Friday is Artist Profile Day!
Let’s meet Maud Lewis
Artist: Maud Lewis
Death: 1970 (lung damage from paint fumes and wood smoke led to pneumonia)
Where they lived: Born in South Ohio, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, Canada. When Maud was married, they lived in Marshalltown, Digby County, Nova Scotia.
Family: Born to John (harness maker and blacksmith) and Agnes Dowley. Maud’s father died in 1935 and her mother died soon after in 1937. Maud’s brother inherited the family home. She moved in with her Aunt in Digby where she met Everett Lewis through a newspaper ad (a fish peddler) and married him in 1938.
Background: Maud was born with multiple birth defects including hunched shoulders, her chin pressed into her chest, and painfully deformed fingers, and she was very small in stature so she spent most of her time alone as a child and was uncomfortable spending time with other kids. However, she was happy to spend time with her parents and older brother, Charles. She was teased by the other kids and dropped out of school at the age of 14 (only completing grade 5).
“What is life without love or friendship?” she once confided to a friend.
Professional background/training: Her mother encouraged and taught her to start painting Christmas cards to sell to her neighbors for 5 cents each. She also learned how to play piano, a pastime she loved until her arthritis ridden hands no longer allowed her to play.
Maud had no formal training (self-taught) and never considered herself an artist.
Art Genre: Folk art
Art medium used: Oil painting (often without shadows) on primitive surfaces such as particle board, wallpaper, and cardboard.
Subject Matters: scenes of rural life- include oxen (humorously with 3 legs), horses and sleigh rides, flowers, cats, deer, and birds.
Famous Artwork: Deer in the woods, black and white cat, three cats, oxen in tulips, and buggy ride.
Other Information: Maud and Everett lived in a small modest house (one room house with a loft) without amenities such as electricity or indoor plumbing. He would squirrel away Maud’s earnings. Everett even produced forgeries of Maud’s work after her death.
She painted every available surface inside the house including the windowpanes, stove and washbasin with pictures of brightly colored birds, flowers, and butterflies. She painted with low quality brushes and any paint she could find such as hobby paint, oil based house paint, and boat paint. She painted cards, beach stones and shells that Everett sold.
Maud suffered with worsening rheumatoid arthritis and she was unable to keep up with the housework so Everett took care of the house and Maud painted for a living. During her lifetime, none of her paintings sold for more than $10. Today her artwork is in high demand and some of her paintings have sold for more than $22,000.
She only gained popularity after a nationally broadcasted CBC documentary in 1965. This publicity brought requests for her work up until her death. Her most prominent customer was the Richard Nixon White House whose aide John Whitaker commissioned two paintings.
Maud had a daughter out of wedlock who was given up for adoption.
She is an icon of folk art movement and is called Canada’s Grandma Moses.
My inspiration in choosing Maud Lewis as our artist profile this week is the movie Maudie (starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke) opens this week.