About Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis, born as Maud Dowley in rural South Ohio, Nova Scotia in 1901, spent most of her life in crushing poverty and endless physical pain from juvenile arthritis that left her body and hands deformed. She spent the last three decades of her life painting in virtual isolation in a one room house built in the village of Marshalltown by her miserly fishmonger husband, Everett. Lewis painted Christmas cards and small works on materials she found at hand, wood panels and boards using house and boat paint. She sold these works either from her home or by going door to door with her husband as he sold fish.

Lewis was taught and encouraged to paint by her mother and when she married Everett in 1938, this practice may have become a source of solace. Over time, she painted most surfaces in her home, the door and windows with the cheerful motifs she used in all her work. Lewis was a prolific painter but even the scant money she earned from her work was routinely confiscated by her husband who hid it under the floor boards or buried it in the yard. Despite poverty and advancing arthritis, Lewis was reported to have had a kind disposition and warmly welcomed anyone who visited her home.

Referred to as a folk art, Maud Lewis’s paintings are irrepressibly joyful and depict her surroundings with humor and affection. Created in bright, solid colours with a flattened picture plane and limited use of perspective, the paintings charm viewers with such subjects as winter landscapes with sleighs, deer in forest, oxen and her three wide eyed, black cats.  

Towards the end of her life, Lewis gained celebrity thanks to a 1965 CBC documentary and a feature in the Toronto Star newspaper. Following this media exposure, Lewis received a commission for two paintings from Richard Nixon, the American president, for which she asked to be paid in advance. In her lifetime, Lewis likely never earned more than $15 for a painting.

Lewis died in 1970 of pneumonia aggravated by years of exposure to paint fumes and wood smoke. She was 69.

The Lewis’s small house was eventually acquired, restored and put on permanent display in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Her work can also be found in the Canadian Museum of Civilization. She is the subject of a book, "The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis", and a stage play. She is also the subject of two National Film Board of Canada documentaries, "Maud Lewis - A World Without Shadows" (1997), and "The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis" (1998). A biopic, Maudie, starring Ethan Hawke was released in 2016. In 2017, a second 500 page biography was published, Maud Lewis, the heart on the door by Lance Woolver. 

Past Exhibitions