Margaret Nazon’s Bright Lights, Green City Nebula
and its interstellar source of inspiration. (Slide the bar to compare images.)

Since 2009, artist Margaret Nazon of Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T. has been producing incredible beaded artworks of celestial objects from the deepest recesses of space. Inspired by images found online that were taken by the Hubble space telescope, Nazon’s intricate, twinkling studies of planets, galaxies and nebulae have wowed Glenbow visitors who have seen her work in our current exhibition, Cosmos: Gathie Falk, Margaret Nazon and Erik Olson. Nazon was kind enough to take some time to discuss her practice with us.

When did you start beading? Could tell us about the work did you do before turning your attention to space?
I started beading when I was about 10. My first project was a beaded loom project, a small brooch with my initial M, then I moved on to beading decorative flowers on moccasins and other clothing. I became very interested in “fabric art” in the 1990’s. I was sewing northern landscapes using fabric, decorative threads, beads and yarn to capture an image. Then in 2009 I started beading the cosmos.

How did the idea to start using images from the Hubble as inspiration come about?
My partner Bob was surfing the web and he noticed the blurred images sent back by the Hubble telescope. The image wasn’t very clear, and to Bob the picture looked a lot like beadwork, so he showed it to me and I knew exactly what I was going to do.  My first project was the “Cat’s Eye” nebula.

How did you feel when you first started researching your work and began seeing  amazing images from the Hubble?
I have been interested in the skies since I was a child. Reverend Father Colas was a real inspiration. In the 1950s, he would show the Tsiigehtchic children the Milky Way with its constellations and stars. Since 2009, I’ve been researching and studying the meanings of a nebulae, galaxy and stars. So much information but very interesting. Family and friends send me books, magazines and DVDs about space. I also learned that special filters were used in the space cameras to assist scientists to detect the types of gas in each object.  The temperature, the size and the distance of these objects is way beyond my comprehension, very intriguing.

What was the reaction like from people when you started working on scenes from space?
I can bead, but that was not my first choice for embellishment, I found it too tedious. Then I discovered “the cosmos” and knew instantly that my kind of beading was more suitable for abstract images. I can use any type and size of bead; any type of beading technique in one project and that’s what draws people to my work, it has the 3D effect.    

Most of your work looks at deep space – faraway galaxies, clusters and nebulae, but sometimes you come a little closer to home, such as with your image of Saturn. What kinds of celestial objects resonate most with you?
I enjoy beading the nebulae because it has no distinct image, just a mixture of gas, dust, clouds and stars and also [because] its light was dispersed millions of years ago. That is a real abstract image.

The work in the exhibition is very intricate. How long do these pieces typically take? Do you do them one at time or do you have more than one in progress simultaneously?

Margaret Nazon at work on new piece dedicated to CoCo Chanel

I’m retired now so I have lots of time to spend on my passion: sewing. The largest picture in my collection is the triptych, [Andromeda Galaxy], it took about 200 hours to complete. I did this one in Salt Spring Island, BC. On average a 25×25 inch picture takes about 40-60 hours. I begin work at 4:30 a.m. I have numerous breaks in between until noon. In the summertime, when there’s more sunlight, I can bead all day with many breaks in between. I only work on one project at a time.  I start with an image, sketch it and decide what size it should be. I select the fabric (black velvet or black twill and canvas for backing).  Once the fabric is prepped, I sketch the image on the canvas side, then with a running stich, I go over the sketch with white thread so that the image is shown on the black side. I select the colour of beads; size and type. I use fishing line as thread, it’s very strong but also very light.  Music helps: classical, blues and jazz. I have dedicated a galaxy to Billie Holiday and to Coco Chanel.

Could you talk a bit about the organic material in the works? Besides the beads there are shells and such. How did you come to include these materials? What inspired you?
I consider my art to be “abstract.” Aboriginal people have used animal skins, bones, seeds, quills and rocks for decoration, and I figured it would fit in my artwork. I was given buttons made of caribou bones as a gift and I decided I should try to incorporate a solid piece of bone into one of my galaxy pictures. Viewers loved that. I spent last December in Salt Spring Island B.C. One of my friends asked if I was going to incorporate B.C. rocks or shells in my work and I thought that was a great idea. I started receiving rocks and shells as inspiration. Just recently a Gwich’in friend gave me willow seeds to use. The Gwich’in people used to use willow seeds to decorate their clothing.  

What’s next for you? Are you continuing to do these kinds of works?
I was once asked if I was going to put my images on clothing. I was not sure I wanted to that, but lately that’s what I have done
— but the response was cool — people were not sure what the image was. Friends and family know of my work but others are not sure. I guess it’s “too abstract.” [But], I will continue to bead the Hubble Images as pictures and as clothing decoration. Lately, I have been asked to host beading workshops and the subject matter is the “cosmos.” I guess in the very near future you will see more abstract beaded artwork coming from the N.W.T.  

See Margaret Nazon’s incredible art before Cosmos closes on January 6, 2019.