There's poor, there's dirt poor and then there's Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, a tiny community on a harsh isthmus in the Maritimes of Canada. I know because I've been there. Growing up in a border town, I've always had a fondness for the North Atlantic provinces. While they're lovely places to read about—Halifax is known for its oceanic climate and Charlottetown celebrates its fictional native daughter, Anne of Green Gables—my heart was always set on visiting Marshalltown, Nova Scotia one day, because of a black-and-white Canadian television broadcast I watched as a boy. The report, which can still be found in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation online archives, was about Marshalltown citizen Maud Lewis, a slight woman crippled by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Lewis, who was born in 1903, was a folk artist who learned to paint from her mother. Lewis loved to paint what she knew: farmland, oxen, cats, deer and even nearby villagers. She couldn't afford canvases, so she painted on bits of found wood from abandoned boats or shacks, and on every wall, surface and nearly every item in her home, including the stove, the staircase, pots, pans, chairs, etc. In a truly organic way, generations before the internet, Lewis' story and her paintings became well-known, with some eventually hanging in the White House.
Lewis passed away more than a decade before I visited what would come to be called Maud's Painted House in the early 1980s. Sadly, it had fallen into disrepair; yet it remains one of the greatest journeys I've ever taken.
So imagine my delight when during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, I walked into a theater screening Maudie (directed by Aisling Walsh), the story of the genteel artist (played by the ever-splendent Sally Hawkins). It's a heartfelt and entertaining film, and I instantly reserved a spot for Maudie on my list of the best movies of 2016, although I worried the niche film might not find a national distributor to bring it to U.S. theaters. When I spoke to the filmmakers, they were still working on securing a distributor and now, nearly 10 months later, I'm happy to report Maudie—distributed by Mongrel Media—is a critical success after showing in New York and Los Angeles arthouse theaters. The Hollywood Reporter called it "captivating," and The New York Observer wrote "Sally Hawkins is perfection." With some Oscar buzz swirling around Hawkins' performance, Maudie is poised for a national roll-out, which includes opening Friday, July 21, at The Flicks.
The film c-stars Ethan Hawke as Everett Lewis, an oft-miserable door-to-door fish salesman who Maud took a job keeping house for. They then married and lived in a 12-foot-square home without electricity or running water—Maud's Painted House—for nearly 40 years. They were an unlikely pair, but it was probably destiny that brought them together. In the end, Maudie is less about art than it is about love. Everett would sell fish and take care of the little house, while Maud brought in money by selling her paintings to visitors, particularly tourists who drove through Marshalltown every summer.
Following Maud's death in 1970 and Everett's in 1979, their home was mostly ignored, save for a few tourist visits. Then the painted house was sold to the Province of Nova Scotia in 1984; It was spruced up and became a national landmark. You can no longer visit Maud's Painted House in Marshalltown, but happily the entire structure was relocated to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax, where tens of thousands of visitors each year marvel at Maud's paintings. I highly recommend you see Maudie while it's here. It's an amazing film, which might have you planning a visit to Nova Scotia, too.