Hilda Villumsen is sitting in a sunny window, filling out forms to enter her art rugs in the local arts festival in April. The papers note the festival is open to emerging artists. Villumsen shares some doubt she should be putting her works under a spotlight, especially at the age of 94.
“Do you think I am too old to be an emerging artist?” she asks.
She has crates upon crates of yarn, just to have enough colours for the amazing images on the rugs, some of which are renditions of famous art.
If you aren’t aware, Villumsen has been hooking rugs for quite some time, but says she is one of the few people in the area who still do. That’s something she would like to change.
“I thought I would enter the festival because I want other people to start hooking,” Villumsen emphasized.
At one time there were dozens of people in the valley who practiced rug hooking. The Northside Women’s Institute were doing this when Villumsen arrived in the area.
“I don’t know how they taught me,” she says, however she managed to pick it up.
“The first rugs were for returning soldiers (from WWII),” Villumsen explained.
It is time consuming and can take 125 hours for a project,
“When people hear that, it sometimes scares them off,” she says, shrugging.
Hooking a rug also takes good eyesight.
“Looking to put each piece with one small hole in the Scottish burlap,” she says demonstrating, “it’s tight and sometimes I can’t get the hook in.”
This isn’t the only craft Villumsen has practiced throughout the years, she has painted, done wood burning and taught china painting as well. But for now she’s concentrating on the rugs. Villumsen has been known in the valley as a fabulous gardener. The Library’s 75 birthday slide-show featured a photo of her standing in her garden, and people say they still garden by the advice column she used to write for the local paper.
Her accent is a tip off that she came from outside Canada. In fact, she was born in one of the most difficult times in Europe, near the end of WWI, and it’s not a stretch to say she might not have survived, considering her mother contracted the Spanish flu and pneumonia when she was an infant. But with love from her family, she grew to be a girl with lots of spirit, enjoyed playing with her brothers and getting her hands dirty.
“I grew up as a tomboy … I liked my sailor outfit with the gold buttons like (boys) wore at the time,” she remembers.
Her father was an engineer with the Dutch navy but the German intelligence found out in 1942, and a nurse told her family soldiers were coming to confiscate everything.
“I was bossy and I rounded up our neighbours to help move our things,” she says laughing, “My mother got a cattle truck and hosed out the manure and we loaded our furniture in there … and what we couldn’t fit we put under the floor,” Villumsen says, happy to relive this triumph.
Times were tough but her family didn’t go hungry, because she walked to a farm every day where she was paid for her work with farm produce.
At some point, Villumsen met a fortune teller who told her she would meet a man whose language she didn’t know.
“I thought this couldn’t be true because I learned French, English and German,” the polyglot says, “But then I met and liked this man who turned out to be Danish.”
They married but were undecided about where to settle. “He wanted to live in Holland, and I wanted to live in Denmark … it’s a beautiful, romantic place.”
They also read about Australia and Canada so they came in winter to a farm in Saskatchewan. Rather, they came to a train station where a farmer was supposed to pick them up. But blizzards kept him from coming. Luckily there was a kind station master.
“He came to lock up and we were still waiting,” she says, “We were thankful he allowed us to stay at his home.”
They were treated like guests, she marvels, until the farmer came by sled – two weeks later.
She said it was cold and they had to dress warm for going to bed. Eventually they decided to come to B.C. moving to an established farm here. Vanderhoof still had wood sidewalks and Prince George was hours away by dirt road.
“We came in the morning and by afternoon we were plowing,” she recalls.
They grew amazing crops and also raised two children, one of whom still lives nearby. “I have never felt sorry for being here,” Villumsen says.
She shares another prophecy of the Dutch fortune teller, that after age 55 the psychic didn’t see what happens. And so our emerging artist shares that she thought that’s when she was going to die.
“I quit my job, sold the farm in 1972 and moved to five acres in town … and waited to die,” she says.
Well not so much sitting around and waiting, as you might’ve guessed. She grew vegetables, berries and greenhouse tomatoes, she travelled some, and she stayed involved with the fall fair and the town arts scene.
“I never thought I would live to 94 and be in good health … it’s been 35 years and I’m still waiting,” Villumsen jokes.