Art, Inspiration

Monday Morning Musing #64 – For The Love of Maud

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Dearest Jo,

I hope your mum is feeling better and so pleased to hear that you managed to make the best of the situation during her recent visit. The gallery with interactive and mixed pieces sounded wonderful. So very true that art connects, enlightens, inspires, and as you rightly say Jo… also connects through the decades, continents and generations.

Last week, on my final day in Nova Scotia, art was the gift that three friends gave to ourselves. Still sated, inspired and dare I say, somewhat glowing from the idyllic confines of the writer’s retreat we had experienced together, we knew we wanted to complete our experience with a visit to the Maud Lewis exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. If you’ve seen the movie Maudie, you’ll understand why.

Just as Emily Carr is the iconic painter of Canada’s west coast, Maud Lewis is one of the darlings of the east. Her work is an explosion of colour, and inspiration. The paintings are seemingly simple –termed primitive in the art world – a nostalgic homage to Nova Scotia’s rural past. With a childlike innocence and an ‘all is right with the world’, Maud’s work is hopeful and idyllic – sleigh and carriage rides, blossoming flowers and trees, sailing on calm waters and romantic images of woodcutting, fishing and farming.

Yet, the deeper story of Maud Lewis is that her radiant paintings were a stark contrast to her life – often one of strife and poverty, of acute pain from arthritis and illness. Her work symbolises her determined resolve and spirt.

Born in 1901, Maud had no painting lessons, had never seen other artists’ work, and in fact, her world was never larger than about a sixty mile radius.

She once quipped, “I’m contented here. I ain’t much for travel anyway. Contented. Right here in this chair. As long as I’ve got a brush in front of me, I’m alright.”

Grade five marked the end of Maud’s formal education, though her mother ensured she learned how to play the piano and paint. Together, they sold their homespun painted Christmas cards door-to door. But after the death of her parents within two years of each other, Maud went to live with a strict, unloving aunt.

At the age of 36, Maud answered an advertisement. A 44-year old fish peddler needed a ‘live-in or keep house’ for his tiny home that stood on a main road near a small Nova Scotian town. Maud would eventually marry Everett Lewis, the fish seller, though some would argue that with no possessions, money, and with her crippling disease, Maud brought little to the arrangement. Yet she would bring structure, love, and colour to the humble home as she swathed it in colourful paintings.

Maud began selling cards in earnest, a colourful sign outside their doll-like house encouraging the summer tourists to stop in. Soon, a Maud painted scallop seashell and a sweet pea boutonniere from Everett’s garden became a must-have souvenir.

Throughout the 1950’s the painter’s reputation grew. The cold winters allowed her time to paint and stock for the coming season. Commissions grew… paintings, seasonal window shutters and panels, platters, and other painted household items. Maud worked through the pain and limited dexterity, ultimately losing the ability to open her hands which rendered her work even more ‘primitive’. Her enduring popularity grew.

“The world is framed right here through my window,” she would say. “A bird whizzing by, a bumble bee… all just right there.”

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Maud died in 1968 and after both her and Everett’s deaths, their postage-sized home was eventually rescued from neglect. It was painstakingly moved, loving refurbished, and now stands in the Art Gallery itself.

There was a silent reverie as we gazed at the paintings and peered into what had been Maud’s home and studio. It was as if we could feel her spirit – her joy and commitment to paint, despite the pain.

“Well I ain’t no real artist, I just like to paint,” Maud once said. An art critic described her legacy this way. “Maud Lewis succeeded in illuminating the best of the human spirit.”

What a privilege it was to see her work Jo…

Have a great week, Terry Anne xx

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2 thoughts on “Monday Morning Musing #64 – For The Love of Maud”

    1. I’ve just rewatched the movie after being there, they did a great job of portraying her. The ‘cottage’ is like a doll’s house and covered with her work that they’ve restored… flowers on the stove, the dustpan, the windows…

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