Words: Marta Gold
| Images: Blaise van Malsen and Derek Lue
17 Jul, 2019
“I thought after all these years, they would have taken it down”
Shiela Hardy was visiting NAIT recently with a family friend who teaches at the polytechnic when she casually asked whether the mosaic mural of the first logo was still around.
“Oh sure,” said Laurel Tokuda (Electrician ’09), an associate chair in the Electrician program. “I walk by it every day. How did you know about it?”
“I made it,” replied Hardy, now 80. It was the first time she had seen the intricate, glass-tile mosaic since she created it more than 50 years ago.
Based on NAIT’s original logo featuring a blue arrow and a globe, symbolizing the global advance of technology, it still marks the entrance to E Wing on Main Campus. Facing 106 Street, it covers part of the wall of the atrium that rises two storeys to the pedway leading to the NAIT HP Centre for Information and Communications Technology.
"I was so surprised that it was still here."
Tokuda had brought Hardy and her own mother, who are friends, to a Mother’s Day tea at Ernest’s, NAIT’s award-winning restaurant.
“When I saw the mural, I was so surprised that it was still here," Hardy says. "I thought after all these years, they would have taken it down. I just stood with my mouth hanging open, thinking, I can’t believe I made that!”
Landing a job as a mosaic maker
Hardy, who balks at being called an artist, says she’s just a crafty person whose husband, Neil, put her up to the job. He owned Hardy Hardware at the time, an architectural hardware supply company.
Neil heard about the request for a mosaic mural in 1965 through the construction association. NAIT was a young facility at the time, having opened only two years before, in 1963. He thought it would be the perfect project for his talented wife. Though she had done mosaic work before, her biggest project to date had been a coffee table. Nevertheless, they put in a bid and got the commission.
Hardy spent months on the mural. She worked from an architectural blueprint of the logo, which was designed by a NAIT electronics student, drawing it on three sections of plywood laid on the floor. After cutting one-inch square tiles into tiny, quarter-inch tiles, Hardy painstakingly arranged them like a jigsaw puzzle to form the globe, the arrowhead and the provincial shield complete with wheat fields, prairie, mountains and blue sky topped by the red and white cross of St. George.
The final product contains more than 250,000 individual tiles.
An installer from her husband’s company fitted the mosaic panels onto the wall. Hardy, who had left empty a two-inch strip between the panels so they could be properly mounted and fitted, then had to climb scaffolding to secure the final tiles into the mosaic.
The process caused a bit of commotion among the students. “They’d stop to look and say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a girl up there!’” she recalled. “It was 20 feet in the air and I had to go up on rickety scaffolding and I don’t like heights.”
The final product is about 4 metres wide by about 6.5 metres high and contains more than 250,000 individual tiles.
“It was quite a job,” says Hardy. She doesn’t remember how much she got paid for the work.
The last remaining Hardy mural?
That commission led to others for Hardy, including a large mosaic mural in Calgary, and three murals at schools in Fort Vermillion, High Level and Buffalo Head Prairie. She doesn’t know if any of her other works are still standing.
She was thrilled to see her NAIT work had endured and that people were still interested in its origins.
“It’s wonderful to get the appreciation. That was one of the best days of my life when I got the phone call saying you wanted to do a story about it,” she says.
"That was one of the best days of my life."
Tokuda says she was thrilled to discover her longtime friend’s connection to a piece of NAIT’s history. “It makes me smile now every time I go by it to think of how delighted Shiela was to see it and how much work she put into it.”
In the late 1960s, she stopped her mosaic work and opened a rock shop in Kingsway Mall, directly south of NAIT’s Main Campus, selling rough rocks, minerals and polishers to hobbyists. She shut the store in 1984 and continued to help Neil in his business and pursue her many hobbies, the latest of which is bird photography.
“You’ve got to keep yourself active,” she says. “I do crossword puzzles, bridge, anything to keep my brain working.”