Yesterday Tony and I went to see the movie, Maudie, about Maud Lewis’ life. For those of you who are not familiar with Maud Lewis, she was a very well known Folk Artist who worked from her tiny home in Nova Scotia before tiny homes were trendy and before folk art was cool.
This morning I woke up still moved by the film and I realized it is very much because I love everything her work and life stands for and in some ways I could see my own artistic journey reflected in her life.
So, about these pictures here. Obviously they are not by Maud Lewis. I painted this little table when I was in my twenties. I painted tons of stuff in my twenties. This is the only thing I still have because I had it in my mind that I would keep this table for my own child. You can see that years later my own child added stickers and I believe a robot doodle.
When I was 22, I was a dancer and I had a pretty nasty back injury. I had to have surgery and it took me 6 months to be able to properly walk again. Fortunately, right before my back gave out I met my first husband, Evzen. We are still great friends.
I had spent my whole life dancing and had never considered doing anything else, so when I found myself injured there was a period where I couldn’t see a way forward.
Evzen worked as an illustrator, so there was always paint lying around. With nothing else to do, I would pick up his brushes and play. I had zero skill. But Evzen really encouraged me to keep painting. He liked the charm of my zero skill painting. I painted on anything in front of me, all our furniture, walls, whatever. We started going to the flea market and buying old furniture. I would paint it and then we would have weekly yard sales. I would sell each piece for about $30. They always sold. I remember this chair that I had covered with flowers. It had not occured to me to first paint the chair before adding the flowers, so after I had spent days painting the flowers, I carefully painted around them. Took forever. I sold it to a woman in a Mercedes who beat me down on the price.
I am not comparing my primitive painting to Maud Lewis, but her story really brought back the time in my life where I first learned the joy of creating with my hands and I also learned that if you put love into what you are doing, people will be drawn to it regardless of your skill. My back did heal very well and I was able to dance again, but I never stopped making thing.
It was around 4 years after first picking up a paint brush that I walked into a hat shop and made the connection that hats were also made by hand. I was smitten. I didn’t know how to sew, but how hard could it be? My first hats were crooked and primitive and charming. I set up a homemade hat rack on the street and sold my hats for $30 a piece. I was amazed that people bought them, but as long as people kept buying them I kept making them.
I have always been enamoured with vintage hankies, embroidery, quilts and all other simple acts of beauty. The world is filled with women like Maud Lewis. Women who have quietly made pretty things just because they love to.
Hat making is no exception. While off in Paris, there were milliners making hats for aristocrats, simultaneously some woman in rural Nova Scotia was plaiting yellow birch shavings and hand sewing the finished braid into hats for women in her community. Folk milliners, using whatever was at hand. These women of the past are the ones I most identify with.
If you haven’t seen Maudie, please go. I hope she inspires you to go ahead and put beauty into the world.