North

Yukon woman turns photographs into beaded art

Mary Blahitka is taking beading to a whole new level by turning photographed family moments into beaded art.

'I'm just trying to bead some of our history,' says Mary Blahitka

'I started beading again and noticed that not too many people were beading things like tanning moose hides or fishing,' Blahitka said. (Submitted by Mary Blahitka)

Mary Blahitka, who has friends that have called her the "Picasso of beadwork," learned how to bead at an early age from her mother, Pansy Allen.

"She'd start us off by beading necklaces," Blahitka said.

"Then we graduated to sewing moccasins or mukluks."

Now, the Teslin Tlingit First Nation woman is taking beading to a whole new level by turning photographed family moments into beaded art.

Raised by artists

Both of Blahitka's parents made a living as artists while running a trap line in the winter and fishing tours in the summer. 

"Mom home-tanned furs, moose and caribou hides, beaded and sold moccasins and mukluks. Dad painted and sold portraits and landscapes," Blahitka said.

In her later years, Blahitka says she didn't bead as much as she did when she was younger. 

But after her mother died, she turned to the craft again.

"I felt closer to her so I started beading again and noticed that not too many people were beading things like tanning moose hides or fishing," she said.

Hours of work

She says she enjoys beading moments in her family's history. Blahitka started experimenting with designs and colours. Some of her pieces take up to 40 hours to complete. 

"I draw it out on paper and then use tracing paper just to do the outline," she said.

Blahitka's latest piece is a scene from her granny's fish camp at Johnson's Crossing — it's the attention to details that took the most time, she says.

Blahitka beaded an image of a dog team. She says she's trying to capture history in her beadwork. (Submitted by Mary Blahitka)

"There's an eagle in the tree. King salmon laying at my granny's feet and she's cutting a salmon. In behind her is all of the arnica because the whole area around her camp was filled with arnica," Blahitka said.

"There's salmon hanging up on the racks drying and her little smudge pot going."

Blahitka says she doesn't know what to do with all of the pieces she has created.

"I haven't really thought of a plan or discussed my marketing," Blahitka said.

She says she will take photos of all of her work and sell prints and posters to people who are interested in buying one.

Proud parents

Before her father, Les Allen passed away, Blahitka would visit him and share the art she had been making.

"He would examine it with his artistic eyes," Blahitka recalled.

"He said to me, 'I'd really never seen anyone bead quite like this before. This is really different. I'm sure your mother would be very proud of you.'"

'I just sort of bead how I feel,' Mary Blahitka said. (Submitted by Mary Blahitka)

Blahitka says her parents always created art in their own styles and patterns.

She says she has followed the same path.

"I just bead what I feel," she said. "I kind of miss my granny, so I'll see if I can bead what her fish camp looked like."

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