Focus

By: 
Greg Forrest Gallery Animator

Maud Lewis’ Sleigh Ride

Take a look at the Maud Lewis painting Sleigh Ride (c 1960s). Take a close look. Notice anything strange? Maud painted the same scenes and subjects over and over and sleigh rides were one she returned to often. This painting stands out for the fact that it depicts a joyous sleigh ride while all the trees have green leaves. It’s summertime!

This is an instance of Maud exercising artistic license. Artistic license is a creator’s permission to freely follow their imagination rather than adhering to an exterior set of rules. Maud Lewis did this often in scenes of sleigh rides through blazing autumn foliage. Technically it might be possible to have enough snow on the ground to ride a sleigh in southern Nova Scotia in October, but it is highly unlikely. The reason for the autumn leaves is colour. Maud loved colour and red, orange and yellow trees are more fun to paint than barren branches.

If a sleigh ride in an autumn landscape is somewhat possible, the sleigh ride through green foliage is a nightmare in real life. The shoulder season of mid-spring in Nova Scotia is a time of mercurial weather. It can be summery one day and snowy the next as the weather lurches from cold to warm. In 2018, Nova Scotia lost the majority of its apple, blueberry, grape and strawberry crops due to a frost on June 4. A spring snowfall is disheartening, to say the least. We Nova Scotians cherish our brief and beautiful summers. This year we shut ourselves inside in late winter and like never before we’re hopeful for what summer may bring.

Maud Lewis lived in a tiny little home with no electricity and plumbing. While there were people walking on the Moon, she and Everett lived a mostly pre-modern life that was attuned to the rhythms of the changing seasons. She painted everything from tulips in spring, hummingbirds in summer, deer in the fall and logging with oxen in winter. It’s almost always sunny in her paintings. Year round she sat in her chair by the window painting her world. What made her paint a sleigh ride in summer? Maybe she painted it on a hot July day, thinking it would be fun to take a ride in the snow or maybe it was a frosty January day and she was dreaming of warmth. She had the artistic license to paint whatever she wanted.

Image Credit: 

Maud Lewis, Sleigh Ride (c 1960s), Oil on pulpboard, 26.5 x 30.0 cm. On loan from the Department of Tourism and Culture, 1995. TL1995.1