In the town of Buczacz, Poland, nine-year-old Maxwell plays in the ruins of old European castles and enjoys a happy life with his family until the summer of 1939, when the Soviets invade and his life is turned upside-down. He and his family adapt to the changes, but nothing can prepare them for the Nazi invasion to come two years later. Soon Maxwell is all alone in the frozen woods of Eastern Europe, hiding from the roving groups of Ukrainians and Nazis searching for Jews, while depending on help from the very few people he can trust. Maxwell survives by learning to build hidden bunkers in the hilly landscape and by living in his imagination. In the bitter journey of Chaos to Canvas, Maxwell describes his transformation from a boy dependent on his family to a teenager fighting to survive and, ultimately, to a man who finds himself through art in a life beyond the war.