Sunday, 17 March 2019

Friday, 1 February 2019

Saving Everett; An interview with Steven Rhude

by Simone Labuschagne

Saving Everett, oil on canvas, 40" x 90", Steven Rhude


SL: I've lived with you for over thirty years now, in cities, towns, and remote regions, seen a lot of your art go under the bridge, observed your creative process from afar and up close, modeled for you, painted with you, taught with you, criticized you when it was needed, and discussed and debated art with you for countless hours. However, I've never anticipated a painting like this coming from you - that is one depicting a murder scene. It seems, along with other things, the Maud Lewis legacy has preoccupied you for some time now, ever since your show at Acadia University Art Gallery with Laura Kenney


So, tell me why did you make this painting?


SR: There are paintings that I want to do, and there are paintings that I have to do... I suppose Saving Everett falls into the latter category - it needed to be said. 


SL: Ok, so what is it you are saying here... the title alludes to saving Everett... but I mean when I look at it there are three figures in the painting, one of them dead. Perhaps you could explain why?


 SR: First I should explain that the whole thing is a tangled skein of small narratives making up one big narrative - the big one being the artistic and anti modernist legacy that Maud and Everett's life reflected, and which eventually influenced Nova Scotia's image/identity... and then how they have been reduced to token saints of a bygone era by the Art establishment. After the Acadia show with Laura Kenney, I was restless... people were asking and writing Laura and I to know if the show was going to travel, which was flattering but we both thought there was more to do; things needed to be pursued. The story didn't stop when Maud died. It went on for another nine years until Everett was murdered. Naturally, this murder seems to be a touchy subject whenever Laura and I brought it up in public circles. Whenever we heard a public talk on Maud Lewis, the saving of Everett and his subsequent murder were never mentioned - it was always glossed over. That's when I thought it might be time to do a painting, if anything then just to set the record straight for myself.


Detail, Stephen Wade

So I went to meet with Reverend Stephen Wade, an Evangelical Christian, who encouraged Everett into a spiritual conversion only hours before he was killed. Talking with Stephen, and hearing his story convinced me to get on with the painting. The next question was how to do the painting. So, I needed to blend three circumstances together... Wade is the figure with his back to you, Everett is crouched over, suspended between the preacher's words and his own mortality. That's one. And then there is Everett's corpse next to the stove - that's two. The vanishing point is Maud's day bed. It too became black... as in she's dead but still haunts Everett; that's three. These circumstances became the eventual talking points of the painting. I recall viewing the house at the AGNS... peering in the door over the obstructive plexiglass, wondering how to fit all this in. 

Detail, Maud's Daybed


SL: That is interesting and a powerful story of redemption and then a sudden and violent death.  Shakespeare himself could not have written the narrative better.  The painting is interesting in that you have compressed both time and the space.  Did you intend for the viewer to feel the physical compression of the small house? 


SR: Not at first, but it did seem to just fall into place. The whole thing is about mortality... Maud's, Everett's, the preacher's, and ours. What an amazing space to compress this narrative into. Usually I go through a prep study period of some drawings that give me a good idea where I'm going with a painting. As you know, I didn't do that here. Having the scene of the crime at my disposal was very helpful though. I went back to the AGNS and spent a lot of time with the house. Looking at it, contemplating it, photographing it inside an out, even listening in on conversations about it. It's known to be a tiny house, but it's also interesting how low the ceiling is and how it reflects and counters the busy imagery we confront on the walls and stove. I started thinking I would only do something of Everett's conversion with just the two figures, but when I got back home and looked at my source material of the house and spliced them together it comprised a kind of panorama, like you would see in a landscape painting. Then I knew I could incorporate the third figure. So the next thing was to model for Stephen Wade, Everett, and the corpse.

Detail, corpse



SL:  You modeled for all three figures.  The preacher is seen faceless and in black which is traditional, Everett is in a pose of remorse with his face in his hands.  The face is certainly that of Everett Lewis.  The murdered figure laying on the left of the painting is certainly either dead or severely wounded.  We know from the story that he died that night.  So, although Everett is showing remorse as he sits with the preacher, how are you depicting his redemption through this scene?


