owners. A young girl was expected to graduate from high school, marry and start a family or go to college to study nursing or teaching. Years later, this void would inspire Keene to launch A Girl Like Me. Through the platform, she sells mixed-media art that encourages young girls and teens to pursue their dreams and break barriers.
“As a child, I had such a narrow view of what I thought I could be or do in this world,” said Keene. “I don’t want girls growing up with those limits nor women remaining trapped by them. I want them to know there are so many possibilities out there.”
Engineering to Art
It was the mid-1980s when Keene first walked onto the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. Following graduation (Keene was the first person in her family to earn a college degree), a career was built in robotics programming, software development, and program management. Working in a male-dominated field meant Keene constantly witnessed firsthand how supervisors would treat women very differently than men.
“For the first time in my life, I was in the minority, and it felt daunting,” she recalls. “Throughout college and my career, I noticed myself and other women had to work twice as hard as male colleagues to earn half the respect, even though we were more than capable of performing the jobs.”
Keene admits it wasn’t until her twenties that she embraced her voice and used it. She married, had a child but then realized the marriage would not work. Keene carried on as a single mother; her daughter is still the light of her life.
A Girl Like Me
Keene has never met a pair of overalls she didn’t love. And retiring at 50 meant she got to wear them a lot more often. Retirement also gave her a chance to start “Chapter Two” of her life and become a full-time artist.
Within each painting, Keene stealthily hides a date. It represents a moment in history where a woman was responsible for a fantastic feat. Keene also sends a “herstory” about that woman to her customers so that whoever hangs the art piece is not only inspired; they’re also learning about an amazing person who made her voice heard.
“Part of the fun with buying my pieces is to find the date,” laughs Keene. “What I love about mixed-media art is there are no rules. My art depicts women in strong leadership positions, doing great things. I want to flood the world with these visuals so girls have no doubts that they could be the next President, world explorer, doctor, or CEO, whatever destinies they see in their dreams. I believe with all my heart empowering girls at a young age is critical for them to fully understand and embrace the fact they can create their life story and lead.”
Sheila “She” Keene
Written by Erin Prather Stafford
All images provided Sheila Keene, studio photos by Anna Daniels Photography
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Creator Spotlight features interviews with artistic women/girls and showcases their work. If you know an artist you’d like to see spotlighted, email Erin at erin(at)girlsthatcreate(dot)com.