Although she grew up not far from her, Marsha Benoit was unaware that Maud Lewis was her grandmother for many years.
She never did have the chance to meet the painter, but she feels a connection when she looks at her work.
“I look at the colourful paintings she did when her life was so dark and wonder what she was thinking,” she said. “I’m sorry I never got to see her.”
Marsha was 12 when her mother, Catherine Crosby, told her about Maud.
“I didn’t know my mother had been adopted until then,” she said. “The people who adopted her were great and I always considered them my grandparents.”
Marsha was told that Catherine once went to Maud’s door and told her she was her daughter, but the older woman told her she didn’t have a daughter, only a son who’d been stillborn.
“It wasn’t something we really talked about,” said Marsha. “It was pretty well taboo to talk about stuff like that at that time.”
Catherine had been born while Maud was unmarried.
Marsha’s family left Yarmouth County for Ontario, because of her father’s work, when she was 12. She moved around a bit over the years, and recently moved to Truro to be close to her son Paul.
Last October, Marsha visited the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and had a close up look at Maud’s restored home.
“That was amazing and overwhelming,” she said. “I couldn’t picture living in something like that; it’s so tiny.
“It was really nice to see so much of her art. The panels in the gallery are gorgeous.
“It was hard to take it all in, there were so many people asking me questions. I want to go back and spend more time taking things in. I want to learn more about her.”
Her favourite painting is one of a white cat.
Marsha said she didn’t inherit any of her grandmother’s artistic ability, although her mother had a talent for drawing.
Like Maud, Marsha knows what it’s like to live with physical challenges. She’s in a wheelchair because of a back injury and is also affected by arthritis.
After looking at photos, Paul said he sees a similarity in the eyes of his mother and Maud.
“Mum told us about her years ago and showed us the house in Digby,” he said. “It’s kind of amazing how popular she is now.”
Marsha feels the film ‘Maudie’ has helped her understand her grandmother’s life more.
“I watched it twice and cried both times,” she said. She had such a hard time but added colour to her life.
“I’m glad people remember her.”
Maud Lewis was born Maud Kathleen Dowley to John and Agnes Dowley, in Yarmouth, March 7, 1903. Maud lived with her husband Everett Lewis in a small house in Marshalltown.
Maud achieved national recognition in the mid 60’s
She died in July 1970.