Saturday, 10 March 2018

Maud's Funeral; Inmates Return, oil on canvas, 60" x 86", Steven Rhude

"In this dream play, the author has, as in his former dream play, To Damascus, attempted to imitate the inconsequent yet transparently logical shape of a dream. Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable. Time and place do not exist; on a significant bases of reality, the imagination spins, weaving new patterns; a mixture of memories, experiences, free fancies, incongruities and improvisations. The characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, disperse, assemble. But one consciousness rules over them all, that of the dreamer; for him there are no secrets, no illogicalities, no scruple, no laws. He neither acquits or condemns, but merely relates; and, just as a dream is often more painful than happy, so an undertone of melancholy and of pity for all mortal beings accompanies this flickering tale."[1]

Fool: "Where you been Jester? How's retirement treating you?"

Jester: "Lots of golf, bought a heavenly camper trailer - travel from course to course."

Fool: "Bored stiff ain't you?"

Jester: "Actually, I do miss my old haunts a bit. Tell me more about Maud; I've been following your hauntings between rounds. She intrigues me."

Fool: "Well, she lived with a former inmate peddler by the name of Everett Lewis, painted, and died in a never heard of place called Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. Lately, I've been wondering about her funeral."

Jester: "What about it?"

Fool: "Well, you may be retired, but you most likely recall that in the world of mortals, public standing has become intimately linked with the importance one had earned in the eyes of one's fellow men. So who shows up counts for these folks. These guys think that no man's reputation could be assured until the moment of his death. For the rich and successful, for those with social ties, the funeral could be anticipated with equanimity. Not so for the poor and friendless; it haunted them as the specter of failure does." [2]


Jester: "So Maud was poor, and you think by haunting this most bankrupt form of human measurement you can change things. Maybe tamper with history a bit? Re calibrate some facts and wash away this specter of failure. Got some news for you, I know that specter, not a pleasant jester that one. He's a dystopian kind of guy, likes the status quo - he's one of the reasons I haunt no more and now play golf. Glad you have some work though. Anyways, from what I've learned about your hauntings, I think Maud was a saint, hope her funeral was respectably attended. Did you say you were there?"

Fool: "I was, but more importantly so were a band of poor farm inmates that knew Maud. She lived right next door to the Marshalltown Alms House, even took baths there and had her hair done by the matron. Maud gave paintings to her and she then displayed them in the poor house. Cheered the place up I imagine."

Jester: "Did anyone see these inmates? I mean failure sometimes makes one invisible like us."

Visiting Hours (Maud's other sign), Laura Kenney, Rug Hooking

Fool: I doubt it. However, one inmate told me about the day Maud brought over a sign she painted for the poor house denoting visiting hours. Made his day just thinking about having a visitor. Later on the farm was shuttered, the sign for the Poor Farm Alms House (hours of visitation) was on the south side of the driveway leading down the hill to the front. It was gone, spongy and in little fragments (almost like mush) by the 1990's." [3]

Jester: "Sad, I hear Maud had a flare for signs. Where was Maud buried?"

Fool: "Outside of Digby - North Range Mountain."

Jester: "Where were the inmates buried when the poor house was operational?"

Fool: "Oh right on the poor farm grounds, many in unmarked graves. Bulldozed over later by a strawberry farm operation - couldn't get enough labour to make a go of it, wonder why. Who knows how many are really down there, we may never find out. Maybe that's why they attended Maud's funeral, to pay respects to one that beat the specter. Their own funerals were a lonely event - inmates even built caskets down in the poor farm basement. There's something to think about, I mean, wondering who the casket your working on is for, or if it may be your own. Orders for casket planks and studs, metal plates and pal bearer handles - makes death seem like an assembly line. Anyways,  there's always connections that don't want the past dug up. Don't want to get their hands dirty. Isn't that why we haunt?"

Jester: "Hmm... I suppose -  no easy task that, beating the specter that is."

Fool: No, I dare say it wasn't."

Jester: "What happened to the peddler?"

Fool: He sold off everything of Maud's he could, I suspect trying to cleanse himself of her spirit. His own spirit being so plundered by then. Later on he was murdered."

Jester: "A sad tale. What became of these inmates? The poor, mentally ill, physically destitute?"

Fool: "Scattered; most likely to other institutions or just sent adrift."

