Top News

‘She lived a dark life:’ Lance Woolaver on myths, realities of Maud Lewis

Sally Hawkins as Maud Lewis. Courtesy of Mongrel Media
Sally Hawkins as Maud Lewis. Courtesy of Mongrel Media

DIGBY, NS – All it took to start a career of researching and writing on Maud Lewis for Lance Woolaver was one successful pitch to Chatelaine magazine.

,Woolaver, then a self-proclaimed struggling writer, pitched an article on Maud Lewis to legendary Chatelaine editor Doris Anderson, who said yes on one condition – that Woolaver write the article with a woman.

He then enlisted the woman he trusted most, his mother Shirley, and the two submitted the article to the magazine and later received a cheque for $700.

“That cheque was a fortune to me, and was enough to sustain my writing over the next few months,” he says.

After that payday, Wollaver says, “I just kept writing. Every time I wrote something I realized I was learning more and more and that there was more to this story that I could uncover.”

Woolaver, who grew up in Digby, is now the recognized authority on everything Maud Lewis. His most recent biography, the Maud Lewis: The Heart on the Door and a new edition of his 1996 play Maud Lewis: World Without Shadows, were published within two months of each other, in February and April 2016.

Other works include The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis, Maud’s Country and Christmas with Maud Lewis, among others. His books have uncovered many aspects of Maud’s life previously unknown, including that she had a child when living in Yarmouth that she gave up for adoption.

“Before we were basing everything on this happy little myth that Maud was happy, like her happy little pictures,” he says.

“In reality, she lived a dark life. It was really a very tough existence for Maud at times.”

This picture, taken by Bob Brooks Photography, is part of a plaque showing Maud Lewis in her element, with her mangled hands, and attests to the fact her spirit could rise above great hardship.

 

Getting hooked and diving in

Woolaver says it was this darker existence combined with the happiness her paintings captured that got him hooked on his research.

“Maud was simply the most interesting story of living and humanity that I’d ever come across,” he says.

After taking a deep dive into everything Maud Lewis in the 1990s, Woolaver began uncovering information through fieldwork he conducted, including interviews with Maud’s friends, classmates and acquaintances.

His twenty years of interviews and other fieldwork were compiled and their information led to The Heart on the Door.

Woolaver describes his years of research as “relentless grinding and knocking on doors,” during which he happened to meet one of Maud’s childhood friends and classmates who was present for Maud’s last ever day of school in Yarmouth.

“Most interviews turned into bland things, but this was different. Maud went to elementary school when she was almost 19, and was in pain and embarrassed. She went to school that day and never came back, and this woman was there to see it,” he says.

The last book he’d like to compile on Maud is a copy of his interview transcripts themselves. While unsure he’d publish on a large scale, Woolaver wants to at least compile the transcripts into a bound book to be made available to the public.

"These transcripts show a different side of the story, and offer a fresh perspective," he says.

A monument to Maud Lewis: the life-size steel replica of the Lewis home constructed by Cherubini Metal Works is placed on the original foundation footings.

 

A captivating story

Many people have approached Woolaver to comment on how the new Maudie film resembles his research. While he can’t comment on any similarities, since he hasn’t seen the movie, he does have one point of criticism regarding the movie – that it was filmed in Newfoundland, not Nova Scotia.

He hopes people will read The Heart on the Door regardless, and draw their own conclusions about any such similarities. He is happy the film is shedding more light on Maud’s incredible story.

“It’s been my life’s work, you know,” he says.

Woolaver is optimistic audiences in Nova Scotia and around the world will become as captivated with Maud as he has.

“It was almost as if the myth was more important than the real details of her life,” he says.

“When you find a story that allows you such a glimpse into vulnerable human life, it almost becomes a never ending story. It’s something I could never quite put down.”

More on Maudie

‘Maudie’ hits the screen: Newfoundland screenwriter Sherry White looks back on the appeal and inspiration of painter Maud Lewis

Maudie to be shown as weekend event in Annapolis Royal May 26 to 28

St. John's filmmaker Mary Sexton on 'Maudie,' the new 'Hatching, Matching and Dispatching' movie and the legacy of her brother, Tommy

Stephenville native Sherry White writes feature film about Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis

Maudie to open in Yarmouth, April 21

Ethan Hawke on how his Nova Scotia connections led him to making 'Maudie Maudie's world: a major film could drive Nova Scotia tourism with the life of painter Maud Lewis Maudie the movie: Story of Digby folk artist will premiere at Toronto International Film Festival

Recent Stories