Art speaks to me or it doesn’t. My tastes are not sophisticated, informed or educated. When I see a painting or piece of art that uplifts me or makes me feel happy, I like it. It’s that simple. Which is why I don’t like winter scenes, paintings of crowded city streets on rainy days or industrial landscapes. I’ll never appreciate abstract art because I just don’t get it.
Canadian primitive folk artist Maud Lewis’s paintings make me smile, fill my heart and give me hope, so naturally, I love her work. Everyone’s personal taste in art is highly subjective; we instinctively know what we like and what we do not like. And since I can’t afford to own her original work, I’m happy to purchase several calendars each year that feature her art, for myself and for gifting to friends.
The McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg north of Toronto is most famous for its Canadian Group of Seven artists but regularly features other artists worth going to see. From now until the end of the year, the work of Maud Lewis is on exhibit and I absolutely could not miss the opportunity to see so many of her original paintings on display. For anyone who is not familiar with Maud Lewis, then I highly recommend seeing the 2016 movie about her life, “Maudie” starring Ethan Hawke as her husband, Everett, and Sally Hawkins as Maud. It’s accurate and wonderful to watch.
Born in 1903, Maud Lewis was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis from a young age. When she was no longer able to live with her aunt and forced to go out into the world and fend for herself as a young woman, she applied for a job as a housekeeper for Everett Lewis, a bachelor who lived in rural Digby, Nova Scotia. To her shock and dismay, his home was a tiny 100 sq. ft. rural cabin without running water, electricity or plumbing. They eventually married but Maud’s life was never easy. She passed away from pneumonia in 1970. After Everett died, their cabin was dismantled and reinstalled inside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. When I visited it in the 1980s, I was struck by how small it was. Despite this, her love of painting was evident on the walls, trim and front door.
Bloom where you’re planted
Despite the hardships, she blossomed when she picked up a paintbrush and started decorating the walls, furniture, and the door of their tiny cabin. Soon, she was painting cards, scraps of wood and old boards and selling her paintings for anywhere from fifty cents to two dollars. Word of Maud’s beautiful paintings spread and her popularity grew but during her lifetime, she never enjoyed commercial or economic success, despite famous people like Richard Nixon owning her work.
Maud’s paintings of life in rural Nova Scotia were done in strong primary colours and always featured happy, optimistic scenes. She painted local life, often employing artistic license to enhance the joyfulness. Evergreen trees were adorned with blossoms, oxen had happy faces, cats were the picture of beauty and contentment and the people in her paintings were always depicted in happy activities. It’s as if she were living a parallel life through her paintings. She’s the literal personification of the expression “Bloom where you’re planted”.
When my gal pals and I visited the McMichael Gallery we were blown away as soon as we approached the gate which featured a huge reproduction of one her of happy paintings of white cats. The gallery is located in many acres of natural beauty, wooded pathways and ravines surrounding log structures housing the galleries. It’s a bounty of beauty from beginning to end. The Maud Lewis show itself included more than one hundred pieces, far more than I anticipated. Many came from private collections that had been generously loaned for the exhibition.
We spent an amazing afternoon walking through the gallery enjoying not only the work of Maud Lewis but others as well. There was a concurrent show of beautiful Inuit textile art by Janet Nungnik depicting life in Canada’s north. Many of my friends are crafters and artists so we always enjoy seeing what other people create. The last show at the McMichael that I saw featured Quebec artist Marc Aurele Fortin. His depictions of rural scenes with giant elm trees touch me to my core.
If you’ve never been to the McMichael Gallery, I strongly suggest you do so and if you’re a fan of Maud Lewis, now is the perfect opportunity. You still have five months to see this particular exhibit and prepare to be delighted. I guarantee as you leave through the winding road through the woods, you will have a smile on your face and happiness in your heart.
If you can’t make it, be sure to take advantage of the books available. They’d make a wonderful gift for yourself or a friend.
Disclosure: If you order a copy of either of these books from Amazon, you will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thank you.