Maud Lewis, 1903–1970

Profile of the Canadian artist

Maud Lewis 1903-1970

Maud Lewis

Lewis was born on 7 March 1903 in South Ohio , a small village in the province of Nova Scotia in the east of Canada, as a daughter of John and Agnes Dowley. She suffered early on disabilities of arms and hands as a result of rheumatoid arthritis , which she had had as a child.

On 16 January 1938 she married the hawker Everett Lewis. The couple was destitute and lived in a small house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, without heating and electricity. Soon after the marriage, Maud Lewis accompanied her husband on his daily rounds, selling fish from door to door. This is how her artistic career began, as she drew Christmas cards , which were very popular among her husband’s customers. After some sales success, she encouraged her husband to paint and bought oil paints for the first time . Despite her physical limitations, she now painted small, colorful paintings to enhance her livelihood.

In the last year of her life, Lewis’s condition worsened, but she painted as often as she could, even during the trips to the hospital.

She died on July 30, 1970 in Digby , Nova Scotia. Her husband was murdered nine years later by burglars.

Your two-bedroom house has been renovated and is now exhibited at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax . At its original location, a monument of steel was erected which reproduces the house.

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Maud Lewis’ pictures are quite small, usually only 20 to 25 centimeters large, their largest picture measures 90 centimeters. The paintings show outdoor scenes with people and domestic animals and wild animals such as horses, cats and birds. Maud’s painting technique was to remove the colors directly and unmixed from the tube, so that they appear bright and bright and the surfaces are clearly delimited. She used all sorts of materials, including wooden boards and baking sheets . Even the walls of her house painted them to the last corner.

From 1945 to 1950 their paintings sold for two to three dollars. Only in the last three, four years of her life did Lewis get seven to ten dollars per painting. In 1964, she received national attention for the first time through an article in “Star Weekly” and a year later she was presented in a documentary film by CBC Television . The selling price of her works has been rising steadily since the last years. Two of her paintings were sold for more than $ 16,000. The highest selling price so far was “A Family Outing” with $ 22,200 at an auction in Toronto in 2009.

The Joyous World of Overlooked Canadian Folk Artist Maud Lewis



JUN 16TH, 2017 3:47 PM

Maud Lewis in front of her house, 1961. Photo by Cora Greenaway. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis spent 32 years of her life in a one-room house on a secluded dirt road in Nova Scotia. By the time of her death in 1970, she’d covered nearly every surface of the little home with joyous paintings: Clusters of tulips filled the windows, birds and butterflies fluttered across the door. Even the dustpan was covered with daisies.

“I paint all from memory, I don’t copy much,” Lewis says, smiling wide, in a 1965 television documentary about her life and work. “Because I don’t go nowhere, I just make my own designs up.”

Lewis is a cult figure in Canada. And the idiosyncratic painter’s reputation should be cemented beyond her native country with Maudie, a biopic released today starring Sally Hawkins in the title role, with Ethan Hawke as her husband Everett. The film, directed by British filmmaker Aisling Walsh and written by Canadian screenwriter Sherry White, focuses on Lewis’s resilience as an artist, despite hardships.

Maud Lewis, Oxen in Spring, ca. 1960s. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

During the last five years of her life, a steady stream of locals and tourists—intrigued by Lewis’s paintings, as well as her buoyant spirit and reclusive lifestyle—came knocking at the door of the home she shared with her husband, fish peddler Everett. They bought Lewis’s colorful scenes of Nova Scotia life for five dollars a pop. Recently, 47 years after Lewis’s death, her celebrity—and, in step, the prices of her paintings—have swelled. This May, one of her works, discovered in a thrift shop, sold for over $45,000 at auction.

Lewis was born in 1903 in the small, seaside town of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. At a young age, she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis that left her with a pained and crooked gait. Confined largely to her parents’ home, she began to draw. “I used to paint with Crayolas a lot. Kind of practicing up, I suppose,” Lewis laughs in the 1965 documentary.

Maud Lewis, Maud Lewis House. Photo by Steve Farmer. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

After her parents died when she was in her early thirties, Lewis went to live with an aunt. Not long after, she answered an ad from a local fishmonger—Everett Lewis. He was looking for woman to help around the house. Several weeks later, they were married.

The exact timeline is fuzzy, but at some point after she moved into Everett’s home, she began painting on its wooden surfaces. She’d travel into town with Everett and sell unique handpainted Christmas cards, and then moved on to larger surfaces: boards cut by her husband.

Lewis’s paintings show scenes she glimpsed through her little home’s window, and memories from childhood or her infrequent trips to town. There are oxen decorated with bells and flanked by trees exploding with pink blossoms; carriages filled with brightly outfitted people, trailed by bounding dogs; seagulls soaring over placid seaside landscapes. And then there are the fan favorites: wide-eyed cats lounging in tulip fields.

Maud Lewis, Three black cats, 1955. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Maud Lewis, Coastal Scene with Gulls, 1960s. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Claire Stenning, an art dealer and early supporter, describes her sense of Lewis’s compositions in the 1965 documentary. They have a “childlike, tremendous feeling,” she said. “No shadows at all. Everything is happy and gay and quick and lively.”

The joyousness of Lewis’s paintings may be surprising given the difficulties she faced. As a child, she was made fun of for her arthritis, which worsened over the course of her life, gnarling her body and hands.

Her husband Everett, by most accounts, was no picnic either. In the documentary, we get a glimpse of their dynamic: A tall, toothless Everett grumbles about Maud’s free spirit, at one point carping that he receives more kisses from his dogs than from his wife.

Maud Lewis, Maud Lewis House. Collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Photo by Steve Farmer. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

And while Maud ended up becoming the primary breadwinner after word of her talents spread, Everett “still found room to complain that he did the chores,” says Shannon Parker, Curator of Collections at The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which owns 55 of Lewis’s works, including her greatest achievement: her own home. Lewis continued painting her happy scenes and retained her unflappably positive outlook until her death, in 1970. The property was moved from its original location in the 1980s, and is on display at the museum in Nova Scotia, the best evidence of her exuberant style and spirit.

“Visitors are so impressed that someone could live for over 30 years in such a small space,” says Parker. “And also that she produced such amazing, cheerful artwork that could have otherwise been very depressing considering the difficult life she led.”

Poster for Film maudie

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