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. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/maud-lewis-movie-marketing-campaign-boost-agns-visits-1.4248929

  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 present..as 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

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Maud, Everett, Flowers, and that space in between

Flowers for Maud, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

Maud, Everett and that space in between, oil on canvas, Steven Rhude

Artist notebook: Maud & Everett - I can perceive only this for now: that they represent the Woman of the East with the Man of the East. Anti-modernists without knowledge of the term. Vulnerable to the tangled skein of a life choice distortion by those with a penchant for institutionalizing them and Maud's image. Unknown to Maud and Everett, were the terms of an artistic movement that became Nova Scotia's new identity; a simple folk way of life that would become the antidote for a sputtering cultural economy perched in tourism's shop window for all to partake. However, for Maud, the reality was one of making pictures; her only true way out - serial painting, like pop radio plays the top ten hits over and over. Maud made the paintings and Everett pocketed the cash. Modernism passed by their door and a white space between them developed as Maud's popularity grew.

 For Everett, a poor house miser, one wonders if he ever brought Maud flowers? Tucked away in mason jars and a lock box, Everett buried his insecurities in the ground in the form of cash from Maud's painting industry. Everett may have wondered how long this would keep the wolf from his eastern door. However, God caught up with Everett, in the form of an afternoon visit from an evangelical minister named Stephen Wade on new years eve, 1978. God compelled Stephen Wade to go back after passing the tiny house, and save poor Everett. Everett acquiesced, and Stephen Wade left knowing Everett thanked God for saving him. [1]
Later that day though, death came looking for Everett in the form of a aggressive youth. Murdered during a struggle after an evening break in by a young man looking for Everett's cash,  this put an end to the life of the peddler of Marshalltown. 

[1] http://sweainc.com/the-maud-and-everett-lewis-story.html

 Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS


Sunday, 6 August 2017

Maud returns from the dead

Das Bedürfnis, Leiden beredt werden zu lassen, ist Bedingung aller Wahrheit.

(The need to lend a voice to suffering [literally: "to let suffering be eloquent"] is the condition of all truth)”
― Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics

"The Alternative, the Poor Farm in Marshalltown, out in the country, was run as follows: If an unwed mother, circa 1930, gave birth, she and the child were removed by bailiff to the county of the mother's birth, turned over to the settlement sheriff and locked up with the poor and insane of the settlement county farm. What happened next depended entirely on the worth of the Matron, often the spouse of the keeper, Standards varied." - Lance Woolaver [1]

"Historically, online there is a picture and small blurb about the Poor Farm or Poor House as it was locally known. It is now the site of the Maude Lewis heritage park. "The County Incorporation Act of 1879 stated that each county was now responsible for building their own poor house. The Alms House was built in 1891. There was one prior to this but nothing is known about it. The Alms House became the 'dumping grounds' for single mothers, children, the mentally ill. or anyone else who could not survive independently in the community. As always horror stories of abuse and neglect were familiar. The residents were often at the mercy of the keeper. One keeper, Guy Thomas, was said to have fed half of Digby from the Poor House. In 1963 the Alms House was closed. It burned down in 1995 by an arsonist." - Carol Harding, Genealogist.

Hanging Everett Out to Dry, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

Maud Returns From the Dead (Asylum Road), oil on masonite, Steven Rhude

Artist's Notebook: Why in an age of genetics and Neuroscience, are ghosts still universally accepted?

  A long held belief that ghosts were created at the time of a person’s death inspires a surreal perspective, for the notion that Maud's true story ended in 1970 with her life has no bearing on a painting or a rug hooking, let alone the imagination of the artist behind the work. That Maud may have travelled to the underworld to dwell for a time and then return is the lively stuff of myth and imaginary retribution, a haunting of the mind, yet suggesting two characteristics concurrent with the notion of justice and penance contemplated by the artist.

The first contends with sacrifices from the living, whom the ghost could inflict with punishment or some kind of vengeance - this is the ghost of reprisal and should be considered in terms of Everett Lewis's apparent control over Maud.  What better place for this metaphorical scenario to unfold than the rural backyard clothesline. "Hanging Everett Out to Dry" conveys a multitude of possibilities as Everett ponders his new world upside down and is given time to assess his humorous imprisonment, and what it can mean for him in terms of his relationship with Maud.

The second characteristic contends with the idea that the intentions of ghosts were quite often good and helpful. In Maud's case returning to Marshalltown Road to guide the living to a path of goodness and honour may frame the literal intent of myth, but her own misgivings invariably enter the picture on a less tangible level, but with another ghostly motive.The disconnection between Maud and her orphaned daughter Catherine Dowley lingered unresolved during her life time - it is the job of the ghost (or vicariously through the artist) to seek reconciliation from that which was left irreconcilable.

[1] Maud Lewis, The Heart on the Door by Lance Woolaver
Chapter 31 - Asylum Road, pg. 161

Laura Kenney, Steven Rhude: Saving Maud, Secord Gallery, Halifax NS. opening September 8th, 


Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Day Maud Died

"Who would true valour see,
let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
come wind, come weather.
There's no discouragement,
 shall make him once relent,
 His first avowed intent
 To be a pilgrim." - John Bunyan's Original Version, To be a Pilgrim

The Day Maud Died, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

The Day Maud Died, oil on masonite, Steven Rhude

What constitutes the spirit of a house? This question may indeed point to the reason so many made their way to Maud's house, to meet Maud, and leave with a painting commemorating their journey and experience. A desire to apprehend and understand a particular spirit that was on her own pilgrimage - the sacred site being her own memories of Nova Scotia made manifest through panel boards, paint, and a corner studio with a window. Her grid to a point of departure. Her way out of the restrictions imposed upon her by the conventions of her body and rural society.

However, as much as the tiny house became a barrier to the outside world and the restrictions imposed upon her by her husband Everett - in a physical and psychological sense limiting Maud's freedom; it's window, must have become a buttress of assurance. As she projected her vision outwards, so must have it been reflected back on Maud, knowing her paintings would engage us with her world. A dichotomy between the most personal and public of worlds. A window of equilibrium.

In many respects, The desire to save Maud is a metaphorical one; by focusing on her journey it may be we are as Laura Kenney says: "saving Maud on a bunch of levels....freeing her from Everett... freeing her from her health limitations...", and freeing her from the institutionalizing of a limited image framed in the shop window of historicism, tourism, and public galleries, far from her community of origin. It may be, Kenney goes on to say, "one of the reasons people love Maud so much is that she rose above her circumstances. We are all Maud in this respect...or at least want to be Maud." But this kind of presence can meet with adversity beyond the grave too. 

From Lance Woolaver's The Heart on the Door pg 209: "With Maud, and beginning with a remnant rug, the house became a constant spring of visitors and art. Everett could never countenance this thing, this spark of Maud and the welcoming, warm and human nature of her decorations. He would take the benefits, and claim them, but he never understood what he chanced upon. People think a harvest moon is just for them: As soon as Maud had passed along, he would obliterate every brushstroke and reminder of her presence.

Ev would believe - it does him credit - that there was something in the house that made it special. His belief would become a prophesy... what Everett would do suggested that he knew the house was special, but he never knew why."  

The artist's dream: It was in a solem dream that on the day Maud died, there were flowers and her favourite birds - harbingers of spirit and freedom. In that dream, her funeral was attended by local fishermen who also attended to rescue lifeboats in times of emergency.

