Atlantic Canada's #1 seller of Maud Lewis Prints and Original Paintings
During the last few years of Maud’s life, her paintings became increasingly desirable partly because of her very low $5 asking price, and publicity she was receiving from recent news articles and interviews. It was in the early 1960’s when a man named Bill/Willard Ferguson and Clair Stenning discovered Maud, and wanted to help provide her with a better quality of life, and to alleviate her increasing demand for paintings. Bill wanted to make sure no one took advantage of her and she was protected. Bill and Clair would sell reproductions in addition to framed original Maud Lewis paintings at their gallery "The Ten Mile House" gallery for $10-$15.
After going through Bill's personal records included in my collection, I found personal letters by Bill which reference his agreement with Maud. "This experience made us ask our friend, a little lady who painted most charming pictures from a small shack beside the road to Yarmouth. She agreed so we asked a lawyer from Truro from Patterson, Smith, Matthews and Grant. Grant and wife went down to Digby and signed up both Maude and her illiterate husband with no term mentioned". Part of their agreement was Bill and Clair could not sell in the Digby county, but it's my belief that Bill had the legal copyrights to all of Maud's images with no restrictions. Legal paperwork was lost over the years, my letters are the only remains that reference an agreement. Bill Ferguson's lawyer that he used in 1962 is still alive and says there was in fact an agreement between him and Maud/Everett but he could not disclose the details.
The 10 Mile House was previously known as the "Last Post Inn" and was about to be demolished before it was purchased by Bill and Clair. They worked at the gallery for only a few years before they moved to Ontario together in 1968. It's my understanding that very little money was made by Bill and Clair selling original and reproductions in the 1960's because Maud would not raise her prices. Having a very low $5 price tag for Maud's originals made it next to impossible to make any money off of reproductions that would cost three times as much to make. The very first edition of silk screens were produced on beaverboard or pulp board, roughly 5mm thick and were both hand cut and handmade by an artist named Neil Waddington. Neil's address showed him living just down the street from me, coincidence? They were designed to look identical to one of Maud's originally paintings. The method of silk screening involves the hand cutting of individual stencils for each colour. Each stencil is run through the screen process and allowed to dry after which the others are superimposed with utmost accuracy until the print is completed. Every print was handmade and because of the silk-screening process, the colours are vibrant and will last a lifetime. If you are lucky, you will see original paint defects which makes each print unique.
Clair Stenning died from cancer while they were in Ontario and Bill ended up moving back to Nova Scotia and started making Maud Lewis items again in 1981. On some prints I own, I see Clair's daughter (Barbare Lee Serieys) also on the copyright stamps, so I'm still trying to piece together the whole story. I believe Bill and Lee worked together for a short period of time in 1981. When Bill returned to Nova Scotia, it appeared that he had stored several unsold 1962 1st edition prints and was able to sell his remming early prints in 1981. He then continued to sell a variety of Maud Lewis items such as rug kits, prints, Christmas cards, books, etc, until 1995. In the last letters that Bill wrote, he complained of bill collectors and stress "The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia with no rights what so ever has ruined my business". Bill Ferguson passed in 1999. Around 1997, the government of Nova Scotia stepped in and awarded the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia the legal copyrights to the entire Maud Lewis collection. Neither the Ferguson family or descendants of Maud Lewis has ever seen a penny from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia taking control of the copyrights.
Correspondence between myself and the Lawyer of Bill Ferguson
Dear Mr. Brown
"I was engaged to provide legal services in connection with works of Maud Lewis. Of course, as you can appreciate those services would have been subject to solicitor/client confidentiality."
"The lawyer that Bill Ferguson referred to was Bill Grant, who was originally from Weymouth I believe. Bill Grant was a partner of the firm and at the time I was likely an associate. I never attended to Maud Lewis’ home. Bill Grant later referred the file to me and I completed whatever work we did. I am not sure if our file has been scanned or is intact but if it is accessible and I find any information which I think can be shared I will let you know. "
"I hope this is helpful."