In the summer of 1965, my father, the artist John H. Kinnear, read an article in the Star Weekly titled “The Little Old Lady Who Paints Pretty Pictures.” It told of a then unknown, self-taught painter in Marshalltown, N.S. named Maud Lewis, who was “small and somewhat crippled by arthritis,” and poor.
“Maud and her husband Everett, both in their mid-60s, live in a house so small that it might have been built for Tom Thumb,” wrote Murray Barnard in the article. “The couple have no electricity or running water and none of the other comforts of life.” The newspaper showed examples of Lewis’s colourful paintings of cats and horse-drawn carriages, and included photographs of her at work and standing in front of her tiny, painted home.
Maud Lewis’s debilitating condition and life of penury struck my father, and he decided to help her. He, too, knew pain and hardship—while fighting in the Second World War, he had been captured and made a prisoner of war on three separate occasions, twice by the Germans and once by the Italians, and successfully escaped each time. In autumn 1965, he mailed Lewis a box of paints, sable brushes and standard Masonite boards, which I had primed. It was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until Lewis passed away from pneumonia in 1970.
My father fell in love with the simplicity of Lewis’s art and found beauty in her unmixed rainbow palette of colours. Even more, he recognized that her paintings deserved archival-quality materials, and that, as an unschooled painter, she was working on found objects or wallboard, with house paint that would eventually peel from its base and disintegrate. He wanted her to have something that would stand the test of time.
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