Laura Kenney, Steven Rhude: Saving Maud, Secord Gallery, Halifax NS. opening September 8th, 


Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS


Friday, 28 July 2017

Saving Maud

Bringing it Back to Marshalltown, rug hooking, Laure Kenney

Marshalltown Road, oil on masonite, Steven Rhude

 "As long as I've got a brush in front of me, I'm alright." - Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis


 Maud Lewis makes this defiant statement at the end of the CBC documentary 'Folk artist Maud Lewis at work in her Nova Scotian home'. [1] In the 1965 profile, CBC's Telescope introduces viewers to the artist and her husband at work in and around their house, and speaks to friends and supporters. It frames Maud and Everett Lewis as anti modernists caught up in the wake of a nostalgic view from the Digby region of a province rapidly embracing changes that came with modernism and the respective economic circumstances influencing rural existence at the time. Aggressively putting Nova Scotia history and folk culture in the shop window for all to see became a government strategy fully illuminated by the work of folk artists who were by and large male, and employed or retired from land and sea based resource industries. Maud has been the celebrated exception to the rule. Maud simply made paintings, and sold paintings - lots of them.

The 1965 CBC documentary brought Maud to a national audience, and helped set in motion a series of events that eventually institutionalised her small house over to a newly minted (1975) Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, along with a folk art program that the AGNS mined and branded with the help of collectors, academics, curators, and corporate marketing strategies deployed by Scotia Bank. Today Maud Lewis is Nova Scotia's most celebrated folk artist.

However, "Saving Maud", may be an intriguing title if for no other reason it prompts a few questions:  whom is doing the saving? How can someone like Maud who is dead be saved? Or, notwithstanding her death in 1970, what might Maud be in need of saving from?

Part One - Whom is doing the saving?

"Steven Rhude and Laura Kenney struck up a rich friendship over the past few years after a heated Facebook exchange prompted the two to look carefully at each others work. As each got to know the other better, a deep mutual respect grew. The two found strength in their disparate practices, and each is inspired by the other's intelligence and humor. These bonds are common amongst artists who, away from the usual camaraderie that develops in offices, around water coolers, or over the lunch table, often work in isolation. In the Atlantic Provinces, this solitude can be stupefying, and small pockets of artistic collaboration are born to feed a need for critical communication, feedback and encouragement. Strength in numbers."

 - Sarah Fillmore, Chief Curator, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, from Terroir A Nova Scotia Survey

After Terroir, Laura Kenney and I continued to discuss regionalization and Nova Scotian culture. As the subject of Maud arose, we thought to unearth another Maud with an exhibition of paintings and rug hookings, and our reasons appeal to the premise that the picture we currently see of Maud through the lens of various Provincial or institutional campaigns, is not necessarily the one that fully encompasses the person we have come to know as Maudie, and the contemporary folk culture experience. Through our art, and via the exchange with each other's ideas, drawings, books on Maud, and correspondence, our Maud comes back from the dead, goes to see her own movie, has her portrait done with Everett, and redirects her house back to Marshalltown Road and the community where it originated. To see her legacy through another artistic lens forms the intent, yet with the understanding that in reality, how could we really ever know an artist like Maud? 

This is part one of a number of blogs to be continued over the next month on the subject of 'Saving Maud' in conjunction with our exhibition at Secord Gallery in Halifax. 

Laura Kenney, Steven Rhude: Saving Maud, Secord Gallery, Halifax NS. opening September 8th, 2017.

[1] http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/folk-artist-maud-lewis-at-work-in-her-nova-scotia-home

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS


Friday, 30 June 2017

Roxanne rows to Abbozzo Gallery

Roxanne Rowing off Canso During WW2, oil on canvas, 52" x 32". Steven Rhude

Abbozzo Gallery, Toronto: In honour of Canada Day and the 150th anniversary of Confederation, we’ve mounted an exhibition in the Main Gallery and The Project Room featuring art work by our artists from across the country, representing different areas of Canada, and sometimes art work that just has the colour red! 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Colville's Dilemma, oil on masonite, 24" x 24", Steven Rhude

  “Against a regiment I oppose a brain, and a dark horse against an armoured train.”
- Roy Campbell

I moved to Wolfville NS. from Lunenburg about six years ago to provide reliable and good public education for my two boys. Wolfville seemed like a sensible place to live. It didn't seem to like to eat its young, it didn't shutter its own schools and export children over an hour down the road to some isolated field for indoctrination. It has a university art gallery with strong cultural programming, a vibrant main street, a town  council that listens to it's citizens, and somehow it has developed the sense of an inter generational community that I haven't experienced else where.

