Maud Lewis

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Maud Lewis
Maud Lewis.jpg
Lewis in front of her home
Maud Dowley

March 7, 1903 [1]
DiedJuly 30, 1970(1970-07-30) (aged 67)
Known forPainting
StyleFolk art
Spouse(s)Everett Lewis

Maud Kathleen Lewis (née Dowley; March 7, 1903 – July 30, 1970) was a Canadian folk artist from Nova Scotia.[2] Lewis lived most of her life in poverty in a small house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, achieving national recognition in 1964 and 1965. Several books, plays and films have since been produced about her. Lewis remains one of Canada's best-known folk artists; her works and the restored Maud Lewis House are displayed in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Early life[edit]

Lewis was born Maud Kathleen Dowley on March 7, 1903 in South Ohio, Nova Scotia, the daughter of John and Agnes (Germain) Dowley.[3][4] She had one brother, Charles. She was born with birth defects and ultimately developed rheumatoid arthritis, which reduced her mobility, especially in her hands. Dowley was introduced to art by her mother, who instructed her in the making of watercolour Christmas cards to sell.[5] She began her artistic career by selling hand-drawn and painted Christmas cards.[citation needed]

In 1935, Dowley's father John died; in 1937, her mother Agnes died.[3] After living with her brother for a short while, she moved to Digby, Nova Scotia to live with her aunt.[3]


Dowley married Everett Lewis, a fish peddler from Marshalltown, on January 16, 1938 at the age of 34.[6] Everett Lewis also worked as the watchman at the county Poor Farm. According to Everett, Maud Dowley showed up at his door step in response to an advertisement he had posted in the local stores for a "live-in or keep house" for a forty-year-old bachelor. Several weeks later, they married.[citation needed][3]

The two lived in Everett's one-room house with a sleeping loft in Marshalltown, a few miles west of Digby. Maud used this house as her studio; Everett took care of the housework.[7] The pair lived mostly in poverty in the one-room house.

Maud Lewis accompanied her husband on his daily rounds peddling fish door-to-door, bringing along Christmas cards that she had drawn. She would sell the cards for five cents each, the same price her mother had charged for the cards she had made when Maud was a girl. These cards proved popular with her husband's customers, and she began painting. Everett encouraged Lewis to paint, and he bought her her first set of oils.[8]

She expanded her range, using other surfaces for painting, such as pulp boards (beaverboards), cookie sheets, and Masonite. Lewis was a prolific artist and also painted on more or less every available surface in their tiny home: walls, doors, breadboxes, and even the stove. She completely covered the simple patterned commercial wallpaper with sinewy stems, leaves, and blossoms.[8]


Maud Lewis Memorial in Marshalltown

Lewis used bright colours in her paintings, and subjects were often flowers or animals, including oxen teams, horses, birds, deer, or cats. Many of her paintings are of outdoor scenes, including Cape Island boats bobbing on the water, horses pulling a sleigh, skaters, and portraits of dogs, cats, deer, birds, and cows. Her paintings were inspired by childhood memories of the landscape and people around Yarmouth and South Ohio, as well as Digby locations, such as Point Prim and Bayview. Commercial Christmas cards and calendars also influenced her.

Her paintings are often 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 extent she could move her arms, which had been affected by arthritis. She used mostly wallboard and tubes of Tinsol, an oil-based paint. Lewis' technique consisted of first coating the board with white, then drawing an outline, and applying paint directly out of the tube. She never blended or mixed colours.[9]

Early Maud Lewis paintings from the 1940s are quite rare. A large collection of Lewis' work can be found in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS). 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 Lewis painted in the early 1940s. The work was done for some Americans who owned a cottage on the South Shore. Most of the shutters are quite large, at 5 ft x 1 ft.6 inches. Lewis was paid 70 cents a shutter.[citation needed]

Between 1945 and 1950, people began to stop at Lewis' Marshalltown home on Highway No. 1, the main highway and tourist route in western Nova Scotia. They bought her paintings for two or three dollars each. Only in the last three or four years of Lewis' life did her paintings begin to sell for seven to ten dollars. She achieved national attention as a folk artist following an article in the Toronto-based Star Weekly in 1964. In 1965, she was featured on CBC-TV's Telescope.[10] Two of Lewis' paintings were ordered by the White House in the 1970s during Richard Nixon's presidency.[11] But her arthritis limited her ability to complete many of the orders that had come from her national recognition.

Later life and death[edit]

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 for treatment of health issues. She died in Digby on July 30, 1970 from pneumonia.[12] Her husband Everett was killed in 1979 by a burglar during an attempted robbery of the couple's house.[13]



After Everett Lewis died, her painted house began to deteriorate. A group of concerned citizens from the Digby area started the Maud Lewis Painted House Society; their goal was to save this landmark. In 1984, the house was sold to the Province of Nova Scotia and transferred to the care of Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) in Halifax.[3] The AGNS restored the house and installed it as the Maud Lewis House in the gallery, as part of a permanent Lewis exhibit.[3]

A steel memorial sculpture based on her house has been erected at the original homesite in Marshalltown. It was designed by architect Brian MacKay-Lyons.[14] A replica of the Maud Lewis House was built in 1999 by retired fisherman Murray Ross, complete with finished interior. It is located a few kilometres north of Marshalltown on the road to Digby Neck in Seabrook.[14]

