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.


Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS