The magic of Maud Lewis brought to life in Yarmouth with projection show during March Fest

The side of the Western Branch of the Art Gallery of NS has been the screen for the Maud Lewis show. On March 28, the show switches over to a celebration of spring.
Tina Comeau · Multi-media journalist | Posted: March 22, 2023, 6:33 p.m. | Updated: March 22, 2023, 6:31 p.m. | 8 Min

A Maud Lewis show has been projected onto the side of the Western Branch of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in downtown Yarmouth as part of the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce March Fest. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

YARMOUTH, NS – Kaylyn Melanson never met her great-great-grandmother, who was long, long passed away before she was born.

But throughout Melanson’s life, there have been countless opportunities for her to get to know her great-great-grandmother Maud Lewis, including a special one that’s been underway in Yarmouth.

As part of March Fest activities organized by the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce, a three-week projection show featuring the art of Maud Lewis has been adding a magical element to the downtown.

Projected onto the side of the Western Branch of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Yarmouth, the whimsical show has been creating a buzz in the town.

Melanson, 25, says it is so wonderful to see Maud’s work, and Maud herself, continuing to be celebrated.

“Her popularity has never diminished. It seems to keep growing and growing,” she says.

The oxen that Maud Lewis famously painted at projected onto the side of art gallery in Yarmouth as part of a projection show that’s been creating a buzz in the town. TINA COMEAU

Rick Allwright, executive director of the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce, says it’s been really exciting for the chamber to see how excited people are about the projection show as Maud Lewis’s art is brought to life in this new and vibrant way.

Allwright remembers first seeing the projection show in Halifax and wanting to do something similar in Yarmouth. It was decided by the Chamber that it would be a wonderful addition to its March Fest, which has included a month-long list of activities and events aimed at drawing people to businesses during what is traditionally a slow time of year.

People who have watched the Maud Lewis show say there’s a definite magical feel to it, which is meaningful feedback since a lot went into pulling it off.

The first logistic to overcome was what building to use as ‘the screen.’

Allwright says they needed a large flat building with minimal windows, or at least windows that could catch some color. The south side of the Western Branch of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia became the logical choice.

A Maud Lewis art show has been projected onto the side of the Western Branch of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia as part of the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce’s March Fest. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

People can gather in Jim MacLeod Square (formerly Alma Square) to watch the show, which runs Tuesdays through to Sundays, starting at dusk each night. The show is on a loop and keeps replaying for two to three hours each night.

Allwright says the support from the art gallery and the adjacent Pharmasave has been great. The projector for the show is housed on the roof of the Pharmasave building, and the business has allowed for its power and internet to be used.

Allwright says the show’s creator, Nick Iwasko – of the company Wasko AV – was a huge help, along with the tech crews and contractors that set things up.

About Iwasko, Allwright says, “He’s the guy who coordinated all the production. He’s the artist that really put it together. So hats off to him. We knew it would come out great and it’s better than we thought.”

The show’s location is also symbolic in that over the years the art gallery has showcased the artwork of Maud Lewis, who was born in South Ohio, Yarmouth County in March 1903.

She later lived in her now-famous, tiny, art-inspired house in Marshalltown, Digby County with her husband Everett, from where she sold many of her modest paintings. She was born with birth defects and developed rheumatoid arthritis. This greatly reduced her mobility, particularly in her hands, yet she could still grasp and move her paintbrushes as she painted her cheerful art that mostly depicted animals, landscapes and flowers. Her art creations also covered the interior, and parts of the exterior, of her home.

She died in July 1970.

A steel structure in the dimensions and shape of Maud’s home is located off Route 1 in Marshalltown. On Digby Neck, retired Seabrook fisherman Murray Ross built a replica of her house that people can also visit.

There are many reasons, meanwhile, to take in the Yarmouth projection show more than once.

Maud Lewis is being celebrated through the show for the first three weeks. That began on March 7. A show celebrating St. Patrick’s Day was also added as part of the show for a few days. On March 28, a show celebrating spring begins its three-week run, which will go to April 18. There will also be an Easter component added to that show for part of the timeframe.

The art gallery building has proven to be a great screen for the project shows. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

Asked if there’s been any thought to doing shows in the summer when tourists will also be in the area, Allwright says it would be nice to do. He notes the show is costly to execute and it requires partners coming together to make it happen.

“But if we can find the funding to do another show, we certainly will,” he says.

For now, people have been loving and enjoying the Maud Lewis shows, adding to the never-ending affection people have for the folk artist.

Kaylyn Melanson says in 2018, it was a special time when four generations of her family visited Maud Lewis’s Marshalltown house, which is on permanent display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax.

Included in that visit were Melanson’s then two-year-old son, her father Paul Benoit (Maud’s great-grandson) and Melanson’s grandmother Marsha Benoit (who was Maud’s granddaughter). Marsha’s mother, Catherine Muise, was the daughter of Maud Lewis.

Kaylyn Melanson with her child stands in front of a photo her great-great-grandmother Maud Lewis during a visit years ago to Maud’s former Marshalltown home, which is on display in Halifax at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED

Paul Benoit (Maud Lewis’s great-grandson) and Marsha Benoit (who was Maud’s granddaughter) during a 2018 visit to the Maud Lewis house at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. CONTRIBUTED

Born out of wedlock, Maud’s daughter Catherine had been put up for adoption. Maud, however, had been told her baby had died.

The family says Catherine and Maud never developed a relationship.

Still, the family is proud of its connection to Maud.

Melanson says her nanny Marsha died years ago. She says her nanny would have loved the projection show now happening in Yarmouth, much like Melanson loved visiting her great-great-grandmother’s house.

“I love the little house in the art gallery. It’s just amazing how many layers of paint she painted on that door,” she says. “It was so nice that we all got to do that together.”

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