”As long as I have a brush in my hand and a window in front of me, I’m all right..”
Based on a true story, the outstanding independent film Maudie charts the unlikely romance between Maud Lewis, a folk artist who blossoms in later life, and the curmudgeonly recluse, Everett.
The film is directed by Aisling Walsh from a screenplay by Sherry White, with Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Mrs Brown, The Hollow Crown< Happy Go Lucky) as Maude Summers and Ethan Hawke (Dead Poets Society, Boyhood,) as the hardened reclusive bachelor, Everett Lewis.
Director Aisling Walsh’ Vision Statement
I first read the screenplay in a hotel room in Cardiff in Wales. It had been sent to me earlier that day. Often the first time I read a script I read as fast as I can. Keep turning the pages. Whatever stays with you after that first read is the thing that will haunt you. Whatever that picture or pictures are will stay with you. Maud Lewis started to haunt me that evening. Everything about her. I got online. I started to search for her pictures. With me that means I am half way there – half way to saying yes I want in. I was fascinated by her struggle to be an artist having trained as one myself.
The first picture I found was a black and white photograph of Maud towards the end of her life. She was standing hunched in the doorway of her little house. You can see her small painting table beside the window. Everett is standing outside with some logs in his arms. I couldn’t get the image of a wounded bird and a scarecrow out of my mind. Maud and Everett – outsiders. Loners. Silent.
The second picture I found was her painting of ‘Three Black Cats’ Then I kept going.
More paintings all beautifully composed and colourful. The landscape. Everett. Children. Animals. What she saw from the window of her little house. Seasons changing. Time passing. Then I found an image of the interior of the house. This crazy colourful interior that told the story of Maud’s life in her 12’X12′ surroundings. Of Everett’s life. Of a marriage. A portrait of two outsiders. Two loners that find one another.
Maud’s struggle to be the artist she wanted to be grabbed hold of me. I knew I had to try and make this film. In a notebook I always carry I wrote a name down. Sally Hawkins. I knew that if I was going to make this film I had to make it with Sally. We had adored working together some years before and maybe this was the project we had been searching for ever since that first time.
I spoke to the producers. We arranged to meet. We needed to be sure we were going to like one another. Needed to know we were making the same film. A few days later I emailed Sally. I sent her those first two pictures I had found. The photograph of Maud and Everett and the painting of the Three Cats. I was hoping they would speak to her like they had to me. I wanted her on this journey with me. She replied. One word. Yes.
On a Sunday afternoon some weeks later I found a two minute clip of a documentary film that had been made about Maud in the late 1960’s. I heard Maud speaking. That happy hopeful voice. Her beautiful smile. Her walk. How she painted. Fast free strokes. Then Everett comes on screen. He too speaks. You see him working. Moving around the house. Cycling away on his bicycle. Another amazing moment for me.
Some months later I went to Halifax and visited Maud’s house in the Art Gallery there. I wanted to start where my producers had started some years before. I wanted to go alone. I was still trying to find my Maud. Still trying to understand Everett. I stood in the doorway of the house. Suddenly it all made sense. Being there alone surrounded by her paintings was a unique experience. It was private. Quiet. A moment that was mine.
I revisited that house many times in the course of making the film. I first met my director of photographer Guy Godfree there. I took my Production Designer John Hand there. Sally and Ethan both visited it. To stand in that 12’X12′ house surrounded by Maud’s paintings is something that was so special. Maud had somehow brought us all together.
Maud Lewis: Her Life And Art
Maud Lewis exemplified the simple life. But simple doesn’t mean dull. The simplicity of her paintings, brushed initially with scrounged paint from local fishermen onto ubiquitous green boards and post cards, continue to evoke feelings of innocence, of child-like exuberance as enduring as the spring times she loved to paint. And today she still captures audiences intrigued by everyday scenes as diverse as hard- working oxen and whimsical butterflies.
Maud Dowley Lewis was born March 7, 1903 in South Ohio, a community near Yarmouth. Her father Jack would provide a moderately prosperous living as a respected craftsman, making harnesses and serving as a blacksmith. Agnes, her mother, favored artistic pursuits including painting, folk carving and music. Born disfigured with sloped shoulders and her chin resting on her chest, Maud led a confined but happy home life after she quit school at 14, perhaps in part to escape the mocking of her peers.
“What is life without love or friendship?” she once confided to a friend. Her mother lovingly taught her to play the piano before juvenile rheumatoid arthritis crippled her hands. Physical deformity may have been her lot, but even more tragic was the loss of both her parents within two years. Who would care for Maud?
Thankfully, an aunt who lived in Digby took her in. There she would later answer a newspaper ad that would determine the course of her life. A man named Everett Lewis wanted a housekeeper for his cottage in Marshalltown.