 SR: Everett's redemption... hmm, he wouldn't set foot in a church and was illiterate. Reading the bible was out of the question. So his hands are up to his head - blocking out everything but Wade's words and prayers. I'm no theologian, but Stephen Wade believed everyone has a void. In the interview he said to me: "We try to fill them with temporary things. For Everett it was money, greed, even vengeance, but God put the void there and God is the only one that can fill it." If redemption is suggested in the painting... and it may or may not be depending on the viewer, then it pertains most likely to the narrative supplied by Stephen Wade. Generally, his words are such that the post religious man isn't interested in hearing them anymore. Ironically though, whether one is religious or not, he makes a good point about humanity. 


Human Cross Section, Uof T Anatomy Museum, graphite, 24" x 18", Steven Rhude



As for the murder, Lance Woolaver's bio on Maud mentions crime scene photos that he saw. I didn't think I needed to go that far. I think the point in the painting is obvious. I saw and drew enough cadavers in the University of Toronto's dissecting rooms to last me a life time. There was an interesting human head displayed in their anatomy museum cut in half to show a cross section of the brain. When I did a drawing of it, my teacher was puzzled that I instead focused on the man's expression and not the brain. Maybe even in death there is expression... but what does one do with it? I thought about that when looking at paintings of murder scenes by the likes of Cezanne, Artimisia Gentileschi, Rembrandt, and Bougereau. I decided to drop the theatrical quality of death. Expression in this painting has more to do with the figures and the room, there is very little to see of the human face. Gesture is important to me. It can be the spirit of a painting if you know what to look for. When I was gesturing in the figure by the stove I noticed the area rug centers the composition -  a painting within a painting - Everett siting with one foot on it. This is the thing about gesture, you have to do it and then look at it... maybe even for a day or two. I altered the corpse's right leg and foot in the gesture to also meet on the carpet. That little vignette bridges Everett in life passing into death.


SL:  Some of your paintings contain elements of the physical and the spiritual. The physical house that you are depicting is on display as a cultural artifact at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.  When the public sees the restored, bucolic, magical tiny house that Maud Lewis called home, how many patrons would ever imagine that a murder had taken place there? If they were aware of this how would it change the larger narrative on the story of Maud and Everett Lewis?


SR: The thing is most people are not aware of it, so not much will change. My sense is that most patrons just go with the interpretive panels and promotional material accompanying the house and paintings. After so many years of careful marketing, Everett's death and the dark side of the house may throw an unwanted wrench in the works. I've never heard a rep. from the AGNS comment on it publicly or otherwise. I've never read an article about it by the CBC or other media outlets. Furthermore, I would imagine that the physical house, going back to when Bernie Riordon was director of the AGNS, had been a museological goldmine in the board room and also with Scotia Bank - its sponsor. I think they knew very well they had something special. Everett's murder was the last thing they would have wanted to discuss or promote, let alone Maud's captivity, and her illegitimate child Catherine. Back then the gallery had some new digs and were looking for a patron saint, something to separate them from other provincial galleries. They were in the process of building an institution - Maud fit the bill. It had NSCAD's blessing as well; folk art was seen as a counterpoint to the conservative art in Nova Scotia prevalent until the American expat invasion, and Gerry Ferguson was an avid collector of folk art which eventually made its way into the AGNS's collection. So the stars were aligned as they say. Later on though, years of uncomfortable questions by Lance Woolaver and his eventual biography on Maud have eroded a lot of the sugar coating for those more curious than the average patron, but then the movie "Maudie" comes along and reapplies the coating. I sense the movie has cast a false shadow on the house.... many see it as a fantasy house now, a place occupied by some rural folk and a thirty year love story - nothing could be further from the truth.

Detail, Everett


We need to ask ourselves what exactly this house was about, and what it represents to us today? How could it be a house of murder, greed, anger, and confinement, and yet contain on its walls, stairs, and stove, a visual diary, a human joyful melody comprised of memories, flowers, butterflies, and birds, by an arthritic, anti-modernist folk painter, who was an anomaly in the rural world of Nova Scotia's resource based economy?


