Top News

Rare cards painted by Maud Lewis up for auction to support Australia’s wildlife

The Skaters and Walking to Church, two cards painted by beloved Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis, are to be auctioned off, with all proceeds going to a group working to protect wildlife from the Australian wildfires.
The Skaters and Walking to Church, two cards painted by beloved Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis, will be auctioned next month in Ontario, with all proceeds going to a group working to protect wildlife from the Australian wildfires.

Nancy Silcox starts each day in a pretty beautiful way.

The self-described “rabid art collector” lives in a century home west of Toronto. Its high ceilings allow her to display her collection, which includes several Maud Lewis works, to great effect.

“My Mauds are in a very special place beside my kitchen table, so that every morning when I get up after feeding my rotten Siamese cats who demand my attention, I get the pleasure of sitting down to my breakfast cereal every morning to Maud,” Silcox said during a phone interview from New Hamburg, Ont.

“I look at Maud every day, and they do make me smile.”

Nonetheless, moved by the images in recent weeks of the bushfire devastation in Australia, Silcox has decided to part with a pair of works by the beloved Nova Scotia folk artist to raise funds for a group working to save wildlife in the affected areas.

Silcox, an author and animal lover, has placed The Skaters and Walking to Church up for auction online. The winter scenes are believed to represent some of Lewis’s earliest work, before she eventually switched to larger boards.

Each card measures about 11 by 16 centimetres. Though small, they do exhibit the distinct Lewis graphic style.

Silcox acquired them from Wolfville folk art expert Alan Deacon.

"I thought, ‘How can I help? I’m not a wealthy person, but if I sell these paintings the money can go to Australia.'"

- Nancy Silcox

“I bought these cards from Alan, who’s become a good friend, let’s say 10 years ago,” she said.
 
“She did them in the very early stages of her painting life as Christmas cards that were done on quite beautiful paper in watercolour.”

The pieces indicate Lewis, whose hands would become increasingly gnarled by arthritis over the years, had more dexterity to do the smaller figures at the time she made them, likely in the ’40s or early ’50s. She would have likely sold such cards door to door for five cents apiece while accompanying her husband, Everett, as he made his rounds selling fish near Digby.

The reputation of Lewis (1903-1970) has steadily grown, spiking most recently in 2016 with the release of the feature film Maudie.

Silcox, who collects Canadian art like that done by the Group of Seven, said she normally doesn’t sell. She made an exception in this case, since animals and wildlife are often central subjects of Lewis’s colourful paintings.  

“Hearing these horrible, horrible stories of the wildfires in Australia, like most people around the world, you feel so helpless,” she said.

“It just came to me. I guess I’m a quick thinker; I don’t mull things over. I thought, ‘How can I help? I’m not a wealthy person, but if I sell these paintings the money can go to Australia.’”

Walking to Church painted by beloved Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis.
Walking to Church painted by beloved Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis.

Toronto auctioneers Cowley Abbott will be including both cards in its February online auction of works on paper, prints and books. All proceeds, including Cowley Abbott’s commission, which would normally be 15 per cent of the selling price, will be donated to WIRES Australian Wildlife Rescue Organization.

Silcox figured she paid about $3,500 each for the cards. Cowley Abbott estimates their value at between $4,000 and $6,000 each, but similar works have sometimes attracted bids in excess of $10,000.

“They’re the same kinds of cheerful works that we’re used to but it really is before she is famous,” said Canadian art specialist Rob Cowley during a phone interview from Toronto.

“We can go years without these cards coming up at auction.”

- Canadian art specialist Rob Cowley

“Because they were sold as greeting cards, many times they would have been used or discarded.

“We don’t find very many of these anymore. We find a lot less of these than the paintings that she produced later, but they are very important to her career. Long-term collectors and passionate collectors of her work are always looking for these cards because they often break away from the images we know she repeated in her paintings.”

The cards are distinct from the familiar Lewis works featuring oxen or cats, and collectors don’t often get a chance to buy them.

“When we look at the auction market, for every 10 or 15 paintings that appear at auction, we may see one of these cards,” said Cowley.

“We can go years without these cards coming up at auction.”

Bidding, through cowleyabbott.ca, opens Feb. 11 at 10 a.m. EST and closes Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. EST.

As for Silcox, her morning routine shouldn’t be disrupted too much. She said she has an additional dozen Lewis paintings, done in the more familiar styles.

Recent Stories