Postage stamps[edit]

Lewis was recognized as the provincial Heritage Day honouree for 2019, and a limited edition postage stamp featuring her art was released.[15] Canada Post announced that Maud Lewis paintings would be featured on the 2020 Christmas and holiday postage stamps.[16] Her paintings were featured on three stamps issued on November 2, 2020, at Digby, Nova Scotia. Family and Sled (ca. 1960s) appeared on the domestic-rate stamp. Team of Oxen in Winter (1967) was released with a face value of $1.30 (which coincides with the rate for mail to the United States),Winter Sleigh Ride (early 1960s) carried a face value of $2.71 (the first-class rate for mail to other international addresses). The stamps were issued as a gummed souvenir sheet set of three, and in three separate booklets of self-adhesive stamps.

Art market[edit]

Lewis' paintings have sold at auction for ever increasing prices. On November 30, 2009, A Family Outing sold for $22,200 at a Bonham's auction in Toronto. Another painting, A View of Sandy Cove, sold in 2012 for $20,400.[17] A painting found in 2016 at an Ontario thrift store, Portrait of Eddie Barnes and Ed Murphy, Lobster Fishermen, sold in an online auction for $45,000.[18]

Further reading and other media[edit]

Maud Lewis is the subject of a book by Lance Woolaver, The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis, and three National Film Board of Canada documentaries: Maud Lewis - A World Without Shadows (1976),[19] The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis (1998), and I Can Make Art ... Like Maud Lewis (2005). The latter is a short film in which a group of Grade 6 students are inspired by Lewis' work to create their own folk art painting.[20]

In 2009, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, in conjunction with Greg Thompson Productions, produced a new play about Lewis at the AGNS. A Happy Heart: The Maud Lewis Story was written and produced by Greg Thompson, who had produced Marilyn: Forever Blonde at the AGNS in January 2008. Thompson wrote the one-woman play about Lewis while in Nova Scotia in 2008. The play ran until October 25, 2009.

Screenwriter Sherry White wrote a script for a feature dramatic film about Lewis, entitled Maudie (2016).[21] Maudie made its Canadian debut at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. The film was directed by Aisling Walsh, and stars Sally Hawkins as Maud and Ethan Hawke as Everett Lewis.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Maud Lewis". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on August 18, 2019. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
  2. ^ "'The Snow Queen' takes on Canadian twist" Archived 2015-05-18 at the Wayback Machine. CBC News Dec 04, 2014
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Maud Lewis". Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  4. ^ Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics, accessed 5 October 2019 'Maude Kathleen Dowley and Everett Lewis married 1938 in Digby County:Item can be found in Registration Year: 1938 - Book: 88 - Page: 857'
  5. ^ "Digby County: A Journey Through Time". Virtual Museum Canada. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-03-07.
  6. ^ "Yarmouth promoting its Maud Lewis" Archived 2018-07-12 at the Wayback Machine. John DeMings, Digby Courier, on June 07, 2014
  7. ^ Woolaver, Lance (1995). The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis. Halifax: Nimbus Publishing Limited. pp. 16–21. ISBN 1-55109-176-3.
  8. ^ a b Laurie Hamilton, The Painted House of Maud Lewis, Goose Lane Editions (2001), p. 34
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ CBC Telescope (1965). on YouTube
  11. ^ Woolaver, Lance (1995). The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis. Nimbus Publishing/Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. p. XVII. ISBN 1-55109-176-3.
  12. ^ "45 Years ago" Archived 2018-07-12 at the Wayback Machine. The Vanguard. Eric Bourque, 04 August 2015
  13. ^ Woolaver, Lance (1995). The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis. Nimbus Publishing/Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. p. 81. ISBN 1-55109-176-3.
  14. ^ a b Whitehead, Jeanne (Dec 3, 2008). "Renewed appreciation for Maud Lewis replica". The Digby Courier. Archived from the original on 8 March 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  15. ^ "Nova Scotia's iconic folk artist Maud Lewis honoured with limited-edition stamp | The Star". Archived from the original on 2019-09-22. Retrieved 2019-09-22.
  16. ^ Post, Canada. "2020 Canadian stamps". Retrieved 2019-09-22.
  17. ^ Barnard, Elissa (28 November 2012). "Maud Lewis work fetches $20,000". Halifax Chronicle-Herald. Archived from the original on 30 January 2016. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  18. ^ Germano, Daniela (2017-05-20). "Maud Lewis painting found in thrift store sells for $45,000". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 2017-06-17. Retrieved 2018-03-24.
  19. ^ "Maud Lewis: A World Without Shadows" (Requires Adobe Flash). Online documentary. National Film Board of Canada. 1976. Archived from the original on 25 March 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  20. ^ Churchill, Jane (2005). "I Can Make Art ... Like Maud Lewis". National Film Board of Canada. Archived from the original on 2009-06-21. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
  21. ^ "Maudie explores folk artist's love for another N.S. outsider". Halifax Chronicle-Herald. 26 February 2015. Archived from the original on 7 August 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  22. ^ "Maudie". Toronto International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 26 August 2016. Retrieved 2 May 2017.

External links[edit]