Whenever I bump into a likely suspect I ask, “Name some Canadian outsider artists.” After searching the sky for an answer, the only response I have ever gotten was “Maud Lewis”. Not a long list, but it’s a start. I have to confess that she was the only Canadian folk/outsider artist I knew when I started my research. In fact, I was more familiar with Maud’s painted house than her paintings.
Maud Dowley (1903 – 1970) lived in Nova Scotia her entire life. She was a loner (sound familiar?) because she was small and didn’t look like the other children. She developed rheumatoid arthritis in her childhood, which made all movement painfully difficult. She left school when she was 14, after completing grade 5. Her mother taught her to paint, and she began creating Christmas cards which she sold to family and friends.
She later married a fish Peddler, Everett Lewis, and lived the rest of her life in a one-room primitive house near Digby, Nova Scotia. Her arthritis worsened, but she was still able to paint. She sold cards and posted a sign outside “Paintings for Sale” to contribute to their income. She created hundreds of paintings. Those who stopped to buy a painting (for about $2.00) report that she was a quiet, delightful person. Her pleasure came from the enjoyment she gave those who viewed her art.
As stories often go in the outsider art world, Maud’s painting moved from small 8 x 10 boards to painting every surface of the house, inside and out, including the staircase to the sleeping loft, the wood stove, the dustpan, and cookie sheets. Most days she could be seen painting by the front window because they had no electricity.
What did she paint? Flowers, children, trees, churches, houses, winter scenes, water scenes, roadside scenes, cats, horses, and oxen. She used mainly primary colours straight out of the tube because, she said, she didn’t know how to mix colours. She used any paint around, including house paint, marine paint, cheap craft paint.
She is called “Canada’s most beloved folk artist”, a phrase that I find too kitschy to be taken as praise. But that’s just me. Was she folk or outsider? More on that later