Maud Lewis (1903-1970) is surely one of the only Nova Scotia folk artists who has been the subject of a Hollywood movie (Maudie, the 2016 film starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke). In recent years, Maud's life and art have also been explored through documentaries, plays, books, and more. She is known for her bold and colourful paintings that featured outdoor scenes and animals, inspired by the landscapes of southwest Nova Scotia and painted on everything from Christmas cards to pulp boards. Perhaps her most famous canvas though, was her own brightly-painted house in Marshalltown, NS, where she lived with her husband Everett.
Born Maud Dowley on March 7, 1903, in Yarmouth, NS, Lewis is reported to have had a happy if somewhat lonely childhood. When her parents died in the mid-1930s, her brother inherited the family home and Maud moved to Digby to live with her aunt. There she met Everett Lewis, a fish peddler from Marshalltown, and they were married in 1938. Maud began to sell her Christmas cards while accompanying Everett on his daily rounds, and eventually she began to produce larger and more ambitious paintings. Maud was extremely prolific and her art was popular with locals and tourists visiting Nova Scotia. By the 1960s, she had begun to attract national attention; at the peak of her fame, President Richard Nixon's White House ordered two of her paintings.
Maud's rheumatoid arthritis, which worsened over time, kept her largely confined to her and Everett's small house, which did not have indoor plumbing or electricity. But Maud made the most of the small space, painting flowers, animals, and outdoor scenes on almost every available surface in the house. Maud and Everett's painted house was a popular stop along highway 1; visitors would stop to admire the cheerful house and perhaps buy one of Maud's paintings.
Maud died in July 1970, and Everett in 1979. After their deaths, their house began to deteriorate. A group of citizens from the Digby area, however, recognized the painted house's value and created the Maud Lewis Painted House Society. For several years they raised funds in an attempt to save the house, but that proved a daunting undertaking. In 1984, the Province of Nova Scotia purchased the house and it was put into the care of the Nova Scotia Museum. The house was conserved and restored, and it is now on permanent display in Halifax at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. A steel memorial sculpture, designed by architect Brian MacKay-Lyons, now sits at the original site of Maud's painted house.