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Capturing Joy: The Story of Maud Lewis

by Jo Ellen Bogart, Mark Lang, illus.

The story of Maud Lewis, the folk artist from Nova Scotia, has immediate appeal, just like her art. Handicapped by birth defects that gave her hunched shoulders, and by severe arthritis in her hands, the tiny woman painted glowing scenes of an innocent and joyous rural world. Working in her one-room house, using scrounged materials and a metal TV tray for an easel, Lewis eventually became a much-admired artist, visited by the famous and unable to keep up with the demand for her work.

Jo Ellen Bogart tells Lewis’s story with empathy and insight, acknowledging its shadows as well as its bright side. Details from the artist’s life lead into comments about the subjects and techniques of the paintings, all oriented toward the child reader. Bogart’s text is generously illustrated by 12 of Lewis’s own paintings and by Mark Lang’s detailed drawings of Lewis’s life. While the paintings give brightly coloured impressions of landscapes, animals, and remembered scenes – buggies driving across a covered bridge, fishing boats in the bay – Lang’s vignettes provide an affectionate view of the artist herself in daily life. The book thus makes a pleasing interplay of its three elements: text, illustrations, and paintings.

Bogart begins Lewis’s story in the middle, with her determination to marry Everett Lewis the fish-peddler and live in his tiny house by the highway. This house, most of its interior surfaces lovingly painted by Lewis with tulips, birds, and butterflies, is now preserved in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.