The first time Margaret Nazon saw an image of the Veil Nebula—a cloud of dust and gas 1,470 light-years in length, formed after a star exploded a thousand years before Egypt’s pyramids were built—it jogged a childhood memory.
Her family was leaving Coney Bay, a fishing camp, for Tsiigehtchic, NWT, for dances and feasts, and to see friends and relatives. “My mother was excited and organizing everybody in the canoe and her hanky became loose,” says Nazon. “It fell into the water and just drifted.”
When you look at Nazon’s Veil Nebula, a glass bead and black velvet triptych, you see both: the incomprehensibly large gas cluster and a hanky floating along a river on a breezy afternoon. That’s the magic of her work.
Nazon lives in Tsiigehtchic, a town of 130 where the Mackenzie meets the Arctic Red River, and is a seamstress by trade. She makes quilts and beads moccasins; she crochets and knits. In 2009, her partner showed her an image from the Hubble Space Telescope and they marvelled at how celestial structures looked like beadwork. Nazon, fascinated by the stars as a kid, was hooked.
“I’m drawn first by colour—yellow and blue,” she says. “And then I look at the image and try to figure out, ‘okay, how am I going to do this?’” She focuses on depth and texture and her work incorporates a multitude of stitching and beading techniques—from the intricately interconnected Eskimo Nebula pattern, to Galaxy Cluster and its emphasis on different bead sizes. At the centre of Milky Way Spiral Galaxy—our home—she set caribou bone.
It took Nazon about five years to get the look she was striving for. “In space, it’s clouds and gas. It’s not something solid. It’s moving,” she says. “That’s what I always think about.” And sometimes, when she’s working away in the early morning hours, her mind wanders to questions about life in distant galaxies.
“There has to be,” she says. “I mean, why just us?”
Nazon’s work will be on display at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary from Sept. 29, 2018 to Jan. 6, 2019.