Hey everyone! Hope you’ve had a great week! This week, I wanted to share a movie I watched with you about the artist Maud Lewis. Maud was a Canadian Folk Artist from Nova Scotia. She was born with several birth defects and eventually developed rheumatoid arthritis. She lived a life of poverty, living with her husband in a small, one-room home. Her paintings brought much-needed happiness into his life and home, both mentally and physically.
The biopic Maudie (2016) details much of her life. It begins while she was living with her Aunt Ida. Both of her parents had died a few years prior, and her brother had just sold the family home. Maud became distraught by this and asked to keep the house, but her brother claimed she wouldn’t be able to take care of it. She eventually moves out, taking up an ad to be a housemaid for a man named Everett Lewis, whom she later marries. As her arthritis worsens, she decides to focus on her paintings instead. She begins to sell them from her home and finds herself featured in newspapers and on television.
Here are some of Maud’s paintings:
While she sold many paintings, it is her home that strikes me the most. The movie shows Maud painting the walls and windows, claiming to Everett that they make the house look nicer as he had requested. The house, which you can see below, is filled from floor to ceiling with her paintings of birds and flowers, among many other symbols of nature. The realities of that house would leave many people feeling helpless, but Maud persevered and surrounded herself with what made her happy.
I think this is important for anyone to do. We decorate our homes with family photos to remind us of the people we love. Teenagers put up posters of their favorite bands to stay inspired. I keep drawings my nieces made me hung up in front of my desk to remind me how fun art can be even when it is stressful (and it definitely can be). Not only did Maud surround herself with happy colors and images, but she also found a way to express herself. Without knowing it, she probably used painting as a form of therapy to help her with her arthritis, the loss of her parents, the poverty she faced, and the way society undermined her abilities.
I think the movie does a good job showing the impact of ableism. Throughout the movie, people in her life make it obvious how little they think of Maud. Her brother believes she can’t take care of herself and Everett, at first, states his fear that she could not do the work he required. Years prior to the start of the movie, Maud had become pregnant and her family told her the baby was born dead, when in reality the baby was given up for adoption because they didn’t think Maud could take care of a baby. Maud, despite these beliefs against her, makes a name for herself and proves she can work hard. She had even received a letter from Vice President Nixon requesting to buy one of her paintings. The movie works well to highlight Maud’s successes on their own instead of focusing on her arthritis. The audience does not pity her, but instead finds inspiration in her, making it a powerful story of success. Although we are lucky to live in a more accepting society, I find that ableism is still largely prevalent. Maud Lewis stands as proof that physical disabilities, as well as mental disabilities, are not barriers to success. I hope that others who may watch this movie would agree with that.
The director Aisling Walsh, described Maud Lewis’ story as “a very Canadian story, it’s a very Nova Scotian story,” and I would have to agree. My great grandfather was an orphan from Nova Scotia who worked hard to make a living for himself and his children before moving to America. He and my grandmother – his daughter – are two of my biggest inspirations as an artist. (Fun fact: my mother, who does genealogy, recently discovered that my grandmother and Maud Lewis share DNA, so maybe art really does run in the family!) My mom described a “Nova Scotian story” as starting from humble beginnings – not a lot of money or education – and utilizing what they have to support themselves as best as they can. I think this ambition and hardworking nature are qualities that ought to be admired. In Maud’s story, I found a person who found what she loved to do and worked hard to pursue it. I think that’s a lesson everyone can resonate with.
Maud is definitely someone to admire – not just for her success as an artist, but for who she was as a person. She found importance in making paintings that made her happy, rather than adjusting to what others wanted of her, which is so common in artists. This is something I’ve been realizing lately – I love making art that I want to make, but I don’t love making art for others. I like having no expectations and getting to just create. I’m starting to focus on making art for myself, so I’m spending a lot more time in my sketchbook. I’m lucky to have found this movie when I did, because it really inspired me to do this.
If you get the chance, you should definitely watch the movie. It’s available on Amazon Prime to rent or to buy. I hope it inspires you like it did for me!