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She suffered from a result of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. In 1935 Maud's father died and in 1937, her mother followed. As was typical at the time, her brother inherited the family home. After living with her brother for a short while she moved to Digby to live with her aunt. Maud was introduced to art by her mother, who instructed her in the making of watercolour Christmas Cards to sell. She began her artistic career by selling hand-drawn and painted Christmas cards. These proved popular with her husband's customers as he sold fish door to door and encouraged her to begin painting. She used bright colours in her paintings and subjects were often of flowers, oxen teams, horses, birds, deer, or cats. Many of her paintings are of outdoor scenes. Her house was one-room with a sleeping loft and is now located in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax.
Maud married Everett Lewis, a fish peddler, on January 16, 1938 at the age of 34. According to Everett, Maud unexpectedly showed up at his door step in response to an advertisement he had posted in the local stores looking for a "live-in or keep house" for a forty year old bachelor. Several weeks later they were married. They moved into Everetts' one-room house. This house would operate as Maud's studio, where Everett would perform all of the housework. Maud Lewis accompanied her husband on his daily rounds peddling fish, bringing along Christmas cards that she had drawn. She would sell the cards for twenty five cents each. After some success with this, she started painting on various other surfaces such as pulp boards (beaverboards), cookie sheets, and Masonite. Maud was a prolific artist and painted on more or less every available surface in their tiny home. It was Everett who encouraged Maud to paint and he bought her her first set of oils. Lewis lived most of her life in poverty with her husband in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia.
Maud Lewis painted outdoor scenes, like Cape Island boats bopping on the water, horses pulling sleigh, skaters, portraits of dogs, cats, deers, birds, and cows. Most of her paintings are quite small - often no larger than eight by ten inches, although she is known to have done at least five paintings 24 inches by 36 inches. The size was limited by the extend she could move her arms. She used mostly wallboard and tubes of Tinsol, an oil-based paint. Maud's technique consisted of first coating the board with white, then drawing an outline and then applying paint directly out of the tube. She never blended or mixed colours.
Early Maud Lewis paintings from the 1940s are quite rare. The AGNS occasionally displays the Chaplin/Wennerstrom shutters (now part of the Clearwater Fine Foods Inc. collection). This collection comprises twenty-two exterior house shutters that Maud did in the early 1940s. The work was done for some Americans who owned a cottage on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Most of the shutters are quite large 5 ft x 1 ft.6 inches. Maud was paid 70 cents a shutter.
Between 1945-1950, people began to stop at Maud's home and buy her paintings for two or three dollars. Only in the last three or four years of Maud's life did her paintings begin to sell for seven to ten dollars. She achieved national attention as a result of an article in the "Star Weekly" in 1964 and in 1965 she was featured on CBC-TV's Telescope. Unfortunately, her arthritis deprived her from completing many of the orders that resulted from the national exposure. In recent years, her paintings have sold at auction for ever increasing prices. Two of her paintings have sold for more than $16,000. The highest auction prices so far is $22,200.00 for lot 196 "A Family Outing". The painting was sold at a Bonham's auction in Toronto on November 30, 2009. Another painting, "A View of Sandy Cove", sold in 2012 for $20,400.
Later life and death
In the last year of her life, Maud Lewis stayed in one corner of her house, painting as often as she could while traveling back and forth to the hospital. She died in Digby, Nova Scotia on July 30, 1970. Her husband Everett was killed when a burglar murdered him during an attempted robbery at the house in 1979. After both their deaths, the painted home began to deteriorate. In reaction, a group of concerned citizens from the Digby area started the Maud Lewis Painted House Society; their only goal was to save this landmark. In 1984, the house was sold to the Province of Nova Scotia and turned over to the care of Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
A large collection of Maud's work can be found in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which has restored her original house and installed it in the gallery as part of a permanent Maud Lewis exhibit. Most of the Maud Lewis paintings on display are on loan to the AGNS. A steel memorial sculpture based on her house has been erected at the original site of her house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. An imitation Maud Lewis house has been built a private museum in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.
Further reading and other media
Maud Lewis is the subject of a book, The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis and three National Film Board of Canada documentaries, Maud Lewis - A World Without Shadows (1997), The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis (1998) and I Can Make Art ... Like Maud Lewis (2005), a short film in which a group of Grade 6 students are inspired by Lewis' work to create their own folk art painting.
In 2009, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in conjunction with Greg Thompson Productions is presenting a new Maud Lewis play on stage at the AGNS. A Happy Heart: The Maud Lewis Story was written and produced by Greg Thompson, the same writer and producer who brought Marilyn: Forever Blonde to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in January 2008. Thompson wrote the one woman play while in Nova Scotia in 2008 and his newest work examines the life and art of Maud Lewis. The play will run until October 25, 2009.
Screenwriter Sherry White has written a script for an upcoming film about Lewis, entitled Maudie
- Roadshow-style drop-in comes to Ottawa Art Gallery". Ottawa Metro. Haley Ritchie, Sep 14 2015
- "'The Snow Queen' takes on Canadian twist". CBC News Dec 04, 2014
- >"About Maud Lewis". www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca. Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
- "Digby County: A Journey Through Time". www.virtualmuseum.ca. Virtual Museum Canada. Retrieved 2015-03-07.
- "Yarmouth promoting its Maud Lewis". John DeMings, Digby Courier, on June 07, 2014
- Woolaver, Lance (1995). The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis. Halifax: Nimbus Publishing Limited. pp. 16–21. ISBN 1-55109-176-3.
- "Women's work : a selection of work by 4 significant Nova Scotia artists : Maria Morris, Alice Hagen, Maud Lewis, Suzanne Swannie.". Mount Saint Vincent University. Art Gallery. 1981.
- "Maud Lewis work fetches $20,000". By ELISSA BARNARD November 28, 2012
- "45 Years ago". The Vanguard. Eric Bourque, August 04, 2015
- "Maud Lewis: A World Without Shadows" (Requires Adobe Flash). Online documentary. National Film Board of Canada. 1976. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
- Churchill, Jane (2005). "I Can Make Art ... Like Maud Lewis". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
- "Maudie explores folk artist’s love for another N.S. outsider". THE CHRONICLE HERALD, February 26, 2015
- AGNS - Maud Lewis
- Several examples of Maud's work and short biography
- Maud Lewis - Short Bio
- Digby County Archives information about Maud Lewis
- Maud Lewis' Story