We were in Halifax about 3 weeks ago, an easy drive of 3 hours from Charlottetown across the Sea Bridge down to Truro and a hop and a skip to Halifax. This time around I wanted to visit the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to see the collection.
The Art gallery is housed in 2 buildings next to each other, one is an old government building facing the Legislature and the other is an Italianate style stone building called the Dominion building which has a statue of Britannia sitting on the roof.
The two building have an underground passageway connecting them. The collection of Canadian art is of good quality and interesting featuring many artists. The one in particular I wanted to see was the works of Maud Lewis (1903-1970) born in Yarmouth and died in Digby, Nova Scotia. She married in 1938 Everett Lewis. Prior to being married Maud had a daughter out of wedlock named Catherine Dowley. Maud never acknowledged her daughter who moved to Ontario and had a family of her own.
I had heard much about Maud Lewis and she is one of those painters discovered late in life by the art world and the public and became a celebrity, though that did not enrich her at all. Today she is an icon in the Canadian art world for her simple ”naif” or folk art style of painting. Maud (Dowley) Lewis came from a simple background, her family were tradespeople, her father John was well known in Yarmouth for making good quality leather harness and other leather goods. Maud was born suffering from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and for the rest of her life suffered from this crippling disease. She was a very small women described as gnome like and her hands were severely deformed.
Her interest in art came from her mother Agnes who would paint Christmas cards and sell them to supplement the family’s income. After her parents death Maud lived as a recluse and her only brother grew distant and rarely saw her.
At the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia a section of the museum is dedicated to her and her tiny little house in which she lived with her husband Everett Lewis, it has been transported from its original site and reconstructed for visitors to see. It is as it was during her life, quite small, basically a one room house, with all the furniture, paint brushes and other items one finds in a house. What is so special about this little tiny house, is that Maud Lewis painted and decorated every inch of the place inside and out including the glass windows.
The house as it appears re-installed inside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia today.
Her paintings are joyful and full of vibrant colours, showing life and scenes around her and what she saw.
Though I was not particularly interested in Maud Lewis as a painter despite having heard of her, coming to the gallery and seeing her tiny house and several of her paintings, I was enchanted by her work. It was I think the simple beauty of it all, childlike quality and the joy which radiated from her work. She has no agenda, no ideology, no philosophy or trying to pass a message. It is simply art for the beauty of it.