Élizabeth LeFort left school in 1926 when she was only 12 years old to help around the house but also in order to be able to contribute to the family coffers by creating hooked rugs of wool and jute as her sisters had done before her.
Life continues as one may imagine, Élizabeth lived with her parents and after some time accepted outside jobs as housekeeper. She continued to work on her hooked rugs however, and in 1940 came a pivotal point in her life.
That Christmas, her family had received a card from England. It came from the mother of her brother’s British wife. A typical English image, it featured a small cottage near a creek with ducks swimming and sheep grazing, everything in multiple shades of brown, better known as sepia. Élizabeth was convinced she could reproduce the image in wool. She dyed the 28 required shades of brown. She knew then that creating was her calling. “It was my start. That’s when God took charge of me.” The completed rug was so beautiful it sold so easily for $25, more than twice the normal price, that she made six other with the same image, one of which can now be viewed in the Élizabeth LeFort Gallery in Les Trois Pignons.
She continued to hook rugs for sale in the region and 14 years later she was discovered by the outside world because of a rug showing a horse with the typical farm field in the background. The rug was so lovely and so well constructed that it captured the attention of Kenneth Hansford, owner the Paul Pix Boutique. He was so impressed that he buys it immediately. Shortly after, he buys a second rug by Élizabeth, one depicting a setting sun, and makes arrangements to purchase all future works of art by Élizabeth.
She shortly finds herself hired as artist in residence at Mr. Hansford’s boutique for the princely sum of $50 a week. She creates rugs using a large variety of subjects: flowers, pastoral scenes, birds and other animals.
But Mr. Hansford knows that she can do more and a year later, he asks her to create a portrait and proposes, as a first subject, none other than the president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhaur. In only three weeks, she had “hooked” 160,000 loops to complete the portrait. Two years later, Mr. Hansford obtained an invitation from the White House for Élizabeth to present her masterpiece.
Her art is not only featured at the White House. Other portraits followed: Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Popes Pius XII and John XXII, Jacqueline Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson, Prime Ministers Lester B. Pearson and John Diefenbaker, amongst other. Her works of arts are now displayed in Buckingham Palace, the Vatican, the White House and many other important places.
The large tapestries began in 1960 with the creation of a piece depicting the 33 Presidents of the United States, a work measuring 63 square feet requiring 390 colours, 11.27 kilometres of wool and more than 750,000 “hooked loops of wool.”
Élizabeth continued to create these majestic tapestries with a series of reproductions of religious paintings, such as Leonardo de Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, images of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as original pieces depicting scenes from Canada’s history.
Élizabeth and Kenneth Hansford were married in Saint Peter’s church in Chéticamp, during a simple ceremony the day following Thanksgiving in 1967. She was 53 and he was 62. The couple spent their winters in Arizona where Élizabeth worked her magic in wool during the winter months.
In 1975, Élizabeth was awarded an honorary doctor’s degree from Université de Moncton in New Brunswick.
The Élizabeth LeFort Gallery was officially opened in 1983 in Les Trois Pignons in the presence of then Deputy Prime Minister, the Honourable Allan J. MacEachen. A collection of 17 of Élizabeth’s works of art had been stored at Les Trois Pignons since 1981. Added to the collection were six other pieces that Élizabeth and her husband had wisely decided to keep from private hands.
In 1985, Kenneth Hansford suffered a major stroke and was hospitalized for many months before being able to return home. Two years later in 1987, accompanied by her wheelchair-bound husband, Élizabeth was admitted to the Order of Canada. Kenneth Hansford passed away later that year.
Élizabeth LeFort pursued her art until her death on October 10, 2005 at the age of 91.
For more information about the life of Élizabeth LeFort, make sure you visit the Élizabeth LeFort Gallery and read the book, “Canada’s artist in wool” by Daniel Doucet, available in Les Trois Pignons’ boutique.