Living in Wolfville, the Colville legacy came as a bonus. He gave credibility to the vocation of being an artist. He made rurality a part of his existential equation that had a recognized appeal. For anyone who wanted to think about painting as a serious affair, he was a perfect example to cite, so it seems fitting to save Colville's Horse and Train homage for last.

 I never met Alex Colville, my wife Simone did though, when she interviewed him for a study sponsored by the University of Waterloo regarding why artists settle by choice in rural regions rather than urban centres. Linking the study with groups, Alex was critical and noted he disliked most artist collectives like the group of Seven for instance. However, his interview was insightful and revealed his strong individuality, thought process, and knowledge of small town life. Wolfville was good for Colville, an ideal place to chart his way using his own painting, through a world on a collision course between old ideals and new technology,  - a modern drama destined to play out before his and our very own eyes. It may be he sensed that the later half of the twentieth century train was in desperate need of a brakeman, but that point too seemed to have been passed by. 

A person familiar with the Tantramar Marshes in New Brunswick would probably recognize the stage Colville chose for that powerful, dark horse charging down the tracks. In reality a forgone conclusion, but painting is never reality, and horses can and do stare down a one eyed steel demon where all other agencies may have failed. So existentially, we don't quite know the outcome of this collision of thought. But we can and are currently still experiencing it.

Colville considered the work exceedingly morbid and that it would probably never attract a private collector (although that would likely not be the case today), so the Art Gallery of Hamilton snapped up a national icon, and with it a disturbing and on going narrative.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

de Chrico's Voyage

de Chirico's Voyage, oil on masonite, 24" x 20", Steven Rhude

"In the neighborhood I grew up in, people did not spend time outside their houses. I often played games as a child that centered around life after a neutron bomb. I would imagine I was the only person left alive; solitary, playing with my Hula-hoop in the driveway; the TVs flickering through the windows of houses nearby were simply remnants of a lost civilization. If I walked into one, I’d find a skeleton sitting in a La-Z-Boy bathed in the glow of The Price Is Right."
 - Cara Hoffman


Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS


Monet's Moment

Monet's Moment, oil on masonite, 24" x 24", Steven Rhude

"For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life - the air and the light which vary continually. For me, it is only the, surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value."
  • Claude Monet (1891); as quoted in: National Gallery of Australia, ‎Michael Lloyd, ‎Michael Desmond (1992), European and American paintings and sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery, p. 75

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Cipher

Matisse's Blue Cipher, oil on masonite, 14" x 12", Steven Rhude

To Shear:
1. To remove (fleece or hair) by cutting or clipping.
2. To remove the hair or fleece from.
3. To cut with or as if with shears: shearing a hedge.
4. To divest or deprive as if by cutting

Even though it makes a good story that the aged Matisse turned to cut outs as illness struck, it is known that he first experimented with the concept in the 1930's. However, "drawing in space", as Matisse called it, suggests a code or disguised form of expression, and with a pair of tailor shears it is nothing short of enchanting as his late work involved large hand painted coloured papers, cutting, pins, and the flux of compositional manuvering. 

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Monday, 15 May 2017


Picasso's Dream, oil on masonite, 24" x 24", Steven Rhude

Picasso in many respects was one big dream, or nightmare depending on how one views his art and time, and his various artistic periods. Picasso's portrayal of contemporary man and his wars, was very much the story of man's inhumanity to man with little time to consider the consequences of his actions, or spiritual decline. Carnality for Picasso was the antidote.

 Dreaming turbulently, mirroring an image of the twentieth century, Picasso's world was deeply inhabited by those women he seduced and transformed into his muses, consuming them until his creativity was almost exhausted, enough so that a new muse was needed to enable the dream to continue, and so making their dreams into his dream as the cycle of the artist/model manifested.

The muse for Picasso's "The Dream" was Marie-Thérèse Walter whom he met when she was seventeen and he in his forties. In 1977, four years after Picasso’s death, Marie-Thérèse Walter hung herself in the garage of her home in France. She was 68 years old.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Olympia's Gaze

Olympia's Gaze, oil on masonite, 20" x 24", Steven Rhude

“The word scandal originates in the Greek skandalon, which means "trap, snare, stumbling block." The viewers of Olympia at the 1865 salon acted as if they were trapped by this provocative image, able to respond only with derisive hostility and contempt. Indeed, the
Bourgeois public took such offense at this apparent affront to its morality that the painting
had to be rehung high up out of its retaliatory reach. Not even professional critics, as Clark has demonstrated, were able to articulate any kind of coherent, intelligent response to Olympia in terms of form, content, technique, sources, or purpose.  They did little more than confirm the public's offended incomprehension. Like the Goncourts viewing La Paiva, the journalists seem to have relished their reduction of the prostitute to a dead and decomposing body, a painted corpse. Their rhetoric may be sensational and hyperbolic, but its emphasis on absence, negativity, lack, and decay reveals a deep seated anxiety that is at once expressed and controlled through this morbid imagery.”

- Charles Bernheimer, Manet's Olympia: The Figuration of Scandal

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Lemieux's Solitude, oil on masonite, 14" x 13", Steven Rhude

Jean Paul Lemieux's painting "The Nun" was born into existence in nineteen sixty seven. It was the phenomenon of the summer of love, primarily in San Fransisco, but celebrated also throughout parts the rest of the US and Canada. A counter culture then held the belief that "A new concept of celebrations beneath the human underground must emerge, become conscious, and be shared, so a revolution can be formed with a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind."[1]

  Throughout the twentieth century, Jean Paul Lemieux lived with the power of the Catholic clergy's long and sustained role in Quebec politics, culture and the domestic environment. Inspired by the Italian primitives, Lemieux found a way to both capture the moral rigidity and loneliness, (yet with an undercurrent of humour) of those called to a religious order and monastic life. It paved the way for the solitude inherent in his mature work.

For a long time Lemieux had painted sur le motif: directly and immediately from nature, often outdoors, but from the end of the 1950s on he worked in his studio, without models, using only daylight for illumination. “I am painting … an interior world. I have stored up a lot of things.”5  His free approach was in many ways similar to the practice of abstract painters: “You are guided by the picture much more often than you guide it. And that can lead to results completely unlike what you may have intended or planned.”6 -  https://www.aci-iac.ca/jean-paul-lemieux/technique-and-style#Primitivism

[1] San Francisco Oracle, Vol.1, Issue 5, p.2

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Friday, 12 May 2017

Thérésa at the Alcazar

Degas' Song, oil on masonite, 24" x 24", Steven Rhude

“Degas’s interest in depicting the energetic and evocative gestures of such performers,” write Saywell and Wolohojian, “is reflected in a letter in which he urges a friend to ‘go at once to hear Thérésa at the Alcazar. She opens her large mouth and there emerges the most roughly, the most delicately, the most spiritually tender voice imaginable.’”


Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Hopper's Door

Hopper's Door to the Sea, oil on masonite, 16" x 14", Steven Rhude  

Ever since I read Gail Levin's bio on Edward Hopper, I've had mixed feelings about his art. I realise ones art should stand alone and the separation of church and state is a reasonable maxim when thinking of the relationship between two married artists, as was the case with Jo and Edward Hopper. However, painting is never so compartmentalised as that, and neither are people. In Jo's case freedom equated with latitude - the mobile kind we take for granted today. In the 1950's that latitude came in the form of a car.

Jo Hopper was fiercely independent and realised that driving an automobile (as it was called back then) gave one a kind of liberty for all sorts of things, especially from the confines of a Truro summer retreat and an over bearing husband.

"Although occupied with painting, Jo renewed her campaign to drive. Harking back to her strongest argument, she again threatened to sell the house unless Edward let her practise: "I was tired of being prisoner on this hill 2 miles from a bus & such 2 miles of deep sand & long hills to trudge over on foot." When he did allow her to drive back from Provincetown, he let her go only ten or fifteen miles per hour." [1]

At the time Rooms by the Sea was painted, it was believed Hopper suffered from lethargy, and saw a physician. Subsequently from Jo Hopper: "Six days later, he was "struggling to get new canvas started - having such a bad time. It is an open door with a sea outside & strong pattern of light inside house. Looks like only a diagram as yet." [2]

History reports that the canvas improved as it diverged from the reality of the actual house. Steps were removed and a horizon was reinstated in the final version. Like much of Hopper's work, departure plays a role in the philosophical underpinnings of his visual observation. Hopper seeking liberty through the motif of the western door, Jo, from access to the western automobile. Later on at Christmas, Hopper's gift to Jo was Arthur Rimbaud's poetry in French inscribed: "La petite chatte qui decouvre ses griffes presque tous les jours. Joyeux Noel, 1951 ("to the little cat who bares her claws almost every day")

[1] [2] Edward Hopper, An Intimate Biography, Gail Levin pg. 442

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS



Tuesday, 9 May 2017

O'keeffes's Long Week End

O'keeffe's Bones, oil on masonite, 16" x 14.5", Steven Rhude

"I would have been willing to stay on in Canada if it hadn't been so terribly cold," she declared.

No doubt about it, Georgia O'keeffe was not only one of the best modern painters of her time, but also a warm weather gal. Out of her element when it came to Canada, with it's climatic warehouse of cold fronts claimed by American weather millenarianists, to be regularly exported down to the mid western states, eastern seaboard, and further, surely to disrupt their Edenic enterprise prior to the second coming, Georgia was having nothing to do with this, or cold weather repentance. She wanted warmth and dry bones. 

Notwithstanding the surreal popularity of her landscapes and flowers, it was her bones that did it for this snowlander. The idea of a bleached artifact isolating through it's cavity the graphic solidity of a New Mexico sky, or the idea of a ghost ranch where bones were scattered in one's yard, or where "Ghost Ranch folks replaced the pump on her well" [1], just made the O'keeffe myth grow tenfold for me, as her work continued to address the nature of space and development in America.

It's good to see Georgia back on Canadian soil. Our apologies for the weather.

[1] https://www.ghostranch.org/explore/georgia-okeeffe/

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Friday, 28 April 2017

Jeanne's Plunge

Modiglianni's Muse, oil on masonite, 13.5" x 27.5", Steven Rhude

A lot of artists meet their soul mates in art college. Some unions last, while others disintegrate quickly. Jeanne Hébuterne  had a talent for drawing, and chose to study at the Académie Colarossi. It was there in the spring of 1917 that she was introduced to Amedeo Modigliani. Three years later, while pregnant, she pitched herself out of an apartment window to her death.

"The last drawing Jeanne made in the 40 hours or so that passed from the moment of Amedeo’s death to that of her own shows her lying dead, with a stiletto in her hand, on the bed where she used to sit for Modi." [1] 

An account: On 24 January 1920 Amedeo Modigliani died. Jeanne Hébuterne's family brought her to their home but Jeanne threw herself out of the fifth-floor apartment window two days after Modigliani's death, killing herself and her unborn child. Her family, who blamed her demise on Modigliani, interred her in the Cimetière de Bagneux. Nearly ten years later, the Hébuterne family finally relented and allowed her remains to be transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery to rest beside Modigliani. Her epitaph reads: "Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice." [2]

[1] http://modernartconsulting.ru/en/2013/03/jeanne-hebuterne/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_H%C3%A9buterne


Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Fish out of Water

Red Fish, oil on canvas, Steven Rhude
Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?
If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city--
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

T. S. Eliot at his typewriterAsh on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house-
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.
There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.
Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.
In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: "What! are you here?"
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other--
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: "The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember."
And he: "I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
First, the cold fricton of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and sould begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer."
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.
There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives - unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation - not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as an attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of not immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us - a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot- 1955Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

The Little Gidding is the last of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. For a good biographical site on Eliot and some analysis of his poetry, go to the Academy of American Poet's website.