Jester: "Ah, the Hotel Poor Farm; you can check out anytime, but you can never leave."

Fool: "Sounds like a pop song, but ya, more or less. I haunted an English work house from the 1750's and noticed the inmates were allowed to go to town, but they had a "P" sewn onto their lapels denoting them as being from the poor house. "

Jester: "Cruel. I recall an old joust I had with the specter, he took umbrage with some criticism I made about the popularity of burial insurance, how it testifies to a determination to avoid the fate of the pauper's pit, personal degredation and lack of independance. [4] Seems to me this haunting won't find closure for a while."

Fool: "Most likely not, more work to do."

Jester: "Just one more thing about Maud. How did she prevail, you know with all of the issues both domestic and physical?"

Fool: "Not sure really, she just sat by a window and painted - faced the specter head on I suppose. Come to think of it, I recall an inmate mentioning her painting, a kind of philosophy of sorts... something about “a window, the whole of life, already framed”.  One could only assume that simple phrase sums up what she did. Can't remember the inmate's name though."

Jester: "Keep digging, it'll come to you."

Foot note: The painting "Maud's Funeral, Inmates Return" is purely fictional on my part. I apologise in advance for upsetting the factualists out there. But paintings come from the nether world of dreams as much as the harsh cold light of reality. And so this one conforms to the former. The premise that a band of poor, destitute, mentally ill, physically neglected men, marginalized by the modernist steam roller, would organize and pay their respects to a female folk painter buried in a child's coffin, eight years or so after their primary residence was closed down, and after they were probably dispersed to other institutions, certainly didn't happen - at least not to my knowledge.

However, these men did have voices, and like actors in a play they vicariously convey something about their own condition and the memory of a woman with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, who painted simple bucolic scenes of Nova Scotian hills and ports, tulips and bluebirds, and cars stopped in the road by oxen. It was the least they could do, after all Maud Lewis graced their world when there might not have been a lot to celebrate. Maud was their next door neighbour, a rural legend in the making. Her paintings were the talk of the region. Some may have even hung in their house - a poor house gallery that upon closure probably supplied a lot of wall board for Maud to continue painting until her death.

[1] Strindberg's preface to A Dream Play (Ett drömspel), 1901
[2] Thomas Laqueur, "Bodies, Death and Pauper Funerals," Representations 1 (1983): pg. 109
[3] Lance Woolaver - in conversation
[4] Self Help: Pauper and Public Death              




Friday, 26 January 2018

What really happened in Marshalltown?

"In 1851 including idiots and imbiciles, there was one insane person for every 593 of the population; in 1861 this ratio had risen to one in 504; while in 1871 there was no less than one to 309." He further noted that "the advance of the population was at 40 percent, while the number of those with unsound mind increased 169 percent in the same period."

 - Dr. DeWolfe, Report of the inspector of Humane Institutions April1, 1955 to March 31, 1956, Province of Nova Scotia

Poor Farm, oil on canvas, 60" x 128", Steven Rhude


 This time of year dodging the weather is an art form in itself - the two hour journey from Wolfville to Marshalltown on a two lane highway must be timed accordingly and approached with caution. Winds from the north mountain can easily buffet a car as one contemplates their destination. On other occasions, engulfed in white outs, I've turned back; "keep your eye on the road mister." That said, driving through Marshalltown, Nova Scotia on a cold and overcast January day can be bleak for the most optimistically minded. Maudlin scrapyards, automotive shops, and a peppering of utilitarian small businesses line the highway of mostly CMHC bungalows, in direct contrast to the vistas and architectural temptations the traveller encounters while skirting the more scenic area of Digby,  and small communities like Smith's Cove, Bear River, and Plympton.

Poor Farm detail, Maud, and Maud as a child, Steven Rhude

Just west of the notorious "steel cage", a rusting MacKay Lyons monument to a roadside house once inhabited by a fish peddler and his advert housekeeper, the spirited painter Maud Lewis, there is a tract of land where once a Poor Farm stood. It still seems like a haunting location for a Dickensian world that was brought into being in Nova Scotia by various incorporated acts obviously linked to bureaucratic esoterica and data remote from the reality of human poverty. Rather, it seemed more concerned with controlling the dangerous classes. This haunting is probably not due to the mostly over grown landscape that now meets the eye (its amazing how nature can reclaim human cultivation), but the accounts and memories that still populate the minds of those with relatives associated with the place, and a long history of poverty, infirmary, abuse - both physical and no doubt psychological too.

