Exploring women’s arthritis issues and needs

Maud Lewis: Canadian folk artist and juvenile arthritis champion

Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis is a legend in Nova Scotia and in our eyes, a role model to people living with juvenile arthritis. The story of Maud Lewis came to life on the big screen with Maudie, a biopic released in June. The movie features Sally Hawkins as Lewis and Ethan Hawke as her husband Everett. The film, directed by British filmmaker Aisling Walsh and written by Canadian screenwriter Sherry White, focuses on Lewis’s resilience as an artist, despite hardships. The pictures in this article is from Artsy‘s editorial The Joyous World of Overlooked Canadian Folk Artist Maud Lewis.

Maud Lewis painting, painter with juvenile arthritis

Photo from Artsy: Maud Lewis, Oxen in Spring, ca. 1960s. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

 

Maud Lewis (1903-1970) grew up in the seaside town of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. She was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at a young age. Her arthritis left her with a pained and crooked gait. People would make fun of her because she looked and walked different. Her arthritis pain forced her to stay indoors at her parents’ home.  It was here that she began to draw.

Lewis moved in with her aunt after her parents passed away in her early thirties. Shortly after, she answered an ad from local fishmonger Everett Lewis looking for an assistant to help around the house. Lewis later married Everett and moved in with him. In her new home, she painted on all surfaces – walls, furniture, and various household items. She’d travel into town with Everett and sell paintings and hand painted Christmas cards.

Lewis’s paintings display scenes she glimpsed through her little home’s window and memories from her childhood and infrequent trips to town. In her paintings, you will find blossoming flowers, birds, dogs, house, trees and fan favourites: wide-eyed cats lounging in tulip fields.

In a 1965 television documentary, Lewis said: “I used to paint with Crayolas a lot. Kind of practicing up, I suppose.” Commenting on the two-dimensional nature of her paintings and what inspires her, she added: “I paint all from memory, I don’t copy much. Because I don’t go nowhere, I just make my own designs up.”  In the documentary, Everett complained about Maud’s free spirit nature, lacklustre affection, and how he did all the household chores. According to writer Lance Woolaver, who studied Maud’s work and life, Maud was forced by her husband to paint two paintings a day so he can keep the proceeds. She was not allowed to visit her neighbours.

Despite her hardships, Lewis’s painting conveyed a sense of happiness. Claire Stenning, an art dealer and early support of Lewis, describes her sense of Lewis’s compositions: “They have a childlike, tremendous feeling. No shadows at all. Everything is happy and gay and quick and lively.” This positive outlook on life is what inspires us at the Arthritis Broadcast Network.

Maud Lewis standing at her house, painter with juvenile arthritis

Photo from Artsy: Maud Lewis in front of her house, 1961. Photo by Cora Greenaway. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

 

In celebration of Canada’s 150th Anniversary, we encourage you to learn more about this piece of Canadian history by:

  • watching the movie Maudie 
  • visiting The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which owns 55 of Lewis’s works, including her greatest achievement – her own home
  • visiting the museum in Nova Scotia