Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Elephant No. 126: Jacinthe's Maud Lewis Elephant

I used to work with Jacinthe, but had no idea all those years ago that she was also a painter. Over the past few months, she's been posting some of her paintings online — then suddenly, this lovely elephant!

Although Jacinthe doesn't consider herself an artist, has never taken art classes, and has never painted or drawn an elephant, on her first attempt she came up with this cheerful and colourful work, called How Can You Tell that an Elephant Has Been in Your Garden?

Jacinthe says the painting was inspired by two things. The first was the old joke, "How can you tell that an elephant has been in your refrigerator? By the footprints in the butter." Which she then extrapolated to "How can you tell that an elephant has been in your garden? By the footprints in the buttercups!"

The second was the work of Canadian artist Maud Lewis. In the late 1990s, when Jacinthe was a communications officer at the Canadian Museum of History, the exhibition The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis was one of her files. As Jacinthe says:
What a privilege it was to learn more about this wonderful person and artist. Her works exhibit an extraordinary use of colour, and it always fascinated me that she did not only paint on canvas. Her works of art also brightened her home — on her front door, on a dustpan, on a baking tin, and even on the shells of Digby scallops. In my home I have a framed copy of the exhibition poster to remind me that it is the simple things in life that are the most beautiful.
Maud Lewis (1903–1970) is one of Canada's best-known and best-loved folk artists. Born in rural Nova Scotia, Canada, she learned to paint as a child, when her mother taught her to make watercolour Christmas cards.

Two Oxen in Spring, no date
Maud Lewis (1903–1970)
Oil on board
Private Collection
Source: Westbridge Fine Art

Maud suffered from rheumatoid arthritis early in life, and lived with her parents until she was in her early thirties. At the age of 34, Maud married a fish pedlar named Everett Lewis. She began accompanying Everett on his daily rounds, selling fish door to door, while also selling her hand-drawn and hand-painted Christmas cards for 25 cents apiece — a fairly good price at the time.

Maud's cards proved so popular with her husband's customers that she branched out into other subject matter. Painting on everything from beaverboard to cookie sheets, Maud began producing bright and cheerful scenes of flowers, animals, and outdoor scenes. Her husband encouraged her, buying her a set of oil paints, and Maud soon covered every available surface in their tiny home.

Interior of Maud Lewis's home.
Collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Source: Saskatchewan Craft Council

Interestingly, Maud never mixed colours, instead using them directly out of the tube. Her paintings are usually no bigger than 8 x 10 inches (20 x 25 cm), although a few top out at 24 x 36 inches (61 x 91 cm).

Road Block, ca. 1962
Maud Lewis (1902–1970)
Oil on board
Private Collection
Source: Mayberry Fine Art

Sadly, Maud would live most of her life in poverty. By 1945, people were stopping at her home to buy paintings for two or three dollars. Even towards the end of her life — despite national exposure in print and broadcast media — her paintings were still selling for only about ten dollars apiece, and her arthritis prevented her from producing as many works as she might have wished. Today, her paintings routinely sell for $20,000 or more.

Black Kittens, ca. 1964
Maud Lewis (1903–1970)
Oil on board
Private Collection
Source: Mayberry Fine Art

During the last year of her life, Maud stayed in a corner of her house — the same tiny home she and Everett had always owned — painting frequently between trips to the hospital. She died on July 30, 1970. Everett was killed nine years later, when a burglar murdered him during an attempted robbery. The Lewis house quickly began to deteriorate. Fortunately, a group of concerned local citizens saved the landmark, and in 1984 it was transferred to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax, where it has been restored as part of a permanent Maud Lewis exhibit.

The home shared by Maud and Everett Lewis, reconstructed inside the
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
Source: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

I like that Jacinthe channelled Maud Lewis for her elephant painting, and I think she did an amazing job capturing the essence of Lewis's work. Jacinthe is genuinely one of the nicest and most cheerful people I've ever met, and the bright colours and simple composition of this painting make me happy every time I look at it — partly because they remind me of her sunny personality.


Elephant Lore of the Day
Today's elephant lore comes courtesy of my artist friend Lynn Owen, who posted this photograph with the caption, "If Sheila had a baby elephant." She definitely has me pegged.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick and baby elephant, 1960s.
Source: Tumblr

The original photograph is actually of Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who has dedicated her entire adult life to the welfare of orphaned elephants. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (named for her late husband) near Nairobi, Kenya, rehabilitates traumatized elephant calves before returning them to the wild.

At the Wildlife Trust, orphaned baby elephants are kept in a stable each night. These are elephants that are still too young and too milk-dependent to be permanently returned to the wild. Because the babies need to be fed at three-hour intervals, keepers sleep in bunks above each elephant's stall. A different keeper is assigned each night to prevent the elephants — and keepers — from becoming too attached.

Although the elephants remain nonchalant about different keepers, they are quite firm on feeding times. When speaking with National Geographic writer Charles Siebert in 2011, one keeper commented that there was no need for an alarm clock to know when it was time for  night feedings. Every three hours, the elephants would reach up their trunks and pull the blankets off of the keepers sleeping above them.

To read more about Dame Daphne Sheldrick, check out her autobiography, Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story. For more on the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, please click here.

Orphaned elephant calf with keeper, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust,
Nairobi, Kenya.
Source: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

To Support Elephant Welfare

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