Maude Lewis

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
Aug 7 - Oct 18


Oxen and Logging Wagon
(n.d.)

Maude Lewis was an isolated folk artist from Nova Scotia who has come into her time as a Nova Scotia icon and a national treasure. She was a self-taught painter in a crippled body, who lived her entire life in poverty less than a mile from where she was born.

Lewis considered herself a craftsperson, and painted from scrounged materials to achieve some small financial support. For forty years, she competed for the roadside tourist trade of her region with other craftspeople: the quilters, carvers, and door-to-door photographers. Mostly by memory, she captured every aspect of life in the small town of Digby. She painted every trade from fisherman to blacksmith, and every place from bridge to wharf. Seldom has a town and an era been so thoroughly documented.

By her final years, her subjects had become schemata. The popularity of her oxen and cat themes in particular prompted her to begin duplicating her images, and eventually to work from stencils of them.

Her life-long partner contributed to both the success of her output and the circle of poverty within which she worked. Lewis' story is as much about the complexity of their relationship as it is about art. Her husband was so miserly that he even re-sold the sympathy cards he received after her death. However, he was also dedicated and faithful in supplying her with whatever discarded materials he could find, making it possible for Lewis to create decades of paintings from her corner in their tiny kitchen.

© Mia Johnson