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Sally Hawkins as Maud Lewis and Ethan Hawke as Everett Lewis. Courtesy of Mongrel Media
DIGBY, NS – Many people in Nova Scotia knew Maud Lewis before she became a celebrated folk artist.
Lewis is the subject of ‘Maudie,’ a film celebrating her life, and will soon be known on a massive scale when the film launches internationally this spring. She’s touched many people, including those that knew her before anyone else – people who lived in Digby, where she spent the last three decades of her life.
Two such people are Annapolis Royal resident Nancy Dick and Deirdre Morrell-Ormerod of Smith’s Cove.
Ormerod’s aunt and uncle lived just up the hill from Maud Lewis and her husband, Everett. Ormerod’s female cousins all grew up painting, and would visit Maud’s house to paint with her.
“She inspired them a lot,” she said, “and they’re still painting to this day.”
Ormerod’s mother used to work at a drugstore in Digby where Everett would often visit. Ormerod used to see him walking when she was a child. She says it never occurred to her or her cousins that this was special, because it was normal for them.
“As a child, Maud was a part of our lives and we never thought anything of it,” she says.
Ormerod says she and her cousins all loved Lewis’ colourful house, covered in beautiful happy paintings.
“You could see it from the roadside. We knew she had a hard life, but we also knew she loved painting,” she says.
Ormerod often saw oxen on the main road through Marshalltown, and thinks these are probably the ones Lewis depicted in her oxen paintings.
Though she had no way of knowing as a child the impact Lewis would have as a folk artist, Ormerod certainly knows it today.
“I think she was one of the instigators of folk art becoming such a big thing. She just did what came to her naturally, and you see a bunch of artists trying to mimic her,” she says.
“People never realized the impact this had because it was often said that Digby had no culture. But now people are seeing, and how the culture changed the lives of everyone.”
Nancy Dick met Maud Lewis at the age of five, when she drove with her grandmother from Port Royal to Digby.
“It was a big trip for me then, and when I saw the house and the lady inside it I felt like I was in a fairy tale,” she says.
Her grandmother purchased a painting for $2, and returned to get the less than enthused Dick from the car to the house.
“I remember thinking how unusual it was,” she says.
“There were so many colours everywhere. I remember seeing Maud, and I remember a set of steps on the stove. To me, as a child, she was sort of gnome-like.”
It was several decades until Dick would see the house again, this time on exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The experience was a surreal one, and brought all the memories flooding back.
When she looks back, she feels the memories of what she saw are fascinating.
“I think my grandmother bought the painting because she knew they were poor, and they needed support,” she says. Her brother Doug Parker still owns the painting.
Dick says the attention surrounding ‘Maudie’ is exciting, but wishes Lewis could have been alive to see it.
“Everyone is finally realizing this is an odd and unique story,” she says.
“You wish she could have benefitted from it somehow, but at the very least it’s a wonderful legacy.”