Sunday, April 25, 2010

(No.89) Maud Lewis & Nena Sanchez, Nova Scotia & Curacao

We didn't know the work of the artist Nena Sanchez when we visited her studio gallery at Landhuis Jan Kock during a trip to the Caribbean island of Curacao in the Netherland Antilles. On seeing her paintings Pat and I were each reminded of the work of the Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis.

Maud Lewis was born in Nova Scotia 1903, deformed and disabled, becoming increasingly so because of rheumatoid arthritis as she grew older. After she married in 1938 she shared a tiny house with her husband Everett, a fish peddler, in Marshalltown, Digby County. They sold paintings to passing motorists for very little, paintings of Nova Scotia life: teams of oxen, black cats, horse and sleigh -- all with bright colours.

Indeed it was the bright colours of Nena Sanchez's paintings more than what she calls her figurative style style that called up for us the comparison with Maud Lewis. As Lewis was, Sanchez is a self-taught artist -- but beyond that the differences in their lives are large.

Born in Curacao in 1945 Sanchez left the island in her twenties, propelled by her status as "Miss Curacao" in the Miss Universe contest. She remained abroad working in business for many years, not returning to her island home to focus her special talent on visual art until 1994.

Nena Sanchez's artistic focus is on the island's flowers, native cottages, blue skies and palm trees -- all done in the brightest of colours. They give her art not only a distinctive style but a cheerful verve. Nowhere is it more evident than in her paintings of "blue goddesses" but in all her work she reflects her native Curacao.

She publishes her own art and her work can be sampled by visiting her website at Sanchez's life, the artistic and commercial success she has achieved in her lifetime, distinguishes her from Maud Lewis whose fame did not really begin to grow in Canada until near and after the end of her life in 1970.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax has played a key role in elevating the art and public reputation of Maud Lewis. Her tiny home has been restored and moved into the Gallery which is also the leading repository of her art. Paintings she and her husband sold for a few dollars can today command $15,000+.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is well worth a visit because it is a fine institution. For anyone interested in Maud Lewis it is the place to go. The Gallery's website at is an excellent starting point; indeed you can take a virtual tour of the Lewis home.

Visitors to Halifax should not miss the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and those Canadians who travel to Curacao should make a point to see the art of Nena Sanchez. And judge for themselves the similarities between these two artists.

As different as are the lives of Maud Lewis and Nena Sanchez you may find, as we did, that their art is equally interesting and rewarding.

Alastair Rickard