The Funny Lit­tle Woman in the Funny Lit­tle House

Maud Lewis’s bright, beau­ti­ful art

Kayak (Canada) - - CONTENTS -

Bar­bara and Char­lie ped­alled their bikes as hard as they could. The Camp­bell twins never stopped try­ing to beat each other at what­ever they were do­ing, but they also never got mad about who won. This time it was Char­lie. He pulled up at a tiny white house with the green trim around the win­dows and door. “You lose,” he shouted. “You have to do the dishes tonight!” Out of breath, Bar­bara panted, “Not nec­es­sar­ily. I just said if you won I’d do them. I didn’t say when.” The bet al­ready for­got­ten, Char­lie pointed to the house’s door. “Look at that! Some­body’s painted flow­ers all over it.” Bar­bara stuck her head around the side. “They’re on the win­dows, too. I won­der who did them.” A tall old man in a cap and checked shirt ap­peared from be­hind the house. “My wife, that’s who,” the man said. The twins shot each other a look. They’d heard Everett Lewis could be mean, but maybe that was just the kids at school talk­ing. “Say, can you two use a paint­brush?” the man asked. “Yes, sir,” Bar­bara said, re­mem­ber­ing her man­ners. “We helped our dad paint the barn last sum­mer.” “Well then, fol­low me.” Around the other side of the house, the twins saw stacks of pressed-wood boards cut into smaller squares and rec­tan­gles. “I need you to cover those with the white stuff in that can so Maud has some­thing to work on.” His an­gu­lar face split into a wide grin. “That wife of mine sure does paint a lot of pic­tures.” The twins got busy while Everett started saw­ing and paint­ing some­thing of his own. The sun shone and neigh­bours called hello as they walked or drove by. Be­fore long, the boards were done and dry­ing. Mr. Lewis held up the sign he had made. “Did I spell all the words right? I don’t have much school learn­ing,” he said, look­ing em­bar­rassed. “‘Paint­ings for sale’,” Char­lie read. “Yep — that looks right.” Everett grinned again. “Thank you. I’ll ham­mer this in around the front. You two go on in­side and meet Maud.” “Will we even fit in there?” Bar­bara whis­pered to her brother. “The whole house is smaller than our kitchen at home!” “Oh, don’t be so snooty,” said Char­lie. “Peo­ple stop in here all the time to buy paint­ings. And be­sides, I want to see it for my­self. I’ve never met an artist.” “I heard she just paints trees and boats and houses and stuff. It’s not real art — not like . . .” she tried to think of a fa­mous artist. “Well, not like bowls of fruit and kings rid­ing horses.” When Char­lie knocked, a lit­tle voice called, “Come on in! I’m just fin­ish­ing this cat.”

Puz­zled, the twins pushed open the brightly painted door and then gasped. The tiny room con­tained a wood-burn­ing stove, some chairs and a table piled high with paint­ing sup­plies and news­pa­pers. Splashed all over the yel­low walls were cheer­ful painted flow­ers, but­ter­flies and birds. A small woman was dab­bing paint on a board like the ones they’d just fin­ished. Chin tucked against her chest, one arm hold­ing the other wrist, she put the fin­ish­ing touches on a fluffy painted black cat star­ing out from among painted tulips. Some­how mov­ing both awk­wardly and smoothly at once, Maud Lewis quickly dunked her brush in the paint and then added colour just where it was needed. Dozens of paint­ings were stacked all around — deer star­ing out to the ocean, a man row­ing a boat, two oxen with dec­o­rated har­nesses, a horse pulling a sleigh through snow. And ev­ery­where flow­ers. “Your paint­ings are beau­ti­ful!” Bar­bara blurted out. “They just make me want to smile.” “I’ve never trav­elled far, and I’ve never had lessons,” Mrs. Lewis said softly, “I just paint what I see.” “Say, that’s the MacCaskills’ barn!” Char­lie said, point­ing to a pic­ture. “And look, Bar­bie — it’s the school!” Mr. Lewis came in and hung up his jacket. “I sure do ap­pre­ci­ate your help,” he said to the kids. “Maud, could you spare a paint­ing?” Maud Lewis beamed. “Of course! Nor­mally I charge four dol­lars and fifty cents. I’m think­ing of putting the price up to five dol­lars be­cause paints and brushes are get­ting ex­pen­sive.” Bar­bara’s jaw dropped. “You mean, we can have one of these for our very own?” The twins stud­ied all the paint­ings and fi­nally chose one show­ing a fa­mil­iar cove near their house. Or­ange and yel­low fall trees stood on green hills, with red and white houses dot­ted around the shore.

“Thank you!” Char­lie called as they said their good­byes. Out­side, he turned to his sis­ter and teased, “I thought you said Mrs. Lewis’s paint­ings weren’t real art.” Bar­bara shook her head. “I don’t know if they’re real art or not, but they sure make me feel happy.”

Cal­gary, Al­berta, 2018

Char­lie’s cell­phone chirped. “Hey Bar­bie! Thanks for call­ing back. I just won­dered if you’d heard about the paint­ing.” From across the coun­try in Hal­i­fax, Bar­bara sighed. “If this is about your idea for a big 65th birth­day party for us, I —” Char­lie cut her off. “No — the paint­ing! The one they found in the base­ment of the old school in Mar­shall­town. They were go­ing to put it in the yard sale ’til some­one no­ticed it was by Maud Lewis. It just sold for $45,000!” “Amaz­ing,” Bar­bara said, shak­ing her head. “Aren’t you go­ing to cash in?” Char­lie prod­ded. “Or do you even still have that pic­ture of the cove?” Bar­bara looked at the wall of her liv­ing room, at the paint­ing with the cheer­ful houses and bright trees. “You bet I do. And it’s not go­ing any­where.” Char­lie could al­most hear the smile in her voice. “It still makes me feel happy.”

Maud Lewis was born in 1903. She was very small, and her arms and hands never worked quite like ev­ery­one else’s. She felt self­con­scious about her hunched shoul­ders and un­usu­ally small chin. But when she painted, the world was full of joy and colour. She first started paint­ing with her mother, mak­ing Christ­mas cards they sold for five cents each. Maud mar­ried Everett in 1938 and moved to his tiny lit­tle house near Digby, Nova Sco­tia, not far down the road from her home in Yar­mouth. They were very poor, liv­ing off the money they made from sell­ing her paint­ings for just a few dol­lars. When she wasn’t paint­ing things to sell, Maud painted the walls, doors and win­dow of the house it­self. The house, which mea­sures just 4.1 by 3.8 me­tres and never had run­ning wa­ter or elec­tric­ity, is now on dis­play at the Art Gallery of Nova Sco­tia in Hal­i­fax. Maud wasn’t taken se­ri­ously as an artist dur­ing her life­time, although a few peo­ple in the art world rec­og­nized her tal­ent. She be­came much more fa­mous after she died in 1970, first be­ing thought of as a folk artist, then sim­ply as a true artist. In 2016 a movie was made about her, called Maudie.

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