Maud Lewis

Traffic Jam, c. 1965

oil on board
11.5x11.5 in.
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Acquired from the artist, date unknown;
Private collection, California;
Sale of Heffel Fine Art Auction House, March 2014, lot 109;
Private collection, Calgary

Related Literature
This image was inspired by the cover illustration Oscar Cahén produced for the April 14, 1956 issue of MacLean’s Magazine. A copy of the magazine is included with the painting.

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Traffic Jam is a wonderfully unique piece in the portfolio of Maud Lewis, and one the few works in which we can source the artist’s direct inspiration. Jeffrey Spalding, former Director of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and CEO of Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, was first to note the source for this series of works: a 1965 cover of MacLean’s Magazine, illustrated by Painter’s Eleven member Oscar Cahén (1).

The two figures in this painting read as ultra modern, with respect to the subject as Cahén’s original illustration had intended, but even more so in their playful rendition in Lewis’ signature painting style. Most of Lewis’ paintings depict a world of the past: oxen drawn carriages, fishing boats, small cottages set into green hillsides. Perhaps this is why Lewis was drawn to the image in the first place, the original illustration captures imagery that was already an expert in painting. Lewis scholar Alan Deacon noted in 2021 that this painting is one of the “very best” that he’s seen of the image (2). The artist’s attention to the details of her reference material are evident, from the careful line work of the convertible to the near exact design of the landscape.

There are no further examples at this time of Lewis taking such direct inspiration from media and popular culture for a series. When we consider the stories and myths around the artist’s isolated life, it serves to connect her with the broader cultural influences of her time period.

Maud Lewis (1903-1970) was born to John and Agnes Dowley on the Yarmouth and Acadian Shore of Nova Scotia. Although there is some debate about her exact birth place, recent research has revealed that Maud was born in the town of Yarmouth, NS. As a child, Maud spent most of…