 I believe this is what the public should be experiencing when they encounter this small rural house, a place I once considered to be a house spiritually prepared when I first saw it myself, years ago, as a person new to Nova Scotia; it was something other worldly. This may have been one of the reasons Stephen Wade could no longer pass the house on that fateful new years eve long after Maud had passed on. He sensed something was amiss and had to turn back - a voice told him so. In his mind there was a soul to help save. He did the kind thing the only way he knew how. Without Wade's account the narrative is incomplete, as is the patrons experience.


SL: When an artist creates a piece with this voice, by that I mean a very sobering subject, it must take some emotional and psychological toll on the creator.  How did you feel while you pieced this painting together and completed the work?

SR: Art, if it is still lodged in the mind of the adult becomes serious stuff. A painter can carry a vague image around for years and really never know why or what might trigger its manifestation - this is something unique to the wellspring of creativity. I doubt any psychologist will ever find the answer to this. However, there is something to the mental endurance side of things here. As with the Poor Farm painting I did that dealt with mental illness and captivity, there was a lot of reading involved. I reread Lance Woolaver's bio on Maud and thought a lot about my interview with Stephen Wade. I did a little writing on the subject. This went on for about four months... just thinking about making this painting. Pondering it at supper time when really the kids should warrant attention. So ya, there is some anxiety that goes along with things like this... until I started the painting over Christmas. Then there is the mental endurance to complete the painting - which is a different thing. Something most artists can relate to. And yet, like Poor Farm, the last mile is the longest.    


SL: Summing up here - as I mentioned at the beginning,  when I look at this painting there is the feeling of compression. You know ... space, subject, the figures, but now that I look further, there is also an underlying logic and domestic order in the room. The only release from this is the paintings that Maud did on the walls of the room. A kind of journalistic mural of naturalia and memory. How do you think the intense space that Maud and Everett created related to the lives they lived?


SR: The house in art, or in Maud and Everett's case, a single room ... well for me it reflects the life cycle. It's a tactile artifact that elicits the internal geography of two individuals. We know that Everett sold off as much as he could of Maud's work and effects... a grim attempt to extinguish her presence in the house. Sadly at times humans out live love. We are born, live, love, even hate, and die. The strange thing is that objects often out live our lives and also obliquely provide testament to our spirit - whether our love endured or not. If the Maud Lewis  house were a map, we could chart our way around it from a domestic perspective. There was Maud's tearing away from her life in Yarmouth. We know Maud in essence became a captive in Everett's Marshalltown world, used by Everett as a form of daily income... sometimes she was even situated outside as a spectacle to attract prospective buyers through sympathy. The house is a dichotomy... a place of dark and light. Once inside the house two things are apparent. Except for a tiny corner and a window, the stove and the room's square footage belonged to Everett. Maud on the other hand sought to psychologically break down the walls of her rural prison by illustrating a pictorial melody predominately on the back and right walls of the house. Her imagery, so abstract, at times seems to weaken the major contours of the walls and make them disintegrate. Only the ceiling provides objective relief from the sub passages of Maud's visual escape plan. Most symbolic would have been the front door's imagery - an opening to her childhood of freedom and innocence through memory. No wonder Maud plugged into the love of flowers and butterflies, things long associated in art with the immortality of the universe. 


Everett's human equation is the opposite of Maud's. His last years in the house without Maud were that of a self imposed path of physical neglect and spiritual decent. I have yet to encounter in Nova Scotia's history a more illustrative example of a tragic human relationship between a man and a woman, and yet, it's continued durability as a Folk Art myth remains intact. There's something to be said about this.    





Thursday, 3 January 2019

Woman with her Buoy

Woman with her Buoy, oil on canvas, 30" x 30", Steven Rhude

"Paul Durand Ruel, forced the comparison to earlier Madonna and child groupings by calling her the painter of "la saint famille moderne"
(Matthews, p. 76). But, she portrays the mother and child relationship as a significant part of every day life and experience thus delivering that relationship from its role as a sterile icon of redemption and fertility to a relationship significant in its social importance." 

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Peggy's World - A painting Protest; an article by Crystal Murry

"As the story about the battle between the Mill and the fisherman continues there appears to be very little grey in opinions that are predominately black or white. A community still licking its wounds over the divisive amalgamation question that ended with a no vote in 2016 is at odds again. The First Nations community, the mill workers, the fiber producers and other supporting industries and business are driven by their own agendas, history of mistruths and unfulfilled promises."

