Category Archives: Maude Lewis

Maud Lewis’s painted house

The buzz about Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis seems to focus on her tiny (3 x 4  metre) painted house. It was painted inside and out with garden scenes. (Note: this photo shows a replica of her house.)

One site describes it thus:

Lewis lived in a garden, summer  and winter. In the mean little cabin, without central heating or indoor  plumbing, she painted a fantasy world of cheerful children, pretty seascapes  and cherry red songbirds. She  splashed bright butterflies and birds across the  front door; she filled her windows with pink and blue tulips; she decorated the  dustpan with daisies and the stove with big red flowers. No surface escaped her brushes.

 Lewis may have painted and sold as many as a  couple of thousand pictures in her bold, happy style, but it is her house that  confirms the inner brightness of this remarkable woman whose life was one of disability, poverty and ill health.

Maud passed away in 1970;  her husband, Edgar, lived there until he died in 1979.The Maud Lewis Painted  House Society was formed in 1984 with the intention of rescuing it from ruin. Eventually the house was sold to the Province of Nova Scotia and then, in 1995, the house was disassembled, restored, and reconstructed at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. It is on permanent display there. You can watch a short video about the  house restoration.

Maud’s paintings are now highly collectible and prices are climbing. Prices at auction are typically in the $10,000 range, with two fetching between $16,000 and $22,000. It is noted that some paintings are remarkably similar because when Maud liked a subject, she repeated it a few times. There are, for example, multiple paintings of “Two Deer in the Snow”. But there is an “issue” about authenticity. She printed her name on her paintings in a simple way, which has been remarkably easy to copy. And, to make matters worse, her husband, Edgar, made some paintings after her death and signed them with her name.

I happened to check what might be for sale by Maud Lewis on eBay. (It’s an obsessive habit of mine.) I found a watercolour painting for sale by the artist “Maud Lewis”, listed by someone in England who probably picked it up at a garage sale. I have never seen a painting that looked so-NOT-like-Maud-Lewis’s-style in my life. Yet someone had written to ask the seller if it was by the Canadian painter Maud Lewis. The seller said he was “Not familiar with the artist. Best wishes, Roger.”  There are 2 bids on the painting, and the price has now escalated to $13.43 (Cdn). I apologize profusely for laughing (out loud) (a lot). I am tempted to throw a monkey wrench in to the works and submit a random bid for $15.

This summarizes the Canadian phenomenon of folk artist, Maud Lewis.

Back to Canada and Maud Lewis

Whenever I bump into a likely suspect I ask, “Name some Canadian outsider artists.” After searching the sky for an answer, the only response I have ever gotten was “Maud Lewis”. Not a long list, but it’s a start. I have to confess that she was the only Canadian folk/outsider artist I knew when I started my research. In fact, I was more familiar with Maud’s painted house than her paintings.

Maud Dowley (1903 – 1970) lived in Nova Scotia her entire life. She was a loner (sound familiar?) because she was small and didn’t look like the other children. She developed rheumatoid arthritis in her childhood, which made all movement painfully difficult. She left school when she was 14, after completing grade 5. Her mother taught her to paint, and she began creating Christmas cards which she sold to family and friends.

She later married a fish Peddler, Everett Lewis, and lived the rest of her life in a one-room primitive house near Digby, Nova Scotia. Her arthritis worsened, but she was still able to paint. She sold cards and posted a sign outside “Paintings for Sale” to contribute to their income. She created hundreds of paintings. Those who stopped to buy a painting (for about $2.00) report that she was a quiet, delightful person. Her pleasure came from the enjoyment she gave those who viewed her art.

As stories often go in the outsider art world, Maud’s painting moved from small 8 x 10 boards to painting every surface of the house, inside and out, including the staircase to the sleeping loft, the wood stove, the dustpan, and cookie sheets. Most days she could be seen painting by the front window because they had no electricity.

What did she paint? Flowers, children, trees, churches, houses, winter scenes, water scenes, roadside scenes, cats, horses, and oxen. She used mainly primary colours straight out of the tube because, she said, she didn’t know how to mix colours. She used any paint around, including house paint, marine paint, cheap craft paint.

She is called “Canada’s most  beloved folk artist”, a phrase that I find too kitschy to be taken as praise. But that’s just me. Was she folk or outsider? More on that later.