An art museum in China has postponed its exhibition of works by Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis, but Premier Stephen McNeil is downplaying concerns it’s a sign of deteriorating relations with the economic powerhouse.
The exhibition, celebrating the works of Lewis and other contemporary female Nova Scotian artists, was scheduled to be launched during a Nova Scotia cultural trade mission this spring.
There were few details Tuesday as to why the exhibition was postponed.
“Obviously the delay is disappointing,” said Premier Stephen McNeil, who has made six trade trips to China since taking office.
“But it’s not a cancellation, it’s a delay and my hope is I’ll be back in China myself at least once or twice the remainder of this year to continue to promote not only the great seafood products that we have but to continue to build on the cultural exchange.”
Heritage Minister Leo Glavine said the province received word from the Guangdong Museum of Art that the launch would be postponed. However, he told reporters that wasn’t the exact language used by Chinese officials.
“They didn’t say (postponement), just that for now the trip was off. They just left it in very simple terms.”
The province asked for an explanation for the sudden development but wasn’t given one, he said.
There has been rising tension between Canada and China since Canadian authorities arrested Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December, after an extradition request from the Americans.
McNeil was asked whether he has heard of any potential changes that would affect the province’s business with China.
“No, none that I’ve seen and none that I’ve heard of,” he said.
“The conversations between our two national governments are obviously causing come concern. But the reality of it is they didn’t cancel it (the Lewis exhibition), they’ve delayed it and we will continue to make sure that we build that link.”
China is Nova Scotia’s second-largest trading partner after the U.S., with exports having grown from $150 million in 2012 to $494 million in 2016.
Lewis’ works largely feature sights she would have seen around her tiny home in Marshalltown, near Digby, N.S.
WATCH: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia celebrates Maud Lewis
Some feature landscapes: a snow-covered ground with oxen pulling sleds full of logs, or an idyllic coastal village with seagulls flying overhead.
Others feature animals more prominently, like her famous painting “Three Black Cats,” which sold for $36,800 at an auction in Toronto in 2017.
Her paintings may sell for tens of thousands of dollars these days, but it was a very different story during Lewis’s life: some of her paintings originally sold for as little as $2 or $3.
In the 1960s, during the last few years of her life, Lewis began gaining more widespread attention, and two of her works were ordered by the White House during Richard Nixon’s presidency.
She died in 1970, but her work has become more famous in recent years, bolstered in part by the biopic “Maudie,” which was released in Canada in 2017 and generated fresh interest in her unique story.