On November 2, 2020, Canada Post issued three holiday stamps featuring the festive paintings of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis.
Featured in this stamp issue are three of her seasonal paintings, all in the Collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia: Family and Sled, circa 1960s; Winter Sleigh Ride, circa early 1960s; and Team of Oxen in Winter, 1967.
While many artists honed their talents in more exotic locales, artist Maud Lewis found inspiration in the rural Nova Scotia farms, fields and shorelines within an hour’s drive of her South Ohio birthplace. “I paint all from memory, I don’t copy much,” she once explained. “Because I don’t go nowhere, I just make my own designs up.”
Despite having juvenile arthritis and birth defects that left her fingers painfully deformed and her neck and shoulders badly hunched, Maud was a happy child who grew up in a home filled with artistic and cultural influences. An avid music lover, her father was said to own the luxuries of both a piano and a gramophone. Her mother, her only art instructor, taught her to paint festive Christmas cards, which she sold to neighbours for a few cents apiece.
Maud’s world changed after her parents died. Virtually homeless but too proud to accept charity, she inquired at fishmonger Everett Lewis’s door about a housekeeper’s position he’d advertised. The two later married, Everett dutifully hauling home the scraps of drywall and cardboard she used as canvases and the leftover house and boat paint she made her media. In later years, Ontario painter John Kinnear supplied her with better quality tools and materials, and she repaid his kindness with paintings.
As the years past, Maud developed severe rheumatoid arthritis that further gnarled her hands. Still, she spent most of her days at the solitary window of her one-room house, painting pastoral scenes from her childhood memories. Not content to confine her creativity to canvas, it gradually spilled onto her walls, appliances, and other household items, turning the tiny home – which had no central heat, electricity or running water – into her master work.
While well known in the local communities of Marshallville and South Ohio, Maud worked for decades in relative obscurity. It wasn’t until 1965, when photojournalist Bob Brooks published a photo essay on her for the Star Weekly. Later in the year, a CBC documentary broadcast her story across the country. Finally, Maud – by then in her mid-60s – began to achieve a degree of fame and fortune. Instead of selling paintings to tourists from her front yard for $5 apiece ($10, if she was lucky), she began receiving commissions from fans in faraway places she could only imagine.
Today, Maud’s paintings make up popular and valuable collections in many well-known art galleries and museums. The Nova Scotia Gallery of Art holds a large collection on permanent exhibit, including her small but spectacularly decorated house, which delights thousands of visitors each year. In 2016, her story became even more widely known with the release of the film Maudie, a fictionalized version of her already remarkable life.
Maud Lewis is now considered one of Canada’s best known and most beloved folk artists. Despite the odds against her, Maud’s desire to reveal the wonder of the everyday world and the simple yet joyous beauty of rural Nova Scotia burned like a flame that simply refused to be snuffed — and continues to live on in her vividly coloured, exuberant works.