- Crystal Murry, Pictou, NS

Steven Rhude Wolfville, NS

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Above a Coal Mine

Above a Coal Mine, Inverness, oil on masonite, 23" x 34", Steven Rhude

Friday, 30 November 2018

The Saving of Everett Lewis

“One believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (St. Paul, Rom. 10:10).

On October 23rd, 2018 I met and interviewed Reverend Stephen Wade in Paradise, Nova Scotia. In 1978, New Years Eve day, Reverend Wade met and provided spiritual consolation hours before Everett Lewis was murdered.

Port Lorne, Nova Scotia, 2013 - a power outage owing to a winter storm. He went out to his garage to start up his generator which was in need of fuel. The power was out and emergency sirens could be heard through out the region. It was one of those winter nights.

 I'm reminded of the power of gasoline, my own can stored in a shed ... pull back the plastic lock to release the cap into motion and then turn the cap counter clockwise to expose the flammable agent... did it a thousand times. The odour staining my nostrils, as I eventually fill my lawn mower gas tank to cut my grass and maintain a common, and collective suburban exercise. An image of neatness and superficial order where we breathe in oxygen and mysteriously breathe out carbon dioxide, as the trees clap their hands, and the grass conforms to our neighbourhood geometric objectives.

 One other thing...there is also the familiar hiss of fumes escaping from the can into that region of oxygen - that invisible force few consider until they are in need of it, or understand its relationship to something as minute, yet so powerful as a single ... fiery particle.

 For him though, as the winter storm continued, his hand on the cap, he inadvertently controlled his mortality as he slowly opened it to allow the marriage of gas fumes and an unforeseen spark - his head turned ever so slightly away at the flash, yet it was too late. An instant explosion - an involuntary immolation. He and the garage engulfed in flames and the garage door closed.

Panic, shock, adrenalin, somehow pitched him forward as he discovers the latch at the door's base. Clean, cold air crashing into a human torch. He roles around in the few inches of snow on the ground and eventually (he knows not how, or how long) the flames conform, and are extinguished in the white powder's magic.

  New Years Eve day 1978, around Ten AM - The Reverend, an Evangelical Christian, is in his car driving along Highway 101 in Marshalltown, past the small house where Maud used to live, and Everett Lewis still does. The Reverend is young, in his early thirties, embarking on a spiritual journey that would take an unpredictable twist. What will occur this day will forever change his life. In the nine years since Maud died, the house, more of a husk now, had declined as though an attempt to suppress it's spirit and the memory of that woman were all that mattered. It was the modis operendi of the occupant. A house to avoid, and yet the door was open... a room with a view, but of what though? Anything connected with Maud was either sold or being sold off. Even Maud's sympathy cards had a price for Everett - sympathy will always have a price in the world of art.

He glances at the house as the car passes, determines this is a place to avoid. Maybe the car radio was on, maybe it wasn't. But the conversation switches over in his mind to the subject of love, not his love, but something greater than him. He considers going back, but recalls the community image Everett Lewis has forged since his release from the Poor Farm next to his house. He ends the conversation and drives on. He would go anywhere for that higher love, but not this place, he was afraid. Yet, he recalls the door was open; and the conversation in his mind resumes, louder this time, unable to tune it out. To the voice he acquiesces. He slowly pulls over to the side of the highway, turns around, and returns to the house that was once an outbuilding on a Poor Farm. He sees Everett Lewis through the doorway and proceeds to enter. 

Paradise, Nova Scotia, October 23rd, 2018. I arrive to interview the Reverend. He is seventy one years old as he pushes the carpet cleaner back and forth in his World Missions Center. It reminds me of one of these devices they use in a movie theatre to vacuum up popcorn. He is kind and humble with his greeting, and immediately puts me at ease. We sit down, two chairs divided by an old clock on a table with the incorrect time.

 Paradise is a small community in the Annapolis Valley, it's coffee shop appears closed for the season. The Mission Centre doubles as a community Centre, and Food Bank. There is no imposing pulpit, just some chairs and the instruments for a band including a drum set up front. We talk. His voice is soft and warm, yet confident.  They lived on the shore road (Bootleg Alley). Social issues were not discussed. A home life broken by alcoholism and divorce,  he took to the external world. A blind grandfather who tuned pianos, that would think nothing of climbing a ladder to replace a window screen, or rowing a boat alone in the harbour, fills the void. A flicker of a childhood memory: He recalls inmates working outside of the Poor Farm. He had to ask what the building was, and who the people were that lived there. He was told they were unfit for society.

 New Years Eve day 1978, - he recalls seeing Everett around Digby. Unclean, baggy woolen pants, woolen socks up to his knees, rubber boots, plaid jacket (red), canvas sack over his back, always on foot or bicycle. Another flash - Everett submitting an advert to the Digby Courier that asked women to "Come swing on his swing in the back yard."

The room with a view is a void. A void of Everett's own creation. It is filthy. Everett chewed tobacco, the evidence everywhere on the wooden floor of the small room. The stove, once prized as the heart of the dwelling, has enamel blackened by neglect. There was no light, just what was emitted through a couple of windows. He vaguely remembers some painted patterns by Maud on the walls, but the overall effect was dingy.

Everett Lewis closes the door.

Halifax Infirmary Burn Unit, 2013, Halifax, Nova Scotia -  To the Reverend, an African Nova Scotian intern appears one night as in a dream and speaks to him. The interned states that he is not a prophet, not a mystic, only a Christian. He says to the Reverend that he will survive this ordeal no matter what decisions have been made regarding his chances by the doctors.

 New Years Eve day 1978, - Neither man knew each other, although each man probably knew of each other. This was to be their first and only conversation. The Reverend sat in the chair that Maud had once occupied by the window, with her adhoc TV tray easel, producing one folk work after another in serial sequence. Everett sat in the opposite corner.

 Paradise, Nova Scotia, October 23rd, 2018 -  The Reverend recalls that for Everett, the void was money, greed, even vengeance. The Reverend states to me that God put in the void and God is the only one that can fill it. I think of the void left by the Poor Farm and a young boy chosen to leave with his Mother while his siblings and Father remain captive. The void that gave him a few bucks for burying his father in the poor farm cemetery with others, including the unidentified dead. The void that gave him the keys as a night watchman to the harmlessly insane ward for women and men. The void that made him ration everything from food to music. The void that in the end probably broke him. Everett's disdain for church was well known locally. Illiteracy ruled out reading the bible, so the Reverend discussed the power of prayer with Everett. Cars and trucks clattered by as the year of 1978 was coming to a close. Everett would need to pray, it was the midnight hour of his life.

 New Years Eve day 1978, - Everett Lewis capitulated and tells the Reverend he would continue to pray in the coming days. The Reverend leaves feeling there was a sense of relief and a weight taken  off Everett's shoulders. The two never meet again. Hours later, Everett Lewis was murdered in a home invasion.

Paradise, Nova Scotia, October 23rd, 2018 - I ask the Reverend if he had ever seen the Maud Lewis house in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. He hasn't but would like to. He finds the steel cage memorializing Maud cold and so chooses to remember her standing in the door of her own house, watching the world pass by.

“The difference between Maud and Ev is that Maud, for all her losses, built something wonderful out of her broken self. We still have it. Everett, for all his accumulations, would lose everything by theft and death. He got revenge but failed at vengeance. When Everett died the county was indifferent, and in some cases pleased. When Maud died, the county grieved."  - Lance Woolaver 

The Reverend finds these words factual, very sad, and yet most probably true. He focuses and states that there is always room for forgiveness - he felt compelled to provide this in the hope it would be received.

I leave Paradise, NS. wondering about this most disputed region of Christian theology, and the many ways it has been debated, exhalted, and sadly debased. It's not for me to judge what may or may not have transpired in the heart of Everett Lewis.  

Everett Lewis

Postcript, November, 30th 2018: 

In 2013, burnt from head to toe the Reverend was in a coma for a few days before he eventually woke to the prognosis that the burns on his skin and muscles were so severe his organs would eventually shut down and as a result he had about 2 weeks to live. Against the odds he survived the two weeks and eventually strengthened enough to be sent to a rehabilitation center for burned victims. Two yrs. later he was mobile and walking. Numerous operations and skin grafts later he was able to begin to resume his life with constant care and support. In 2018 the Reverend, at 71yrs. old is busier than ever within his community. 

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS.