Brett Keno, - Sculptor, Brother, Father, Husband & Son.

Story by Tony Cutting

BRETT Keno.jpg

Brett is now living the dream, working from home with his beautiful wife making a fulfilling existence doing something he is deeply passionate about.  His story explains how this choice rewards him in ways he never thought of before starting on this journey. But to get where he is today, he traversed a very different path.

Interestingly Brett’s career has moved down tracks that you would not necessarily associate a born creative to take.  He trained and qualified in Finance, then spent many years in high pressure dealing rooms within some of New Zealand’s top banking organisations, played Rugby and Touch Football most of his younger years and had what I would describe as a pretty successful social life.  

As I listen to Brett describe his journey I can’t help feel fate, along with some good choices – possibly reinforced by his very supportive wife Christine, have placed him exactly where he should be.
I would argue that for Brett the timing has been just perfect.  

His younger days

Brett was raised in Newlands, Wellington.  This is a fair distance from where his family hails from, with his family Marae and many whanau in Tauranga, Bay of Plenty.  

Brett attended Newlands College, represented the college in track (sprinting) and was a wing for the first XV.  Rugby played a major part of Brett’s life in his early years and I really grew close to Brett when we played alongside each other at the Johnsonville Rugby Club.

Unlike the rest of the players (who had jobs) Brett had moved on to Victoria University and was the ‘poor’ student of the team – ironically when we lived together 10 years later it was Brett who owned the house, seems his education and career choices had started to pay dividends.

So you get the picture here was this well-educated young Maori making his way in the financial world, he had become a successful money market broker – but now is one of New Zealand most promising Sculptors.

Life today

Before we further connect the dots here is where Brett’s mind is on his shift…

“Going from leaving an organisation where I was employed and each morning jumping on the train making my way into the city to working for myself and walking out to my garage has been challenging.  Rolling out of bed having breakfast with the family and spending time at home with Christine (whom also works from home) is a totally new dynamic for me” “A lovely dynamic” says Brett 

“We only have one punch up a day” Christine yells from out the back.

What is really interesting is where Brett has made his mark, it’s not the only type of sculpting he does but it has obviously made a major (rewarding) impact on his being. It is better framed in his own words…

“Loving the new experiences I have on a daily basis, hearing the stories from the families I work for”. 

“These people share incredible emotional stories which they are hoping I can translate into a memorial worthy of the person they want to talk about” “Whilst headstones was never something I was comfortable doing, it’s an artwork that is now very close to my heart, I have to get it right, I have to hit the nail on the head and touch all the right points to ensure the respect is truly given for the loved one who has passed” 

In the early days Brett would never had considered this type of carving, but of recent times and experiences with families he is finding his art is more than just paying the bills, it is fulfilling him in meaningful ways and helping him connect with whanau all around the country.

Brett remembers doing his first headstone.  “I received this amazing story of this beautiful young girl from down south” “I got an immediate feeling, design and shape in my mind as the story unfolded and I knew I could to do this work”.

“I will never forget this young girl.  Immediately the family heard I had finished the work, jumped in a couple of cars and left from Invercargill on a very long drive.  They caught the Picton ferry and arrived in Wellington on a terrible rainy, windy night.  They drove up from Wellington to my place (Upper Hutt) where I was standing in the garage beside the taonga, garage door opened and lights on so they could see the artwork when they pulled into the drive.

I saw them arrive and pull into the drive, so I gave them a wave.  The lead car lights stayed on when the car stopped, and I got very nervous as no one got out of the car.  I stood for a few minutes, then walked towards the car – the people in the back seat were leaning over towards the people in the front seat and they were all weeping” “I opened the car door and invited them all into the garage and together we all sat down with a cup of tea.  The whanau explained how this was another milestone in their journey, they saw the art as part of her and were now going to take her home, helping complete another part of their journey with her”. 

Bridging the Gap
Brett openly admits he would not be sculpting now if it was not for the solid financial foundation he was able to build from in his early years.  He learned many skills in those jobs and without these he may never have been able to cut it as a self-employed artist today.  He actually started carving 10 years before making the leap, he took up his chisel while still in the financial industry and his skill has been honed over many years of serious practice and a fair number of “restarts”.  

In his last financial based role as an advisor for a Maori investment group he relinked with his heritage and started to connect his talent with his whakapapa, this gave him a deeper understanding of how his two worlds may come together.  Recently having turned 50 he made the leap of faith with the full support of Christine and his whanau. 

He now carves for families all over New Zealand and helps train other interested carvers during regular weekend workshops. 

You can find his work and reach him via his website

Arohanui brother – may your coffin be built of 150 year old kauri which we plant next year.