Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis
Lewis in front of her home
Born Maud Dowley
March 7, 1903 [1]
South Ohio, Nova Scotia, Canada
Died July 30, 1970(1970-07-30) (aged 67)
Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Known for Painting
Style Folk art
Spouse(s) Everett Lewis

Maud Lewis (born Maud Dowley, March 7, 1903 – July 30, 1970) was a Canadian folk artist[2][3] from Nova Scotia. Living in poverty with her husband in a small house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, most of her life, she achieved 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

Lewis was born Maud Kathleen Dowley on March 7, 1903 in South Ohio, Nova Scotia, the daughter of John and Agnes (Germain) Dowley.[4][5] She had one brother. Dowley suffered from juvenile 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.[6] She began her artistic career by selling hand-drawn and painted Christmas cards.

Maud became involved with Emery Allen, also of Digby, who has been described as the love of her life. She gave birth to their daughter, Catherine Dowley, in 1928 out of wedlock. Allen abandoned Dowley and their daughter. Maud continued to live at home with her parents. It was arranged by the court for her daughter Catherine to be adopted, as Dowley had no way to support her. Later in life Catherine married Paul Muise and had her own family; they lived in Nova Scotia and Ontario. She apparently tried to contact her mother, but was not successful.[7]

In 1935, her father John died and in 1937, her mother Agnes died.[4] As was typical of the time, her brother inherited the family home. After living with her brother for a short while, Dowley moved to Digby, Nova Scotia to live with her aunt.[4]


When Dowley was 34, she married Everett Lewis, a fish peddler from Marshalltown, on January 16, 1938.[8] He 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.

They 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.[9] Lewis and her husband lived mostly in poverty in the one-room house. After their deaths, the house was purchased by a local group. It was acquired by the province and transferred to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. They had the tiny house restored and it is now part of a permanent display on Maud Lewis and her works.

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 twenty-five cents each. 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.[10]

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.[10]


Maud 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.

Most of her paintings are 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.[11]

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.

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. Two of Lewis' paintings were ordered by the White House in the 1970s during Richard Nixon's presidency.[12] But, her arthritis limited her ability to complete many of the orders that had come from her national recognition.

In the early 21st century, her paintings have sold at auction for ever increasing prices. Two of her paintings have sold for more than $16,000. The highest auction price so far is $22,200.00 for lot 196 A Family Outing. The painting was sold at a Bonham's auction in Toronto on November 30, 2009. Another painting, A View of Sandy Cove, sold in 2012 for $20,400.[13] A painting found in 2016 at an Ontario thrift store, Portrait of Eddie Barnes and Ed Murphy, Lobster Fishermen, sold at auction for almost three times its estimated price. The online auction ended May 19, 2017, and the painting, which was appraised at $16,000, sold for $45,000.[14]

Later life and death

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.[15] Her husband Everett was killed in 1979 by a burglar during an attempted robbery at the small house.[16]

Legacy and honours

  • After Everett Lewis died, the 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.[4] The AGNS restored the house and installed it as the Maud Lewis House in the gallery, as part of a permanent Lewis exhibit.[4]
  • 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.[17]
  • 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.[17]

Further reading and other media

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),[18] 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.[19]

  • In 2009, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, in conjunction with Greg Thompson Productions, produced a new play about Lewis on stage 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.

See also


  2. Roadshow-style drop-in comes to Ottawa Art Gallery". Ottawa Metro. Haley Ritchie, Sep 14 2015
  3. "'The Snow Queen' takes on Canadian twist". CBC News Dec 04, 2014
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Maud Lewis". Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  5. Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics
  6. "Digby County: A Journey Through Time". Virtual Museum Canada. Retrieved 2015-03-07.
  7. Lance Woolaver, Maud Lewis: The Heart on the Door (Spencer Publishing, 2016)
  8. "Yarmouth promoting its Maud Lewis". John DeMings, Digby Courier, on June 07, 2014
  9. Woolaver, Lance (1995). The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis. Halifax: Nimbus Publishing Limited. pp. 16–21. ISBN 1-55109-176-3.
  10. 1 2 Laurie Hamilton, The Painted House of Maud Lewis, Goose Lane Editions (2001), p. 34
  11. "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.
  12. Woolaver, Lance (1995). The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis. Nimbus Publishing/Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. p. XVII. ISBN 1-55109-176-3.
  13. Barnard, Elissa (28 November 2012). "Maud Lewis work fetches $20,000". Halifax Chronicle-Herald.
  14. Germano, Daniela (2017-05-20). "Maud Lewis painting found in thrift store sells for $45,000". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2018-03-24.
  15. "45 Years ago". The Vanguard. Eric Bourque, 04 August 2015
  16. Woolaver, Lance (1995). The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis. Nimbus Publishing/Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. p. 81. ISBN 1-55109-176-3.
  17. 1 2 Whitehead, Jeanne (Dec 3, 2008). "Renewed appreciation for Maud Lewis replica". The Digby Courier. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  18. "Maud Lewis: A World Without Shadows" (Requires Adobe Flash). Online documentary. National Film Board of Canada. 1976. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  19. Churchill, Jane (2005). "I Can Make Art ... Like Maud Lewis". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
  20. "Maudie explores folk artist's love for another N.S. outsider". Halifax Chronicle-Herald. 26 February 2015.
  21. "Maudie". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
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