She married him in 1938 at the age of thirty-four and would never travel more than an hour’s drive from her birthplace.
“I ain’t much for traveling anyway,” she said later, “as long as I have a brush in my hand and a window in front of me, I’m all right.”
Cameo cigarettes added their share of comfort as well. Although short in stature with hands gnarled by arthritis as the years passed, she stood tall when she plied her brush over green-backed particle board. Everett Lewis, a stingy, parsimonious but certainly hard- working man, kept house and made meals allowing Maud to spend most of her time delving into her world of wonder and creating fanciful works of art.
Maud gathered images from her happy childhood and limited excursions in a Model T with Everett to paint cheerful images on dust pans, scallop shells and even on her house.
They would settle into a routine where Everett enjoyed peddling and haggling over the paintings Maud would love to paint. The happiness she painted first attracted neighbors, then tourists and eventually even international attention.
It started with a Star Weekly newspaper article and then a 1965 CBC Telescope program featuring her unique works.
Her notoriety began to bloom like the cherry trees that garnished several of her paintings. Orders came in so fast that the paint hardly had time to dry–one reason you may notice fingerprints on some edges of her paintings. Her style became as fanciful as her subjects.
She painted a world often without shadows, autumn leaves on winter landscapes, and even 3- legged oxen. Was she adding humour in her subtle, shy way?
Her gentle nature and magnetic smile might give that away. Awkwardly bent over a painting, she may have been squinting and intense, but her inner joy escaped onto her panels with unrivaled determination and vitality.
Small wonder her work garnered the attention of even the Nixon White House.
Ever pragmatic, Maud wrote to ask that funds be forwarded before she sent the requested two panels to the President! Today her work unequivocally demands status as “important art” in numerous fine-art collections around the world.
Much like her American counterpart, Anna Marie Robertson (Grandma Moses), Maud was uniquely creative, self-taught, specialized in painting everyday rural life, loved animals and appreciated the beauty of nature.
Both initially sold their paintings for just a few dollars, but saw their work increase dramatically over the years.
The works of Grandma Moses command prices in the $30,000 to $600,000 range. Of comparable quality, Maud’s paintings currently fetch $6,000 to$20,000, holding much promise for the future.
Not formally trained, Maud adopted a style that emerged from inside the heart of a true artist. As such, she could produce images of enduring quality and appeal, images that transformed her maritime surroundings into painted visions. The irresistible charm of her art had triumphed over the arrows of adversity.
Wayne & Jocelyn Cameron & the Mayberry Fine Art Gallery www.mayberryfineart.com
Re-Creating The Painted House
By Aisling Walsh
One of the biggest challenges on Maudie was how to re-create The Painted House. How to do it. Where to put it in the landscape and how to alter it as it would have done over the course of the 30 years that Maud lived there.
Filming in Newfoundland in the autumn has it challenges too. September/October is typhoon season. There can be horizontal rain for days on end with fierce winds. With that in mind we discussed building the house in a studio and replicating it in part out in the landscape. It sounded like a really neat idea until I started to think about how our two actors would respond to this slightly false space heavily lit from above. A false landscape created in some way outside the windows and door. It was never going to work. So the solution was simple. I decided we had to build the house in the landscape much as it would have been and brave the weather as it came at us.
After a lot of searching we found a location about half an hour outside St John’s that was perfect. It was a dirt road, you could happily look in every direction and the landscape would change beautifully with the seasons as we filmed. We visited the site several time and at all times of the day and evening before committing to it.
My Production Designer John Hand and I wanted to replicate the house as close as we could to the original. It was important to get as close as we could to Maud’s world as she lived it. I wanted every detail to be as close to the original as possible. From the paintings to the furniture to every little item that existed in the reference photographs we had and what is in the original house at The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. So the hunt for those items in Newfoundland began. The stove in the original house is so iconic. We would need to find one unpainted, as it would have been at the start of Maud’s life in the house and then paint it as Maud did in the 1950’s. The cuckoo clock and the framed photograph of Everett that hang on the back wall were vital to replicate. The calendars that Maud collected over the years that were a huge source of imagery for her. The simple table and chairs. Then we had to work out how to achieve painting the interior walls, the window and the door as well as the exterior of the house as Maud had done. We would have to shoot in chronologically – start in 1930’s when as far as we could discover the house was dark and dreary and very basic. This was how and where Everett Lewis had lived for most of his adult life.
There are no records of how Maud started painting the interior of the house. No records of the first mark she made and how that might have developed. I decided that first mark had to be something that came from the landscape around her. So we chose a simple tree. Simple flowers followed this tree then by a scene – a chicken in the yard.
Sherry’s script gave us some great indications too. From a certain point on in our story Maud painted every day. She progressed from small cards to the walls of the house. She painted the door and the window. She also painted at least one 10″X12″ painting every day.
The Art Galley of Nova Scotia was another fantastic source for us. We learned there that Maud’s only selfportrait as far as they knew was a mirror that hung on the wall behind her. She painted flowers in a circular cluster. Whenever Maud stood and looked at her reflection this is the self-portrait she saw. At the gallery we were able to inspect everything in detail and measure every inch of the house.
We taped out the house to the exact measurements in a school classroom in St Johns. We taped out the window and door in another color. Then we sat in the space and tried to imagine how our two actors were going to feel in it. It was at 12’X12′ going to be too small to film in so we extended to 13’X13’5″. That way we had enough room and things we still within a good scale.
Guy Godfree DOP is the closest to Ethan’s height so we measured the ceiling using him and photographed it. The 6′ of the original house was too low but at 6’4″was too high and loose so we settled at 6.3 giving Ethan just enough room to stand straight.
It was decided at the outset to build the attic space in a more controlled environment. The gymnasium in the school we were using as Production Offices was chosen. This would also give us weather cover for a day or two if we needed it.
So construction started. We had to build the house in stages and ferry it out to our location. The skeleton of the house was built out on site. It was made secure in case of bad weather. The sheds and outhouses that Everett had were built out on site too. Behind the doors to the main shed two metal cargo containers were placed. There, containers hidden from view would become shelter for crew. Extra equipment could be stored and video village could be housed. It was important too that the house and the sheds would stand for a few months after main filming finished as we needed to return in the Winter to film some scenes in the snow.
In the school gymnasium the art department started to construct and paint the interior walls and door. These were constructed four times for the four different stages the house would go through across our time- line of 30 years. The final stage had also to be aged as in the last decade of her life Maud was unable to do anything around the house. I had always wanted the house to age as our characters aged. The doors inside and out as well as the storm door have to be constructed across four stages too.
To change the house from era to era took about a day. So scenes that were at the Orphanage in Aunt Ida’s etc. were scheduled to give the Art Department and the Construction Crew the time to do this. Final touch ups and additions were often made on the day. The dressing and props in the house also changed over the years, so this was added to.
The final stage of the house is as close as we could get to the original house in The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
When Sally and Ethan finally visited the Gallery towards the end of filming they couldn’t quite believe it. Our house and theirs were so similar. The house was left in its final stage and stood on site until January 2016 when the cast and crew returned to film some scenes in the snow. Across the two days filming the house had to change back to an earlier era. This change was done overnight so as the house was ready for filming the next day.
The house was finally taken down and stored in late January 2016 and the site on which it stood for 6 months returned to what it had been originally – a very ordinary piece of scrubland at the side of a dirt road.
Production Design Notes: By John Hand
There is a wonderful starting point already with Maud’s work. Her paintings and the painted house itself – colorful – hopeful and full of life. Her colors are almost always primary. Her composition is simple and true. Aisling loves the intimacy of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings. The detail of a shoe or the cover on a bed. A chair sitting in a room or flowers in a window. His colors are more muted. His landscapes wide and uncluttered. So we decided to start in muted shades – Everett’s colors – and slowly bring Maud’s colors into this world. As Maud and Everett’s relationship develops so does the color in their world.
Aisling also referenced the work of Bischoff and the Ashcan Painters of the 1930s. We also worked with references that Guy Godfree came with – some movies he loves – some old photographs from the archives in Halifax and some of his own still photographs taken over years depicting landscape – light – color – mood and atmosphere. All three of us are huge lovers of the still image. I love the feeling of some of Tarkovsky’s polaroids as well as the photographs of Norwegian photographer Elin Hoyland and of course Dorothea Lange who’s work in the 1930’s was a great reference for me. The detail – the patina – in her photographs was what we aimed to achieve. That worn out and down at heel feeling.
Sense of place is something that both Aisling and I feel so important. We need to have it to be able to work and create the world we are trying to place our story in. This was a challenge on Maudie as locations were sometimes hours apart. The town and shop were in different places as was Sandra’s house and somehow they all had to become part of our Maudie world and sit into it seamlessly. So I made a map of ‘Maudieland’ for our crew. They needed to know where the town of Digby was. Where Aunt Ida’s house was. How far Maud had to walk to the town – to Sandra’s house – to the wharf. A causeway that we found near Trinity linked everything together and this small location with the ocean beyond it became so important.
I wanted the decades to be seamless too and as time progressed to have the modern world get ever closer to Maud and Everett’s. An advertising hoarding placed in the field opposite their house and electricity poles appearing brought us into the 1950s and 1960’s.
The house had to develop too – each decade brought change. Maud’s paintings also to be develop from small simple flowers or birds on the back of a card to her iconic paintings – Two Oxen – Three Cats – Everett Hauling Logs. In simple terms it was creating a world where darkness became light and monotones became color