Someone Finally Wrote the Must-Read Book About Maud Lewis’s Artwork | Art + Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia

THere are 15 books about Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis, from coffee-table tomes to children’s books that teach counting through the repeated iconography of her paintings. Many focus on her biography, hitting the familiar notes of her late marriage and her lonely youth in Yarmouth. There’s even a deep dive into how the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia preserved and restored Lewis’ famous painted house. Nearly all of these books are written by the same pair of (mostly male) authors, sanding and smoothing the wood of Marshalltown’s mental image of her, Nova Scotia’s most famous woman. But in the midst of all these dozens of books and hundreds of pages, there is something almost entirely, suspiciously missing from the conversation: the discussion and dissection of Lewis’s work itself.

Finally, art historian and curator Laurie Dalton is here to change all that. She is showing that yes, we do need another book about the most famous artist in our province: Hers, entitled Painted Worlds: The Art of Maud Lewis, A Critical Perspective.

Dalton’s fascination with Lewis runs deep: they both lived in the Fundy Shore area, and Dalton wrote a thesis on Lewis in 2003, but “one thing I found extremely frustrating was the lack of really seeing his paintings as art objects,” he begins. , on the phone with The Coast from the Annapolis Valley, where, in 2018, the curator staged one of the largest solo exhibitions of the artist’s work since 1997. around… her tiny house; [Lewis] as an example of the rural poor; as an example of the people of Nova Scotia,” Dalton lists. “I felt that there is sometimes a lack of a deeper understanding of looking at his paintings as art objects and also situating them within art history, within the language of cultural history.”

Dalton points out that auction prices for a Lewis original are at an all-time high and that the artist’s profile is still benefiting from the 2016 biopic. Maudie—meaning there’s no better time to ask why, though Lewis’s work is some of the most recognized in the country, it’s routinely absent from serious considerations of Canadian art. “What drives mania and interest in it?” Dalton begins. “It’s no accident that when they try to promote the province, they use Maud Lewis. There are all these different types of factors to claim it.”

But if the tide of Lewis mania has never been higher, the direction of the water is also turning: Halifax-award winning author Carol Bruneau broke the candy coating on the Maud of our minds with her 2020 novel. Light up the corner where you are, delivering a portrait of a chain-smoking, self-sufficient survivor, using fiction to make the most real portrait of the artist to date. Now, Dalton’s book offers the same fresh perspective on Lewis’s work. “Hopefully, this book was trying to position her as an artist and not as a malleable product,” she says.

This Lewis landscape shows the artist was capturing not just the scene but its mood and essence—something that puts her in league with other modern artists.  
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This landscape by Lewis shows that the artist was capturing not only the scene, but also its mood and essence, something that puts her on a par with other modern artists.  - EDITORIAL NIMBUS

nimbus publication

This landscape by Lewis shows that the artist was capturing not only the scene, but also its mood and essence, something that puts her on a par with other modern artists.

painted worlds frames Lewis’s work by discussing technique and color theory. He compares Lewis’s use of repetition to that of other famous artists known for repeating motifs, asking why Andy Warhol and Claude Monet don’t get demerit points for revising an idea the way Lewis usually does. The full-color book shares advertisements and ephemera (such as vintage MacLean’s covers) that probably inspired the artist. This is not an ethnographic study or an act of rural Nova Scotia anthropology. It’s seeing Lewis as the artist she always was, finally, and you never have to have taken an art history class to learn the lesson.

“Some of his paintings… not only evoke the landscape of Nova Scotia, but the essence and the mood. I think he’s saying, ‘No, it’s actually in this area and it captures that kind of essence.’ And that’s another key thing that I talked about in the book: A lot of modern artists, when they were painting landscape, they were really interested in capturing the mood, the energy, the essence and the experience of landscapes,” Dalton adds. , comparing the landscape of Lewis. landscapes to those of Emily Carr. “And I think if you spend a little bit of time, not just quickly looking at a Maud Lewis painting, I think she captures that dynamism of those landscapes as well.”

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