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  • Julie Herrington

Arthritis in Art & History


Have you heard of her? Have you seen her small house that was preserved by the “Maud Lewis Painted House Society” and now permanently on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia? Have you seen the movie, “Maudie” about her life? Or maybe you’ve seen the 2020 Canadian Christmas stamps that feature her art? If you haven’t, take a quick second to google her, go the images. Yes, do it now and I’ll wait for you to come back.

What did you notice? Small stature? Tilted neck? Receding lower jaw line? And certainly, you were able to see her painting with those hands; the biggest give away of the underlying health condition this Canadian treasure lived with. Maud Lewis, Canadian folk artist, had Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA).

For someone born in 1901 in rural eastern Canada, the recognition of JIA and its management would be far different from someone born in 2001. In some accounts, they describe her as being shy as a child due to her differences, such as her small jaw that she was born with. Now, we would describe her small jaw as “micrognathia” which likely happened because her JIA affected her temporomandibular joint (jaw joint), not because she was born that way. Similarly, how she walked was likely because the arthritis had affected the joints in her feet or ankles and her hands. Gosh those hands, how did she hold that paint brush and produce these iconic Canadian scenes in her art?

Working with children and young adults (YA) that have JIA, I often witness the determination, perseverance and a general strength of conviction that I imagine Maud Lewis had. Dealt the cards she was, she still found a way to do what she loved. Her artwork undoubtedly was affected by how she held a paint brush, but maybe that’s what made it so interesting and different from what had been done before.

The YA’s I see today are pursuing careers in health care, media, science and the arts. I watch these wonderful individuals incorporate their own life journey with JIA and when that can be shared with the world, we will all will benefit.

In May 2022, Maud’s painting called “Black Truck” went to auction and sold for $350,000.00! I take that as a message to all of us, but perhaps especially to those children and young adults with JIA to be authentic, share your health journey through your passions or career and who knows where that will lead.

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