Generally referred to as the "Poor Farm", and historically significant, is the connection that Everett Lewis had to it as an inmate, and later his wife Maud Lewis. Equally significant to the facility is the inclusion of two cemeteries. Today, in these cemeteries are buried a large number of recently identified individuals associated with the poor farm Alms house ( a list that is still incomplete but growing thanks to Faye Lent and Brenda Small) chronicling its lifespan as an Colonialist institution with a legacy and template dating well back to the workhouses of England and the inhuman treatment of the poor. Not a pretty picture, but one that needs to face the mirror.

I pull my car into the driveway of the property, and with a photo reproduced in a book taken shortly before the Poor House burned down by the hand of an arsonist, I position myself roughly where the photographer and Maud Lewis biographer Lance Woolaver was, when the camera shutter opened and closed - recording a ruin in its dying moments. But it didn't die in Lance's mind, or a cast of others concerned with its legacy.

Detail - Poor Farm, Steven Rhude

 But sorry, no ghosts or voices moaning that I can easily register- just the brittle wind snapping at the trees. But an image does come to mind. It's a rug hooking by Laura Kenney, and it's a strange place to conjure up some textile when what I really want is the warmth and comfort of the car:

 The work transposes a Maud Lewis oxen painting with two male cruciform inmates from the Poor Farm, emphasizing the severity of accounts that reflect a veritable history of incarceration of one form or another. The yoke of subjugation and poverty run deep here and humor as they say, makes the unbearable, bearable.  

Inmates, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

 Flipping through notes, a passage from an account of researched abuses comes to mind, ironically entombed in an provincial environmental assessment:

February 2017/ Davis MacIntyre and Associates Limited

The following account from this report provides ample insight into the conditions and
behaviour relevant to the times of the Poor Farm:

“These people were subject to beatings quite frequent[ly]. In case of death many were
buried on the place. They had graveyards there. The people staying there looked after
the dead and built their own coffins in the basement. They would put a person in a
rough box right off the bed, take him down to the field and bury him just like an
There was a man from the North Range area who had died. They sent him down to the
Catholic Church in Plympton to be buried. The priest had to view the remains - that
was part of his job. When he opened the rough box, the man in question was in the
rough box without a stitch of clothes on, just lying on an old blanket that wasn’t fit to
take to the dump.

Their was another man at the poor farm from the Doucetteville area. He was elderly
and quite ill at the time. A priest from Plympton went to the Poor Farm to give the man
his last rites. On arriving at the farm the priest and the alter boy were turned away by
the keeper and not allowed to go in. The priest got in charge of the man who was in
charge of the doings of things at the Poor Farm. He made sure the priest and altar
boy were allowed to go in. They got to the man’s room and found him face down on a
sheet with no clothes on and a very large gash behind his right ear. It had been made
with a blunt instrument. This was way back before Alton [Halton] Haydon took over.

[...] if a young lady [who was pregnant and unmarried] was taken there and had a long
list of mentally ill in her family, she was made to do extra duties in order to have a
miscarriage. After she had the baby, nothing was done to keep the babies alive, and
they were generally thrown in the furnace.”

 I turn back onto route 101 and the communities go by in a blur. Around Ducetteville  the car radio blisters out commentary and "#metoo" hashtags. I wonder what Maud would have made of a hashtag? Women marching and Nova Scotian politicians dropping like flies. Hollywood embroiled in a celebrity gender war of sexual abuse and misconduct - lawyers ringing their hands with glee, male sexual predators devoured by social media - ground up like worms in an old Pink Floyd video.

Prostitute, Spinster, Unwed Mother, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

But then one may wonder what is so significant about Maud's "three pussy cats" ( God knows she painted enough of them), and what exactly makes Kenney's take on it so current? Could one ever look at those cats in the same way?  A prostitute, a Spinster, and an Unwed Mother?

Were we only to learn how to "become good animals" as a friend once conveyed to me from some distant shore across the pond of the internet. The radio is abstract - and the announcer equally so - he has never heard of Laura Kenney, and Marshalltown is only a brief stop on a litany of formulaic weather reports.

However, perhaps I did here the murmuring of some ghosts while observing the Poor Farm in January - in that brittle wind. Maybe through the wind they were saying "Me Too."

