Jacqueline Carmichael For the VI Free Daily
Maggie Hansford’s master work has languished without a home for almost two decades.
Her eyes are failing and she feels the twilight years encroaching. She’d like to find a home for the huge needlework tapestry of man’s first steps on the moon.
The Port Alberni resident painstakingly stitched the six-foot-by-eight-foot picture over a dozen years, finishing in 1999.
Its threads lead back to the romance between her father, Kenneth, Hansford and Canada’s “artist in wool,” Elizabeth LeFort.
“This is my father’s dream… this is nothing to do with me,” Maggie Hansford said modestly.
Her father, Kenneth Hansford, had a gift shop on Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail. He opened the Paul Pix Boutique in a Nova Scotia barn after attending Banff School of Fine Arts in the 1950s to learn how to hand-colour photography.
The elder Hansford met Elizabeth LeFort when he was looking for works for his gallery.
LeFort’s work became a staple of his successful shop, and her detailed hooked rug portraits of famous scenes and individuals found homes in major galleries as well as Rideau Hall, Buckingham Palace, the White House and the Vatican.
So when Kenneth wanted to create a needlepoint that captured the majesty of man’s first steps on the moon, he turned to NASA for images – and to LeFort for stitching detail on the astronaut. But time ran out after the elder Hansford suffered a stroke and rehabilitation. He lived to see his famed wife receive the Order of Canada in 1987, but not to make a dent in the needlepoint that topped his bucket list.
“When his eyesight started going, he needed somebody to work it,” Maggie recalled.
She was on disability; she broke her back in 1964, and had surgery to repair it, but hasn’t been able to work at a job for decades.
The linen mesh background was specially cut in Nova Scotia. At 6 feet by 8 feet, it’s a size most needleworkers won’t even dream of attempting.
An artist from Saltspring Island transferred the images to the massive linen canvas woven on Cape Breton. Hansford then used it as a guide, but did her own colour blending with hundreds of shades of embroidery wool.
She started the work in 1986, working in wool needlepoint, with starry and metallic accents done in synthetic yarn.
She finished it in 1999.
“I said, ‘It’s done, I kept my promise,’” she recalled.
“I felt relief. I did it – I kept my promise to my dad.”
Between the moonscape, the earth in the distance, the stars and the lunar lander and the astronaut, Hansford said she’s amazed when people first notice the American flag.
“It’s a mankind topic – as far back as when Hector was a pup, since back when Icarus flew too close to the sun, it’s been human nature to want to explore and be part of space,” she said.
Maggie Hansford said whether you’re landing on the moon or investing thousands of hours and a million stitches in a needlepoint about it, the message is the same.
“We need to enjoy the things that we can accomplish, whatever they may be,” she said.
Hansford said she’s hoping to attract the interest of major luminaries on either the Canadian or American science or history scenes – perhaps even someone like Commander Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to command a space flight.
“Chris Hadfield’s into the arts, and he believes in dreams and fulfilling your dream,” she said.
“I’m bringing the promise to a close – I’m fulfilling a promise,” she said. “Just finding a home for it would be great … I’m willing to sell it now, too, as far as that goes, but I want to find a home for it,” she said.
The piece has been displayed at several regional museums and galleries around the Island, as well as at events while she worked on it.
Just unfurling the work from its cement roll protector prompts passing people to stop and admire the handiwork.
“This is incredible – it should be in a museum, it’s that special,” said Port Alberni resident Annette Hamel.
“There’s so much work into this, it’s spectacular. This is a piece of art that should have a special home.”
While pouring thousands of hours into creating and then promoting the project has consumed much of her free time, Hansford said her greatest achievement is three grown children and six grandchildren.
Macular degeneration is quickly stealing away Hansford’s eyesight – and that has motivated her friend Sharron Bartlett to try to help her find a permanent home for the stellar piece.
“I’d like other people to see and appreciate what she has put into it, while she can still appreciate it herself,” Bartlett said.