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Unexpected Inspiration: The Story of Maud Lewis

By Victoria Plettner-Saunders

oxen maud lewisIt’s the middle of summer and everyone I talk to, it seems, is taking time to get off the grid and forget about work and the daily routine for a while. For many reasons, taking a vacation this summer isn’t in the cards for us. While the first half of the year was slow work wise, the second half provides little down time.

Today when the power went out in our neighborhood and my computer was useless, I took it as a sign and headed to the movies.

Not particularly feeling like super heroes or science fiction dystopia, I chose something I didn’t know much about Maudie with Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Two hours and several tears shed later, I was re-inspired for work.

Maudie is the story of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. A woman born in 1903 in Nova Scotia. She suffered juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and spent most of her life experiencing its debilitating effects. When her parents passed away she was sent to live with an aunt who was both judgmental and lacking in compassion. Maud answered an ad for a single man, a fishmonger among other things, who was looking for a woman to keep his house. She soon moved in with him and spent the rest of her life in a one room home that we would hail as a “tiny house” today but then had zero curb appeal. It was an uninsulated clap board house that seemed to survive year after year of those brutal Nova Scotia winters.

Maud’s life was not the least bit charmed. Her husband Everett Lewis, the man who “hired” her was cold, reclusive and insensitive. But Maud was the very definition of resilient. I have no idea how she managed to find a way to get up everyday but she did and we are blessed with the results of her life. Maud was a prolific painter. When she was hurting, she found her paint brush or even used her finger if the brush wasn’t handy. She painted on EVERYTHING.

maudlewishome

Photo Credit: Steve Farmer –Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Maud Lewis’ Home

She was a folk painter and a very good one. Later in life she gained notoriety for her work, selling, after her death, at auction for tens of thousands of dollars. During her life, she did experience fame but she never left that tiny house in Nova Scotia or her relatively impoverished life.

Had I watched the movie at home, I would have been sobbing at the end. It is a poignant story of a woman who accepts her life, as difficult as it was, with grace and creativity. Her art, I believe, kept her focused during the most difficult times. Her imagery is childlike and idyllic, joyous and colorful.

As one who works in the creative realm and believes in everyone’s right to a creative life, learning about Maud’s story humbled me deeply. I may complain about frustrations with work or lack of affordable housing or whatever.

But I have it comparatively easy and realized that I should try to channel Maud more often when I’m feeling down or irritable. If you’re looking for creative inspiration this summer…go see Maudie.

(P.S. Sally Hawkins has an Oscar worthy performance)

For more about Maud Lewis see:

The Joyous World of Overlooked Canadian Folk Artist Maud Lewis, By Alexxa Gotthardt

Home is Where the Art Is: The Unlikely Story of Folk Artist Maud Lewis, by Susan Stamberg (with audio)

Evertt’s Painting and Murder from Three Dogs in A Garden @ Home

Photo Credit Top: Lewis’ Oxen in Spring was painted on pulpboard in the 1960s. Art Gallery of Nova Scotia