Steven Rhude Wolfville, NS

Wednesday, 27 December 2017


Sehnsucht (Leaving Port Lorne), oil on canvas, 37.5" x 57.5", Steven Rhude

Port Lorne could easily be renamed "Port Forlorne" if one were so inclined to register a place name describing the human condition. A few area farms and a continuing sense that the road leading down to a tiny community could revert back to the land it once sliced through with such hopefulness, crossed my mind on a few occasions. I spent about two weeks last spring traveling to a newly constructed cottage to install a reclaimed floor for a retired couple, and as I did, a landscape of logging tracts, junk yards, a land fill site, and crumbling roads, held no over biding sense of aesthetic in the same way an ocean vista could. Photographs of this region were better left to the White Cube crowd, documenting the collapse of the Twenty First Century manufactured landscape in sun, fog, with an overall dull, overcast, banal tonality.

A lot of my ideas for paintings have been hatched from behind the wheel of a car. Cars are a modern contemplative moment; isolated and encapsulating the individual for movement. But who and what is doing the moving? The feeling that the landscape is indeed moving through us while we remain immobile lends itself to the illusions and sensations of the mind - as in the way driving through a snow storm easily creates this strange quality of something that is moving at us, not us at it - opening up the doors of imagination and wonder, and of danger too.

 But put in check and properly contextualized, that sensation can also prompt another... perhaps longing is a better word for it. A longing that, as C.S. Lewis described is "inconsolable." It can lead us to ponder why it is we eat, drink, sleep, and wake, with it, with out ever really specifying why or how this longing came to be.

For this lapsed Catholic, the fearful legends of the bible still lurk beneath the surface of any experience and issue. One can't eradicate a child hood memory, only rely on it to prove itself in the light of day, even while driving towards the sensible reasons of income and stability, namely going to work. The pale horse from Revelations always stood out - his rider a mean son-of-a-bitch, moving towards us all as we sat immobile in the pews of an suburban church outside Toronto. It struck me as someones longing - not mine, certainly with inconsolable desires, but not one a child wished to entertain. Later, as an adult, the war I saw was one against the poets, those that didn't fall into line with church doctrine. Yet that horse is now used and promoted by the world's worthies to wreak vengeance on everything from the crashing environment, to bad shopping habits, and the recklessness of the markets - its blade getting dull from over use.

Sehnsucht - the horse, my horse, is now riderless; gone is the scythe and Hades with him for now. It is a peaceful horse - yet the longing that has no English equivalent is still there as the landscape continues to reveal itself in the rear view mirror. 

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Valuing Maud beyond Maudie

Maud, You're Richer Than You Think, graphite on paper, 16" x 20", Steven Rhude

If the movie Maudie provoked one understanding in Nova Scotians - in particular - it was the Hollywood shadow effect over the deeper quality of her art and life, in favour of another type of value - one popularised by profit and capital as the common denominator for her success. Any artist that has endeavoured to survive this far in an effort to peddle their wares knows what they are entwined in, and how ethically challenged the commercial market is. The Maud story is common to the reality of today's art world, and provides a lens into one of exploitation, distortion, and greed. This seems to generally disconcert some people that align themselves with the latter concept of industry and profit aimed at defining her legacy through auction results and merchandise, rather than her poverty, regionalism, vision, and artistic practice - something that would defy today's understanding of art criticism, and its  perspective quagmired in post modern truth, esoterica, and identity politics.

A few headlines cut and pasted from the CBC confirms the superficial focus of Maud's "value" to Canadians:

1 - Maud Lewis painting found in thrift shop sells for $45,000
2 - From erasers to prints, Maud Lewis merchandise snapped up at AGNS
3 - Bidding for Nova Scotia's Maud Lewis painting found in thrift store reaches $125,000
4 - Lost Maud Lewis painting to be displayed as folk artist's biopic released

It's an old game, and one that has now developed an efficient and sanitised "public face", yet, when those targeted for public consumption tends to gather to discuss the issue of Maud around the proverbial water cooler, one senses that very public is onto a bad bill of goods being dispensed by the media in order to grease the wheels of an industry far removed from the reality of regional Nova Scotia, Maud, her art, and its educative capacity for the rest of Canada.  As usual, we are left to contend with the celebration of Maud's record prices as they eclipse any attempt to probe the deeper aspects of an art and life that was essentially anti-modernist, and outside the reality of the auction soothsayers.

 In turn, the politics of identity were far removed from Maud's activity, however in today's sense, she seems to break all the rules. Maud may have loved colour, but probably didn't dwell much on how it related to ones skin. She wasn't Indigenous, neither was she black - yet she also didn't have running water or a lobby group to protest her situation to a major museum audience. Accordingly, if the colour of ones skin seems important, she would be considered white, but the truth is, we can't say she was in any way privileged by today's definition. But we know one thing - her life mattered.

 Maud was a female, but we can't say she was an active feminist, or probably more importantly, we can't say she was not independently minded because her determination as a woman and a painter proves otherwise. Maud was commercially successful, but we can't say she prospered from it and hired a studio full of technical assistants, agents, and media, like most glorified post modernists today. Maud was locally popular, but we can't say she was aware of it, or had any approval ratings to monitor, or facebook likes to tabulate. Maud wasn't LGBTO, but we can't say she wasn't unfairly marginalised or isolated because of her appearance. So the question remains; how could the portrayal of a female painter from a period of rural Nova Scotia's modernisation, today, suddenly start to unravel a happy, bucolic perspective on a simple folk way of life (as promoted by the province of Nova Scotia), and turn our gaze toward a question of cultural and poverty related exploitation?    

 Perhaps it starts with the Maud Lewis legacy, and the impact of her art on our perception of originality?

 Her subject matter, and related rural experience, and the regional discourse her art was intended to revolve around, was one steeped in an anti modernist perspective. Many rural Nova Scotians were suspicious of government policies and contemporary late capitalistic encroachment back in the 1940's to 1950's. If we could fast forward, one wonders what Maud would have to say about the Queens off shore tax haven involvement today? I bet she would smile, put her head down, and keep painting.  Yet in terms of Maud's art, it quickly was co-opted by the agency of the market place and their facilitators, and channelled through the standard rhetoric of news agencies uninterested in the real Maud, her time, and the larger picture of poverty, but rather a bucolic exchange of wares. In reality, co-opting our interest through the contemporary Maud has come with a hefty price tag, because the shadow of poverty that was cast over herself and her circumstances were more pervasive than we chose to acknowledge, and may be now coming back to haunt us.

That cast shadow was not far from where Maud And Everett lived, in fact it was only yards away in the form of the Marshalltown  Poor House.

As a vestige of the British Colonial work house, poor houses were intended to provide a solution for those unable to function within the prevailing economic system and social dimensions of the time. Maud Lewis would have been aware of the stigma that came with such an institution, and the variety of inmates, and their blurred divisions into sane and insane, unwed mothers and children, old and young, ill and healthy workers. 

To have been conscious of those that perished in the Alms House and subsequently buried without identification may have been the darkest part of the shadow lingering over the time of Maud. To rectify this, in the form of a Marshalltown Memorial would provide a value more lasting than any auction result could fathom, and be as colourful as one of Maud's paintings.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Maud: Reflection and Domination

Maud's View, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

Maud Returns to Point Prim, oil on masonite, Steven Rhude

The Maud Lewis story is by now legend in Nova Scotia and perhaps well on its way to the same status nationally, and no doubt already making inroads internationally. Certain elements stand out. A turn of the twentieth century birth, an unwed mother stricken with severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and the stigma of her child's adoption and denial, strange circumstances leading to a union with a poor and uneducated peddler living in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia,  and a shingle that said "paintings for sale" which was marketed, used and abused by the transition of culture from late capitalism into a neo liberal economy. Combined, these elements shed light on the culture of Nova Scotia rurality, as modernism marched its way past their painted door in Digby County.     

In many respects the Maud story is one of domination, both domestically, socially, and culturally. Maud, dominated by the conventions of the time, subjugated by a peddler from Marshalltown, their situation (especially for Maud) exacerbated as they were eventually left without contemporary transportation.

Assigned to hanging out a shingle "paintings for sale", the new world of the shop window tourist would eventually stop and snatch a piece of rural spirit in the form of panel paintings - some of which were painted on board reclaimed from the adjacent poor house - a dumping ground for orphans and the provincial destitute, and build collections for many elite, like Richard Nixon, that would supply a narrative for decades to come. A bucolic world, promoted, but in reality non existent in terms of Maud's circumstances; a world where the new economic landscape that has led to such catchy marketing phraseology like "you're richer than you think" was greasing its wheels.

