GLENBOW, Calgary AB – To Aug 29
by Michael Turner
Maud Lewis was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, in 1903. As a child she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that worsened over the course of her lifetime. Because it limited the use of her arms, it also determined the scale of her paintings, which rarely exceeded 8 x 10 inches. Poverty also played a part, for many of her works were done on inexpensive beaverboard. Only in the last five years of her life did Lewis receive the recognition most artists dream of. She passed away in Digby, Nova Scotia, at the age of 67.
Those familiar with Aisling Walsh’s film Maudie (2016) will have a sense of Lewis’ life, loves and labours, not to mention her exceptional use of colour and a willingness to extend it to the decoration of her Marshalltown home – a one-room cabin she shared with her husband, Everett. Though some find Lewis’ cats and landscapes banal or childlike, it is important to consider that these works are not simply a record of an individual’s limitations (be they technical or financial), but represent a hopefulness that we, as human beings, require.
Although this retrospective exhibition does not include Lewis’ painted-up Marshalltown home (on permanent display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia), it does features 140 of her mostly small paintings. Many are on loan from leading private collections, including a number never before shown in public museums. Those curious to see another fi lmic take on the life and work of Lewis could check out Diane Beaudry’s 10-minute documentary Maud Lewis: A World without Shadows (1976), free to stream from the NFB. Then go see the show.