Ask any Atlantic Canadian if they’ve heard of Maud Lewis and chances are, you’ll hear a resounding “yes.” In fact, some east-coasters are lucky enough to have an original painting by the iconic folk artist hanging in their home. Read on to learn more about this legendary artist, her humble beginnings, and how she captured the hearts of countless Canadians with her vibrant art.
Born and raised in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, Maud was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at an early age, which affected her hands and shoulders. As a young girl, she was first introduced to painting by her mother, when she was instructed to create Christmas cards to sell to the neighbours.
After her parents passed away, Maud’s brother inherited the family house, requiring the teenage Maud to move to Digby to live with her Aunt. It was nearby, in the small community of Marshalltown, where she met her husband Everett Lewis, a fish peddler. They were married from 1938 until her passing in 1970, living a very modest life together in a small one-room house.
No Shadows or Rain in Her Clouds
Maud saw and painted a world without shadows, focusing on brightly coloured rural scenery depicted in all seasons. Her painted scenes often included animals and flowers. It’s easy to feel her warmth and happiness when you take in her work.
In the summer months, Maud would often accompany Everett as he carried out his work. When they stopped at the picturesque fishing villages dotting the coastline between Yarmouth and Digby, she would sit on the hood of the car and take in the beautiful scenery. Later, these charming scenes would be captured by her memory on canvas.
From Canvas to the Silver Screen
While several documentary films and books have told the story of Maud Lewis, awareness of the artist, and the value of her works, grew significantly with the release of the 2017 film, Maudie. In a recent auction, her painting Three Black Cats sold for $22,240. What’s even more remarkable is that, five decades ago, this painting was originally purchased for $10 by an Ontario resident. It then passed through several generations until it was put up for auction.
It’s hard to believe that one of Canada’s most celebrated folk artists lived in such modest conditions, as her cheerful art tells a different story—one that is appealing to so many. From the early days of tourists stopping by the small Marshalltown house on Highway #1 to purchase her modest pieces, to two of her paintings being ordered by the White House during the presidency of Richard Nixon, Lewis’s colourful works have had an unmistakable impact on the broader community of those who admire and collect folk art.
Two Ways to See Her Painted House
The iconic house that once stood in Marshalltown as home to Maud and Everett was where Maud’s art came to life. Because canvas was expensive, Maud turned to any and every available surface to express herself. From the windows and walls to the stairs and ceiling, her art was everywhere, and brought life to their little house which was approximately 9’ x 10’, or smaller than the average bedroom.
To see a replica of the house, travel to Digby. Making your way from Halifax, drive through the Annapolis Valley along the Bay of Fundy. The replica house and Maude Lewis memorial site are located three minutes past Exit 26 on Highway 101 in Marshalltown—keep your eyes peeled on the right side of the road and you won’t miss it. Once you arrive you can enjoy a little break, take in the colourful perennial garden and read interpretive panels telling Maud’s story.
The original house was acquired by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in 1984. After restoration, it was installed—fully restored and on permanent display—in the Maud Lewis Gallery, complete with furnishing, paint and painting materials. If you’re in Halifax, this is a must-see stop. Enjoy an up-close look at the painted home and some of Maud’s most iconic work. Though small in stature like the artist, the house is a bright and colourful piece of Canadian history for many to appreciate.