The New Brunswick Arts Board is an arm’s length arts funding agency with a legislated mandate to facilitate and promote the creation of art as well as administering funding programs for professional artists in the province.
Peat bog in Kouchibouguac National Park. Photo: courtesy of the artist.
Over the summer months, I’ve had the joy of working on a beaded wetland landscape inspired by photos I took while at the peat bog in Kouchibouguac National Park. This landscape is a project that has lived in my head for years, but I lacked the funding to buy the materials and the time needed to bring it to life. With the support of the artsnb Equinox grant, I was able to create this piece, and I have learned a great deal through the process.
Peat bogs change at slow rates due to the acidity of the water; the peat bog at Kouchibouguac National Park has been expanding slowly for over 6000 years. I am captivated by the thought that this slow changing landscape looks similar now to how it looked to our ancestors. Through the incorporation of double curve motifs while I bead this landscape, the land is presented as kin with which we’ve shared a mutual relationship and responsibility for generations. By growing this beaded landscape slowly, one stitch at a time, I hope to share that relationship with those who view this work.
Pictured: Peat bog in Kouchibouguac National Park. Photo: courtesy of the artist.
Mel’s concept proof. Photo: courtesy of the artist.
The landscape unfolds over the course of 3 months – from the initial drawing, to smaller proof of concept landscapes, to sewing down thousands of beads one by one, creating a beaded landscape that covers 4.5 square feet. This project is the largest beaded artwork I’ve created to date, and the size and complexity of this piece has required me to learn new ways of working.
To bead on a larger scale than I’m used to, I built a wooden frame with legs and stretched my fabric over it to hold the project while I work – similar to a quilting frame. I divided the project into several quadrants, aiming to complete one quadrant per week so I could have an idea of whether I’m on track to finish by my deadline of September 1st.
Pictured: Mel at work. Photo: courtesy of the artist.
During this project I also had the opportunity to harvest and dye quills with coffee and tea to achieve different shades of browns and off white to use for the bark of the trees. I soaked them in varying strengths of tea and coffee to achieve the different shades.
Dying quills with noncommercial dyes has been something I’ve wanted to experiment with for some time and I plan to continue to troubleshoot and develop this skill in my practice.
Pictured: Died porcupine quills. Photo: courtesy of the artist.
Throughout this learning and creating process I have been sharing daily updates and reflections on my Instagram page. I’ve also hosted virtual open studio time on Zoom so other beadwork artists can join me while I work, and also share what they’re working on. Sharing what I’m working on and receiving feedback from my online circles has given this project a feeling of being community-made. My hope for this landscape is that it remains accessible to the community and reminds us that with the relationship we all share with this land also comes a responsibility to honour and care for it.
Pictured: detail of Mel’s project in process. Photo: courtesy of the artist.
Detail of Mel’s project in process. Photo: courtesy of the artist.
When this work is completed, it will be on display at Science East in Fredericton for the fall season. Until then, you can follow along with my progress updates on Instagram at @the.bead.knees, where you can also find the sign up link to join me for my next open studio time.
Portrait of Mel Beaulieu. Photo Credit: Sam Evans (@screwsocietysam on Instagram).
Mel Beaulieu (They/Them) is a member of Metepenagiag First Nation, living and making art in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Their beadwork practice blends traditional art with contemporary and pop culture themes, to present an image of Indigenous culture that is alive and always evolving. Their beadwork has been featured on NBC’s Rutherford Falls as well as the Beaverbrook Art Gallery exhibit, Ehpituwikuwam.
You can learn more about their work on Instagram at @the.beads.knees, or online at www.thebeadsknees.ca.
As a provincial entity, the New Brunswick Arts Board acknowledges that it carries out its work on the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq and Peskotomuhkati peoples. Read the full statement.