A friend called the other day to tell us of a film we HAD to see: Maudie, a biopic about Canadian artist Maud Lewis. We haven’t seen the film YET (we will, trailer here) but boy were we astonished by what we read and saw, and the little black and white documentary made by the Canadian Film Board of the real Lewis.
Maud, who by most measures had everything against her — being crippled by severe rheumatoid arthritis, no means of support and losing her parents at an early age — had what was essential: extraordinary resourcefulness and the soul of an artist. When her brother sold the family house and packed her off to her aunt, she answered the ad for house maid put up in the general store by Everitt Lewis, a reclusive fish peddler who lived in a tiny one-room cottage.
She would go on to transform his house, which did not have running water or electricity, by painting colorful images she saw around her — flowers, insects, animals— and eventually, marrying him.
Lewis had no formal training. In fact, she never saw the work of another artist. Her first paintings were the holiday cards she’d made with her mother.
The surfaces of the house became a larger canvas, leftover paint her medium.
Gradually, she made paintings on pulpboard and other scrap materials she found. As her disease worsened, she continued to find a way to paint. She sold enough paintings to support herself and Everitt (and he took care of the house).
Ain’t much for travel, anyway. Contented right here in my chair.
I’ve got a brush in front of me, I’m all right.
We are struck by Maud Lewis’ drive to make her art on anything that was at hand, despite many handicaps. It is the quality that marks the artists and writers we know: they cannot NOT make their work; they always find ways…
Film critic Bob Mondello said it best:
Maudie’s life was so constricted, but her gaze so expansive.
An expansive gaze that sees beyond constraints. THAT is what we hope to cultivate daily.
Postscript: After Maud and Everitt died in the 1970s, the tiny painted house fell into disrepair. The fundraising efforts by Maud Lewis Painted House Society helped preserve it until it was sold to the Province of Nova Scotia. It is now in the care of Art Gallery of Nova Scotia who has it on permanent display in their gallery.
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