Karen Nyberg, an astronaut-artist, reveals quilt portraits honoring pioneering women who ventured into space.

On August 17, 2023, former NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg unveiled her original artwork at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. The artwork pays tribute to the first woman and first American lady to fly into space, Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride, respectively. Nyberg’s portraits of these iconic figures were created using fabric as her chosen medium. Each portrait is a quilted collage made from pieces of cloth.

Nyberg explained that she went through several iterations before finalizing her designs. She decided to incorporate a simple version of the Vostok spacecraft and the space shuttle in the background of the portraits. Nyberg used a fusible web to keep the fabric in place and then cut out various pieces to create the desired shapes and colors. After completing the collages, she quilted the layers together.

The resulting portraits are vibrant and visually striking. They appear as if they were silkscreened onto the fabric, but they were actually formed from the patterns and shades of the cloth itself. Nyberg revealed that she used materials from her existing stash instead of purchasing new fabric for the project. This decision aligns with her preference for using what she already has, a practice she applies to her art quilts.

Nyberg’s passion for textile arts gained attention during her time aboard the International Space Station in 2013. She became the first person to sew and quilt in space, leading an international quilting challenge and creating various projects, including a toy dinosaur for her son. Since returning to Earth, Nyberg has continued to incorporate her talents into designing apparel and creating her own line of fabrics inspired by the photos of Earth she took while in space. The Tereshkova and Ride portraits are a part of her new collection, “Orbital Sunrise,” which she created in collaboration with Robert Kaufman Fabrics.

Although Nyberg never had the opportunity to meet Ride, she was deeply influenced by the first American lady to fly in space. Ride’s selection as one of NASA’s first women astronauts in 1978 coincided with Nyberg’s decision to pursue a career as an astronaut. Nyberg also had the chance to meet Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly into space. While their meeting was brief and limited by the language barrier, Nyberg expressed her awe at meeting such an iconic figure.

Nyberg hopes that her portraits of Tereshkova and Ride will inspire the next generation of astronauts. She acknowledges NASA’s efforts to achieve equal representation of men and women but emphasizes the need to engage young people in pursuing careers in space exploration. By showcasing the achievements of these trailblazing women, Nyberg aims to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

To wrap it up, Karen Nyberg’s artwork pays homage to Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride, the first lady and first American lady to fly into space, respectively. Nyberg’s unique use of fabric as a medium showcases her talent and creativity. Through her portraits, she hopes to inspire future generations to pursue careers in space exploration and contribute to the ongoing mission of furthering our understanding of the universe.