The Maudified House Project

Wendy Majestic and some of the amazing volunteers of The Maudified Project

If you’ve been in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, you may have noticed some brightly coloured miniature houses scattered about town. Or you may have purposefully sought them out with map in hand or as part of a fun scavenger hunt or GPS game.

The 11 painted homes are part of the Maudified House Project, inspired by Nova Scotia’s folk art icon, Maud Lewis (1903-1970), who was actually born in Yarmouth County. The ambitious and successful project organized by the Friends of the AGNS Western Branch Society represents an amazing example of community collaboration with numerous companies, organizations and individuals providing funding, 16 area artists and nine Plymouth School students creatively painting and a plethora of volunteers assembling and priming the homes.

The Maudified Houses will remain in their current 11 locations, from Sealed Landers Park to Alma Square through to the second week of September. Then on September 14, they will be auctioned off at Th’ YARC with all proceeds going towards the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Western Branch in Yarmouth’s children’s programs.

To learn more about the Maudified House Project, and spinoff events and activities, Arts East caught up with Wendy Majestic, the Vice President of the Friends of the AGNS Western Branch Society, and the project’s coordinator. We also heard from Sandra Phinney,  the author of Maud Lewis and the “Maudified” House Project–the Story Starts Here, which documents the project and all those involved and describes some gems about Maud Lewis.

Artist: Tootsie Emin
Photo by Sandra Phinney

Where are you from and where do you now call home?

Wendy Majestic: I’m originally from Vancouver Island. We have lived here for six years on Chebogue Point Road, overlooking the Chebogue River and the Atlantic Ocean.

Sandra Phinney: Yarmouth is my home town. I live outside in a place called Canaan, on the Tusket River, not far from town.

Wendy what inspired you to initiate the Maudified House Project?

Wendy: It was a combination of things. I knew that local artists had a fundraiser where they had painted bird houses and then auctioned them off. From hearing a presentation by Hal Theriault and seeing his play “Maud” I became aware that Maud Lewis had been born and spent the first half of her life here, but there was no recognition of this in Yarmouth. The Friends of the Yarmouth Art Gallery were looking for ways to raise funds for our Children’s Art Fund (helping children who may not be able to afford to participate in Art Classes to attend) and other programs: such as Family Sundays, Gingerbread Sundays and for acquiring other capital cost items. We also have a very vibrant artistic community and this would be a way to celebrate that. I also hoped that it would attract tourists and give them something interesting to do while they were in Yarmouth.

Sandra, how did you first get involved and what inspired you to put together the book Maud Lewis and the '"Maudified" House Project?
Sandra: I chair The Friends of the AGNS Society (referred to as "the Friends") and I loved this project from the get-go. As soon as Wendy brought the idea to the committee, everyone embraced it.  In regards to doing the book ... initially it seems a good way to document the project through photos but that quickly morphed into doing a book mainly because of the stories I started to hear about Maud Lewis, and also because I was gathering a vast amount of photos about the project and wanted to share the experience with the public in a documented form. In a sense, the book has condensed what the project is allabout:1) to raise awareness about Maud Lewis, her life, and that the fact she is from Yarmouth. 2) to  celebrate the artistic talent we have in the region 3) to show what can happen when a  community gets together for a common cause (and the importance of volunteers!)     

Tell us about the how this project all came together.

Wendy: I first developed a time line of what the project would entail. I had found a wooden playhouse at one of our local building suppliers.

I then wrote letters to present to sponsors, artists and volunteers. Sandra and I approached various sponsors, some we knew and some we did not. Once they heard what we had to say and our enthusiasm for the project, they were convinced that this was a wonderful project to support. Our goal was to raise funds for 10 houses—we had a budget of $1,000 per house: the cost of the houses was $350, we paid the artists an honorarium of $300 and gave them $100 for supplies. The other monies went to miscellaneous expenses, like primer paint and varathane, printing brochures and raffle tickets and sponsor signage for each of the houses. We ended up with enough funding for 11 houses and several sponsors like CJLS and Avid Media provided in kind sponsorship.

I made a presentation to the Yarmouth Art Society monthly meeting and we also sent out a letter and in no time we had our artists on board.

We put out the call to people on our e-mail lists and the Art Gallery’s volunteer list, for people to help with the assembly and priming the wood of the houses. These people then came together, after the artists had painted their panels, and assembled them on site. We have accumulated over 1,000 volunteer hours and they are still adding up.

Part of the sponsorship package, was that the sponsor could choose their own location, with the boards approval or we developed a list of locations they could choose from. We tried to choose locations that were either tourist attractions, such as Cape Forchu, the County Museum, Sealed Landers Park or a landmark, such as the Town Hall, the Mariner’s Centre, Ferry Terminal, the Visitors Information Centre and Alma Square. Most sponsors let us choose the location and the artist, and a few of the sponsors requested specific artists.

Did the artists have specific themes assigned to them or did they get to choose how they painted the panels?

Wendy: We wanted the houses to be the individual artists’ inspiration. The only direction we gave the artists was that Maud Lewis painted every surface of her house. But we left it up to the individual artist to do what they wanted. The house painted by Plymouth 5 and 6 Immersion Class, because they were studying Maud Lewis, we asked that they paint their interpretation of Maud’s painting.

