A VISIT WITH MAUD AT HOME
Artists' studios can be revealing spaces. Inside, you can catch a rare glimpse into the creative process, and see the objects that surround— and even influence—the developing artwork.
It’s no wonder that tourists flock to the workspace of painter Francis Bacon, recreated in Dublin, or travel along the rue Hippolyte-maindron to enter Giacometti’s Parisian sculpture studio. On occasion, though, a studio is more than just a place where works are completed; it’s a work in and of itself. Such is the case with the small wood-framed home of self-taught painter Maud Lewis, who has long been a national icon, but is only starting to gather the international acclaim she deserves.
Lewis was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, in 1903. She was small, born with a curved spine and suffering from severe arthritis, and she preferred time alone to the company of other children. It was during these hours of solace that Lewis began painting, first creating Christmas cards for her mother. Little could she have known how important this self-taught education would be.
After marrying labourer Everett Lewis and moving into his tiny, one-room home in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, Lewis lived and worked in this space from 1938 until her death. It was here that she created and sold her sunny compositions, building a reputation for herself and attracting attention from the national press during her lifetime.
But Lewis didn’t just create work and sell it out of the home; she turned the home into a work of art. Bright birds and butterflies soar across the front door; a garden of painted tulips blooms along a windowpane. Inside, Lewis’s modest workstation, a small wooden chair next to a window, sits as she left it. Most surfaces—from the stair banisters to the oven—are covered in the signature colourful and cheery designs of Lewis, and the few belongings speak to a simple life.
The house itself is now tucked within the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. After Everett’s death, the building was left empty and began deteriorating. A fundraising campaign helped move the house into storage, where it was carefully restored, before being placed into a new gallery at the AGNS, where it has been housed since the mid-1990s. No attention to detail was spared: original wallpapers were researched and replicated, the belongings that Lewis had left behind were restored, and objects identified in photographs and film documenting Lewis were acquired.
It was a big project for a little house, but the building is so much more than just a structure. Museums across the country have plenty of Lewis's paintings, and Hollywood now has the Lewis blockbuster—but only the AGNS has the little painted house, which, ultimately, was the greatest work of Lewis’s lifetime.
MAUD LEWIS'S PAINTED HOUSE IS PERMANENTLY ON DISPLAY AT THE ART GALLERY OF NOVA SCOTIA
ART GALLERY OF NOVA SCOTIA 1723 Hollis Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Maud Lewis's painted house at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.