|The real-life Maud Lewis in her home in Digby.|
The image of Maud Lewis the folk art artist gnarled over one of her trademark paintings has a recognition factor that few in Canadian art can compare with. What is most memorable is that trait that Lewis shared with her paintings. She suffered a crippling rheumatic arthritis but undaunted, she bears a beaming smile and twinkling eyes. The paintings she created, often as many as two a day, are radiantly colourful and full of life even though they are of a simple country life. Both creator and art were radiant and without apology.
The romantic drama Maudie was released at The Toronto International Film Festival in 2016 and is now rolling out in cinemas across Canada's bigger city centres. It was released in St. John's this past Friday and I would encourage viewers not to wait because it will likely be pushed off the marquees by higher power big box fare. The film is deftly directed by Irishwoman Aisling Walsh, and it has star power in the form of leading man Ethan Hawke, who it turns out has a summer home in Nova Scotia. Maudie and her surly fisher monger husband lived in a tiny one-room house in rural N.S. but the film was shot on locations in Newfoundland – the Goulds, Brigus and most noticeably Keels. This is in part due to the financial support of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation, the fact that one of the three producers is none other than townie Mary Sexton and the screenplay is written by Sherry White, originally from Stephenville.
Many viewers will be drawn to the film hoping to better understand Maud Lewis the artist. Maud Lewis was the very definition of an isolated, outsider artist. Not only was she self-taught and lived in a rural community (1903-1970) but Maud was largely shunned by her own family for her nonconformist ways. Although deformed by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, she refused to be shut away as an invalid. She bore a child that was born out of wedlock and taken away from her and sold without her knowledge. And Maud Lewis became a painter that never asked to be understood but could not be denied. The art world beat a path to her doorway that had a simple sign outside of it saying, "Paintings for sale". Even Vice President Nixon had to pay in advance when he ordered a painting. Imagine all the plot possibilities!
Screenwriter Sherry White says that she carried the story of Maud Lewis around in her head for more than ten years and resolved to write a script about the love story between Everett Lewis and Maud. Sally Hawkins plays Maud, convincingly inhabiting the complex character in a role that stretches over years. What makes the movie a success is its lack of romantic sugar coating or moralizing. Characters from the art world are fictionalized into the figure of Sandra, whose discerning attention is snagged by Maud's depiction of a robust, russet hen on the wall. We know that hen was last night's supper.