Artists: Grade 5&6 students from Plymouth School
Photo by Sandra Phinney

When were the homes installed on location and how has the response been so far?

Wendy: Our goal was to have the houses assembled at their locations by May 1st. We did miss that date by a week, but the Ferry was also delayed by two weeks. We started assembling the middle of April, as the artists finished their houses and the volunteers varathaned them. The schedule for assembly was done, so that we would assemble two or three houses in one day. The assembly crew got so proficient, the first house took two hours but by about the third house we were down to an hour per assembly.

Well at first people were not quite sure what all the little houses were about, but one of the comments we heard was, “When I drive or walk past them they put a smile on my face.” Once we had the brochure available and our weekly radio spots on CJLS, people have become more aware of them…they love them! We love seeing young children playing in the houses. This makes ART fun and shows that ART can be anywhere.

The other thing that it has done for so many people, is bring the awareness that Maud Lewis lived the first 34 years of her life in Yarmouth and that we should be celebrating this:“The Story Starts Here”

So many events are spinning off the houses. A local geo caching event used them for a scavenger hunt, and they will be used at our annual Seafest Festival for a scavenger hunt. Also there’s the Maud “Homecoming” show at the Art Gallery, the story circles that will be happening, Sandra’s wonderful book and two local rug hooking groups are mounting a show “Hooked on Maud” in August.

What have you enjoyed most or found most surprising (or both) about this whole process?
Wendy: I guess for me it was how the community (sponsors, artists, volunteers) could see the vision of the project and came together and worked countless hours to bring the vision to fruition. As we plan the Auction, we have new people, along with our regular volunteers, stepping up to the plate to help out, volunteering their time and their ideas, and companies donating prizes or services.
I am also enjoying seeing the town and people taking some ownership of Maud and celebrating her life and Art.

Sandra: There have been numerous highlights for me. People coming forward with "Maud stories" is always a thrill and is still ongoing. In fact, I may have enough new material about Maud Lewis to write a book about her next year. I also enjoyed spending time with the artists doing photos shoots, as well as seeing the houses actually come together the day they were each installed.  The biggest surprise for me was how quickly the business community came on board to support the project financially. Within three weeks we had raised our initial goal of $10,000 which we needed to make this project happen. We actually raised a bit more than this. Also the dedication of the volunteers has been remarkable.

What's happening in September with the auctioning off of the homes in support of children's programming and events at the AGNS (Western Branch) in Yarmouth?

Wendy: The auction and raffle will be held on Sunday, September 14th from 6 to 9 pm at Th’ YARC. All the houses will be moved to the YARC on Wednesday, September 10th, for viewing. There will be a slideshow during the auction and dialogue about each of the artists and their inspiration for their house. The program will be an opening reception and viewing of the houses from 6 to 7, then the auction, raffle and draws will run from 7 on. We have a total of 10 houses to auction and one house (the Plymouth School house) to raffle. We will also have a total of 11 door prizes, 10 being gift certificates from local businesses and then a Grand Prize of a Cruise for 2 on the Nova Star Ferry.

The tickets will be $10 and will be available at Th’YARC and the AGNS Yarmouth.

Artist: Jennie Lamont
Photo by Sandra Phinney

How can people learn more about the Maudified homes? 

Sandra and Wendy: The fastest way to find out about the project (and get a map) is to visit:  and click on the menu item ‘Maudified House Project’.  Also, there are brochures at the AGNS in Yarmouth, the Visitor's Centre, the Yarmouth County Museum, Cape Forchu, the Waterfront  Gallery and the Nova Star Ferry. Be sure to also check out the Map Game! It's a lot of fun, and participants can win a prize!  

Sandra, where can people find your books?

Sandra: In Yarmouth at TOOTS, Shackwacky, Sandy's Gifts, SIP, City Drug, Every  Bloomin' Thing, AGNS, Pharmasave, Yarmouth County Museum and Coles. In Tusket at Argyle Courthouse and The Hatfield House.  In Shelburne at Every Bloomin' Thing. In Digby at the Admiral Digby Museum and Complete Fabrication.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Wendy: It is heart warming to see how this project is inspiring other ideas, with regard to Maud and our Artistic Community. It also shows how when a community has a common goal, what they can accomplish. It is also making Art accessible to everyone. It has also made people more aware of what a valuable resource we have in our Art Gallery (the only satellite Gallery of a major Gallery in Canada) and to cherish it.

Sandra: Maud Lewis, after 111 years (she was born in 1903 in Yarmouth) continues to inspire. In spite of having major physical challenges/health issues, little education, and living in a house that was barely 12 ft by 13 ft (without electricity or any running water) this woman always had a smile on her face. She brought joy to the world through her paintings—and continues to do so. She is inspiration personified.

The house painted by artist Maggie Mandell was initially installed at Cape Forchu Lightstation. It is dubbed the “Shell Survive House” because it persevered over Hurricane Arthur. According to Wendy Majestic, it “has been repaired and redecorated by Ann Durkee and her husband David MacIsaac. It was originally rescued by Roanne and Ed Collier and Ed re-assembled the house.” It is now located by the Clock Tower on Water Street.

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