Maud in Line to See Maudie, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

The reflection of domination continued into the early 1970's where claims made by ex patriot American professors and collectors like Gerry Ferguson on her legacy and other folk artists within the province, found NSCAD integrating the folk idiom into its conceptualist classroom of alternative selections, as the conservative conventions of landscape and figurative painting traditionally endorsed by educators promoting the academies of European historical derivation were kicked out on their proverbial keester. Maud and folk art was considered cool, and as Erin Morton stated, it was believed by some in the art college that in Nova Scotia "few artistic traditions were worth considering outside of contemporary folk art and even used this theory to explain the development of an internationally recognized conceptual art scene at NSCAD in the 1970's."

 In fact: "Ferguson's interest in folk art, thus, both complimented his own professional art practice and help to construct Nova Scotia's past as one of limited creative capacity due to regional isolation, artistic conservatism, and overall failure of the province's artists to keep pace with transnational late capitalistic economic and cultural developments."[1]

Other institutional players were linked to the theme of domination. Cultural facilitators such as the AGNS has indeed built much of its early reputation on the identity of Maud and in many respects continues to seesaw between the marketing of Maud related merchandise and the deeper meaning of her legacy as a painter. Peddling everything from Maud erasers to coffee mugs, ironically leading us back to Maud's original peddler - here Husband Everett.

The Peddler, oil on Masonite, Steven Rhude
The sponsorship of  contemporary art museums directly connects the public with the culture of neo liberal museum development in the 21st century. However more domination reflecting Maud's role is intertwined with the controversy not specifically of her art, but of the past and the image/identity of a lost age of Nova Scotia Folk lifestyle conveyed through marketing strategies. As Erin Morton states in For Folk's Sake: "Given its connection to historical presentist nostalgia for a lost capitalist age, Maud Lewis’s legacy in Nova Scotia continues to be a source of controversy. Yet, once institutional actors such as the AGNS, in partnership with Scotiabank, identified Lewis as a folk artist upon whom they could capitalise, her work no longer operated as items of local exchange or of commemoration within networks of small commodity producers and consumers. In an age of neoliberal museum development, the AGNS’s commodification of Lewis negotiated any contradictions in the historical presentist narrative with ease. The house in a sense became too valuable to leave in Digby County, even if there remained widespread investment in locating Lewis’s memory there. The provincial gallery thus did more than determine the ongoing significance of of Lewis’s place in artistic circles of Nova Scotia. In ways typical of the neoliberal era, the AGNS capitalized significantly on Lewis as a representative of a widespread postwar mythology that the neoliberal fantasy seeks to debunk – namely, dastardly unions and welfare bums getting in the way of hard working people such as Maud and Everett.”[2]

In the end, one might summarise this situation with an analogy staged between Maud and Everett's contributions, and the current industry dominating a seemingly perfuming of our rural conceptions regarding economy and art.
Lance Woolaver, The Heart on the Door: 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." [3]   

[1] Erin Morton, For Folk's Sake
[2]Erin Morton, Ibid
[3] Lance Woolaver, The Heart on the Door

Steven Rhude Wolfville, NS

Friday, 18 August 2017

Marshalltown 101

Everett's Underwear, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

Marshalltown 101, Poor House Miser, oil on masonite, Steven Rhude

"The development of folk art for a museum audience in the late twentieth-century Nova Scotia coincided with changes in art education and the sales market more generally. Much like conceptualism, contemporary folk art in Nova Scotia became a site for new, academically trained arrivals to explore an artistic counter culture set quite apart from the elite collecting circles across North America that had so marked the early twentieth century and the foundation of most metropolitan art museums, include the NSMFA. The late 1960s and early 1970s had seen an influx of new MFA - degree programs across the United States - fifty three programs in studio art were inaugurated between 1965 and 1974. "  - Erin Morton, For Folk's Sake

 Many trained MFA holders at NSCAD were convinced to rally around alternatively distinctive forms of art - thus folk art became a focal point for artistic discourse within the educational institution. Gerald Ferguson and others brought a framework of folk art to the fine art world while the 1967 Centennial spurred on, along with  government funding, the new AGNS on Hollis Street. However concurrently, Chris Huntington and his collector influence transformed folk art into a museum industry for the AGNS, and, as one can confirm it is still going strong through the profits earned through marketing efforts and Maud Lewis sales today.

