Shine through adversity

I recently came across the story of a remarkable woman, Maud Lewis, an artist from Nova Scotia, Canada.  Crippled by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and living a hard and difficult life, she overcame these challenges to shine through adversity and became one of Canada’s premier folk artists. 

Born in 1903 in the seaside town of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia she was diagnosed with the very painful condition of juvenile arthritis, not only did this affect her hands but also gave her a painful crooked gait.   Often bullied and mocked by other children Maud kept herself away others, staying close to her family.    In the safety of her parents home  she took her first steps towards creativity.    “I used to paint with Crayolas a lot. Kind of practicing up, I suppose,” Lewis explained  when she was interviewed later in life for a documentary by CBC’s Telescope in 1965.  In this interview she went on to talk about her contentment in her work saying “As long as I’ve got a brush in front of me I’m alright.”

After the death of her parents,  Maud aged 30 had nowhere to live  as her brother sold the family home. Brought on by necessity to find work and a roof over her head, Maud answered an advertisement for a housekeeper and found a husband at the same time.

Maud Lewis House and interior

Maud  married Everett Lewis  in 1938 and  lived in the same property until her death in 1970.  The house they called home was in fact a very tiny one room property with no plumbing or electricity.   Despite the hardship and poverty she endured,  not to mention Everett’s often callous nature, Maud set about creating a happy environment and started painting brightly coloured flowers, butterflies and birds on all the surfaces, including the window panes and across the door and eventually covered the entirety of the interior of their tiny home.  Holding a paintbrush was extremely difficult and painful for Maud,  she had to grip the brushes tightly in her gnarled hands, making slow and deliberate strokes with the brush.  The result of her  painstaking patience is some glorious, uplifting folk art.

Maud began to paint Christmas cards progressing to paintings which is when she decided to put out a sign “Paintings for Sale,”  tourists stopped and word soon spread about Maud’s art and her pictures began to sell for between $5 and $7.

Maud’s art work is a joy to view.  Although she had no formal art training,  painting mainly from memory  she created simple, straightforward, charming scenes and pictures using a palette of bright vibrant colours.  Maud’s pictures capture a liveliness and cheerfulness that is portrayed in her landscape scenes, colourful flowers, wildlife and cattle, not forgetting her beautiful wide eyed cats.  Although during her lifetime her artwork sold for only a few dollars recently in a thrift store fetched in excess of $45,000.

Maud Lewis Canadian folk artist

The tiny home Maud lived in is a work of art in itself and after her death to save the property which had begun to fall into disrepair it was saved and is now permanently housed in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

In 2017 Maud’s story  – Maudie made it to the big screen, telling her remarkable tale of a woman who in spite of her painful physical condition and harsh and often difficult life she was able to shine through adversity and overcome all obstacles in her way to produce some of the best Canadian folk art.

If like me you love Maud’s vibrant carefree colours and simple innocence that shine through her paintings then there is good news – prints are available to purchase from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.   If your  currently planning a Canadian holiday and you happen to have Nova Scotia on your list then do head over to the gallery and  let me know if you visit, I’d love to hear all about it.

Thanks for stopping by.

Pictures : House, artwork and image of Maud  courtesy Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Interior courtesy of Head over to bitesizetravel for an excellent post on the art gallery.


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