Maudie: A Romance with Art

Sally Hawkins as Maud Lewis.

If you think you’ve got it bad, get over yourself and go to Maudie, a quiet yet moving film about Canada’s most famous folk artist.

Sally Hawkins is incredible as the irrepressible, smart, yet fragile Maud Lewis. Ethan Hawke admirably plays her fish seller husband, the irascible and stoic Everett. It is a story of a woman who can’t help but paint and a man who, in the end, can’t help but fall in love with her. She is sunshine to his perpetual gloom. She is ready to laugh at life, when he can do nothing but growl at it. As Maud says in the movie, they are a pair of mismatched socks.

I have long admired the story of Maud Lewis of Nova Scotia, a woman who let nothing diminish her spirit—not disease (polio as a child left her handicapped and arthritis eventually made her fingers curl so she couldn’t hold a paintbrush), not a family who made her feel defective, and not a hardscrabble existence living in a 10 x 12 foot fisherman’s shack.

Instead of whining, though, Maud painted the walls, steps, door, even the window of her tiny, dour house with brightly colored flowers, animals, butterflies, and birds. She insisted that all the inspiration she needed was right outside her window. And, eventually, the world came to her door to buy her paintings.

Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke in Maudie.

My novel, Maud’s House, is certainly not a biography of Maud Lewis. However, her life and personality were the inspiration for my Maud Calhoun, who goes from child prodigy granted the freedom to draw on the walls to blocked artist in a small Vermont town. My Maud is lost, and her story is one of lost-and-found creativity. I don’t think, that even in her worse times, Maud Lewis was ever truly lost. Her work is filled with too much joy, her spirit too indomitable. How did she do it?

That was the question I kept asking myself as I wrote Maud’s House and learned more of Maud Lewis’s extraordinary story: what drives a person to create—no matter what? I came to the conclusion that we are all artists, and we pursue our art in many ways—in our gardens, in the food we make, in the songs we sing, in the pictures we paint and the books we write, in the relationships we nurture, in the kindnesses we scatter on our journey.

That’s why, when a reader asks me to inscribe a copy of Maud’s House, I write one sentence: Discover the artist in you.

If there is an inscription fitting for Maud Lewis’s life, it would be: See beauty in the world—no matter what.

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Maud’s House is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retail outlets. If it is not available in your local bookstore or library, please ask for it.

You can see Maud Lewis’s house and some of her paintings at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

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