  As Erin Morton says: " an abundance of graduate - trained artist - professors who had a much different experience with the art market than collectors did and struggled to get their own artwork out to commercial galleries. Ferguson found himself at the centre of all these nodes. "

 One could say that the new academy was being formed - one where as Erin Morton pointed out : "Ironically, liberation from the privileged hierarchy of elite collectors and critics also spurred on new class of patrons and institutions around contemporary folk art; in "circumstances antithetical to folk culture itself, a folk art field  - with critics, galleries, collectors, scholars, and even a canon of it's own master works - would be cultivated." [1]

[1] Karp quoted in Ardeny, The Temptation 157

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS


Monday, 14 August 2017

Home is where your house is

Home is Where your House Is, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

Marshalltown Road, Fixing it up for Maud, oil on canvas, Steven Rhude

"The AGNS has Maud's house..and when I visit the gallery it feels like Maud is opposed to Marshalltown with the MacKay - Lyons memorial...Maud doesn't live there any more. "Home is where you hang your hat"...I heard that a lot being a military brat..but really it is home is where your house is...and Maud lives in Halifax." - Laura Kenney

"When MacKay - Lyons erected his replica of the of the Lewis home in 1996, Riordon heralded it as "a modern, symbolic steel house" and noted it was the result of "a community effort that reaches beyond the borders of Digby County to embrace the whole province." The AGNS's promotional materials for the event invited interested parties to "visit the original Maud Lewis house, now carefully restored and protected, and to see many of Maud Lewis' paintings and artifacts... [at] the Scotia Bank Maud Lewis Gallery at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax."  [1]

Well, there was one lone voice that was critical of the mostly rust resistant "steel cage" memorial designed by the renowned Nova Scotian modernist. Her name was Bette Saunders of Toronto and she let it be known in a letter to the Digby Courier that the cairn was "a monstrosity and a complete insult to Ms. Lewis... While the structure may be dimensionally correct, as a memorial it should be destroyed...  The memorial makes it look like she lived in a steel cage... it is a waste of money... Whoever is responsible should be ashamed!" [2]

Bette Saunders is not alone nowadays. It may be she has morphed into an activist internet based group phenomenon that relishes the call to destroy public art, or any art for that matter. The ability to  convict artists via an unabated mock public trial, whether it pertains to Danna Schutz's painting of  Emitt Till, statues of Cornwallis, the quantum DNA of Joseph Boydon, or the Govenor General's award to Gord Downie continues. No subject or individual is sacrosanct in today's identity political arena. The carnage flows as we contemplate the war on cultural appropriation and the various activist based groups willing to tear down anything that they might find disagreeable. This is our world today - just follow the facebook page of Canadian Art Magazine for a month and you might find yourself asking what happened to the art?

However, Bette Saunders did inspire one thing for me, a desire to visit the steel cage in Marshalltown and experience for myself if MacKay - Lyons' work conveyed anything of the sustaining spirit of Maud, and whether it levered a sense of the difficult and tragic circumstances that comprised the lives of Maud and Everett. The cage is a replacement to the original dwelling that was moved to the AGNS with the financial assistance of Scotia Bank. But what about the spirit of Maud?

 Frankly, it left me unmoved as does a lot of modernist architecture and memorials do. Steel doesn't absorb sound, it deflects it. There is no respite in this cage from the monologue of steel. Traffic predominates over the sounds of robins chirping in the background. One doesn't sense Maud or Everett - only the tenets of an art movement that ran concurrent to their own anti-modernist lives.

 A house is a living narrative. Wood and plaster absorb the sounds of people, animals, the fog and moisture of a maritime climate; and so speak to the history of the occupants that wear that climate like a suit of skin, the way a stream or river whispers it's own previously undisclosed discourse of the place it cuts though for the individual willing to relinquish their own language.

Were Maud to come back she might be inclined to redecorate the steel cage, the way she inspirited her own house with the sounds and visuals of the world she experienced outside her own window, and the way she redecorated the AGNS with her particular brand of folk imagery without even knowing it.

[1] Erin Morton, For Folk's Sake, pg. 255
[2] Tourism Finds Memorial a Monstrosity [letter to the editor] Digby Courier, April 1998

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS