The History of the Maud Lewis Painted House

The little house that would come to be known as the Maud Lewis Painted House was originally purchased by Everett Lewis in 1926. It was moved from its original location by team of oxen to a small plot of land where Maud and Everett would eventually live together. Maud moved into the house in 1938 after her marriage to Everett and lived there until her death in 1970, painting on any surface she could. She painted on walls, mirrors, wallpaper and household items such as bread boxes and tea cannisters; she even painted on their large cast-iron stove! Much like how we decorate our homes today as a reflection of our personalities, Maud used what she had available to her to decorate her home as a reflection of her own personality.

Painted House Objects

Aside from the house itself, Maud’s artwork was a commercial endeavor. She sold her cards and paintings to contribute to the household income. Because of this, the house is viewed as the one work of art that Maud painted for herself, acting as a reflection of her personal style and taste. The house also helped to give Maud and her paintings a reputation. The colourful house on the side of the road drew visitors and locals alike, a great advertisement for her paintings.

During the nine years that Everett lived in the house after Maud’s death he updated its exterior, painting the roof and gutter, selling the iconic storm door and painting little evergreen trees on the shingles. He did not, however, alter the interior. Everett was in his mid-eighties at the time of his death, and his age likely impacted his ability to maintain the house in his final years. Still, he lived in the house without running water or electricity much like he would have when he first bought the house almost forty years earlier. The roof and wood were also in need of repairs that went undone. After his death the house reached an almost unsalvageable state, the lack heat from the large stove running constantly only exacerbated the deterioration.

Maud Lewis House pre Restoration

Concerned citizens from the Digby area came together to create the Maud Lewis Painted House Society with the goal to save what they saw as an important cultural landmark. The Society had great plans for restoring the house in its original location and opening a neighbouring museum. As time went on, they were unable to secure the resources needed for such a large project and in 1984 it was decided that the Government of Nova Scotia would purchase the house for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to restore and display permanently. However, the Gallery was unable to secure a space large enough for the house and exhibition at that time, and the house remained in storage, unrestored, for nearly ten years.

Finally, in 1994 the gallery was able to secure space in its neighbouring building in order to expand the Gallery and to accommodate the Maud Lewis Painted House. In 1996, with funds from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage and from private individuals, the processes of conservation and restoration began. Led by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia's former senior conservator, Laurie Hamilton, a team of conservators was put together to begin extensive work on the house.

Conservation of the ML House

The restoration of the house was a complex project. It was executed in stages beginning with stabilizing the structure itself. During this stage, conservators found that the house was made of the recycled parts of a pre-existing structure. Although there is no indication of what structure had been repurposed into the small house, this information certainly added a layer to the rich history of the structure itself. The team then moved on to treating, finding or replacing items from inside the home. Based on photographs taken in 1965 by photo-journalist Bob Brooks and other sources, the team was able to determine what the interior looked like and the objects it held. Missing items were tracked down or historically accurate versions of those items were acquired or created. The team worked hard to conserve items that were still inside the house, such as the stove, food cannisters, wallpaper and more. To this day, almost all the furnishings on display are original to the house except for a few items that were damaged beyond repair, for which suitable replacements were found. When the conservation process was done, the team had successfully restored the interior of the house to how it looked in the mid-1960s, and the exterior to how it looked when Everett died in 1979.

Maud Lewis Painted House

The conserved Maud Lewis Painted House opened to the public in June of 1998. Since its opening, the House has attracted visitors and fans from across the globe and remains one of the most popular exhibitions in the Gallery. Lead conservator Laurie Hamilton once wrote that “each new visitor finds delight and inspiration in [Maud’s] joyous vision.” (p. 123, Our Maud). That delight and inspiration only continues to grow thanks to the dedication of the many people involved in saving, restoring and displaying the Maud Lewis Painted House.

To explore the Maud Lewis Painted House visit the Virtual Tour of the Maud Lewis Gallery on our website.

To learn more about the conservation of the house, check out the book The Painted House of Maud Lewis: Conserving a Folk Art Treasure by Laurie Hamilton.

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Maud Lewis
[Interior of ] Maud Lewis House, Date Unknown
4.4 x 4.1 x 3.8 m
Purchased by the Province of Nova Scotia, 1984. A1998.1

Maud Lewis
Painted Yellow Bread Box with Two Doors, c 1960s
Oil on metal, 36.9 x 38.0 x 35.5 cm
Purchased by the Province of Nova Scotia, 1984

Maud Lewis
Painted Cookie Tin with Flowers, c 1960s
Oil on metal 21.0 x 15.8 x 15.8 cm
Purchased by the Province of Nova Scotia, 1984

Maud Lewis House pre-restoration.

Conservator Jennifer McLaughlin concentrating on the restoration of the Maud Lewis House.

Maud Lewis
Maud Lewis House, Date Unknown
4.4 x 4.1 x 3.8 m
Purchased by the Province of Nova Scotia, 1984. A1998.1