by Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder
Maud Lewis (1903-1970)was born Maud Dowley in South Ohio, Nova Scotia with multiple birth defects, affecting both arms and hands the result of childhood polio. Maud's disability was accepted by her family and until the death of her parents she had a place to call home.
After the loss of her parents Maud found herself with no home and no one to turn to. Maud responded to a newspaper advertisement for housekeeper. Maud did not have proper use of her hands and had great difficulty walking but this did not stop her from trying to get work.
Everett Lewis was a bachelor who lived in Marshalltown, Digby County, Nova Scotia, he was looking for a housekeeper. When he met Maud, he was impressed by the distance she walked to apply for the job. Everett decided that the best way to solve the problem was to marry Maud.
Everett and Maud married in 1938 and lived their whole married life in a small twelve foot by thirteen foot one room house with a sleeping loft, without benefit of electricity or plumbing.
Maud was not very good with the cooking or gardening and it was soon decided that Everett would continue to do these tasks.
From a chair by the window, in that small house, Maud started making hand-drawn Christmas cards. Everett Lewis who sold fish door to door for a meager living, was an enterprising sort of fellow and he started taking the hand drawn Christmas Cards to show his customers. Encouraged by the positive response Everett urged Maud to try her hand at painting. Using old discarded paint brought home by Everett. Maud once started, could not be stopped, hundreds of bright paintings of the things familiar to her appeared on pieces of wood, cardboard, bottoms of pie plates and any other surface available .
Maud also painted every available surface inside and outside of her house. A crooked sign outside the tiny home said "Paintings for sale". Folks started coming to the door and the paintings sold, most for as little as fifty cents or one or two dollars.
Maud was not exposed to art, nor did she see much of the outside world, yet this remarkable tiny woman created the most colorful happy scenes with primitive material. She died in 1970 but Maud Lewis left behind a rich legacy.
Everett continued to live in the house until a burglar killed him in an attempted robbery in 1979. Years after the murder of Everett Lewis their house was taken apart and reconstructed as part of a permanent Maud Lewis exhibit in The Art Gallery of NovaScotia.
Her work can also be found in the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization