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 Diana Billings Art Blog

Maud Lewis - Canadian’s Folk Artist

I recently went to one of my favourite places, the Art Gallery of Alberta. (AGA)

There I saw the brightly coloured art exhibit of Maud Lewis, which I have been wanting to see. Maud Lewis is, in my opinion, Canada’s greatest folk artist.

Maud Lewis lived her entire life in Nova Scotia. She was born, Maud Dowley in Yarmouth on March 7, 1903. She lived in Digby and Marshalltown as an adult, until her death on July 30, 1970. Her father John died in 1935, followed by her mother Agnes in 1938. Her brother, Charles took over the family home. This is when Maud moved to Digby with an aunt and then met her husband Everett Lewis, and subsequently moved to Marshalltown. Maud and Everett had a formidable relationship despite it being said that Everett had character flaws.

Maud had always had health issues and as she aged her rheumatoid arthritis worsened, thus preventing her from working or doing even the smallest tasks of house keeping. So Everett took up looking after her and their tiny house. This allowed Maud to paint, which brought in the money for the pair to live. During this time Maud was very happy in the relationship.

The tiny house they lived in was not up to todays standards, with no plumbing or electricity. But no matter; the house was large in character. Maud had painted almost everything inside and on the outside of the house. Adorned in brightly coloured flowers and plants everywhere. Even household items like bread tins and pans were painted. The tiny house is a work of art in itself. After Mauds’ death in 1970 and Everetts’ in 1979, the lovely little house fell into disrepair and was deteriorating badly. A group of citizens from Digby formed the Maud Lewis Painted House Society. The society tried to raise money to save the house, but realized the damage to the tiny house was so extensive they could not compete the project. In1984 the Province of Nova Scotia bought the house and turned it over to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. In 1996 funds became available from the federal department of Canadian Heritage and along with some private donations, the restoration began. Now the tiny house is on permanent display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. There is an excellent online tour of the house and Maud Lewis’ artwork at the gallery in Halifax.

Maud was becoming known not only by the roadside sign that read “Paintings for Sale”, but though newspapers, magazines and television documentaries. Maud soon was well known and continues to be recognized today. She sold her work for pennies in her early years and as she aged, for dollars. Now Mauds’ paintings sell for thousand of dollars. This is unfortunate as Maud and Everett lived in poverty most of their lives.

Much of Mauds’ work is in private collections and at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. There was a feature film made in 2017 staring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawk about Maud and Everett, called Maudie. You can find this film on Netflix. Mauds’ artwork is on exhibition at the Art Gallery of Alberta until May 29, 2022. I’m sorry I did not check on this sooner for you.

Mauds’ artwork brings us joy and happiness. The painting must have bought her much happiness, judging by the colours and subject maters. You can not help but smile when you see her little kittens, people riding in carriages, or oxen pulling a hay wagon. I encourage you to look at her work online if not in person.

I have attached the website to the Art gallery of Nova Scotia for you to look at her work.


Sources: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia


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