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Artists’ Birthdays: September the 7th – “Grandma Moses” (1860)

September 7, 2012

Would you like to know it all? We would! That’s why the theme for our Know It All Section for 2012 is Artists’ Birthdays. We hope that these posts will help to increase our and your knowledge in Art History. Lets get acquainted with more painters, lets recognise their artwork and be inspired by the masterpieces!

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This is a post about a special lady, who should inspire you to be brave and try things out in life, even though you might decide that it’s too late. Desperate housewifes, read on, as Grandma Moses, the predecessor of Martha Stewart, is a “cultural icon” and a real gem!

“Grandma Moses” (1860 – 1961)

Anna Mary Robertson Moses (September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961), better known as “Grandma Moses“, was a renowned American folk artist. She is often cited as an example of an individual successfully beginning a career in the arts at an advanced age. Her family and friends called her either “Mother Moses” or “Grandma Moses”, and although she first exhibited as “Mrs. Moses”, the press eagerly dubbed her “Grandma Moses”, which stuck.

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Grandma Moses’ paintings were used to publicize numerous American holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Mother’s Day. Exemplary of her status, a Mother’s Day Feature in True Confessions (1947) noted how “Grandma Moses remains prouder of her preserves than of her paintings, and proudest of all of her four children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.”

During the 1950s, Grandma Moses’ exhibitions were so popular that they broke attendance records all over the world. “A cultural icon, the spry, productive nonagenarian was continually cited as an inspiration for housewives, widows and retirees. Her images of America’s rural past were transferred to curtains, dresses, cookie jars, and dinner ware, and used to pitch cigarettes, cameras, lipstick and instant coffee.”

All is Still, 1941 (found on artnet)

In 1950, the National Press Club cited her as one of the five most newsworthy women and the National Association of House Dress Manufacturers honored her as their 1951 Woman of the Year. At age 88, Mademoiselle magazine named Grandma Moses a “Young Woman of the Year”. Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art awarded her its first honorary doctorate degree. Due to a lingering cold, she received the degree in absentia, presenting her acceptance speech via a special telephone hookup.

When Leaves Turn, 1943 (found on artnet)

A Short Bio:

Anna Mary Robertson was born on September 7, 1860, on a farm in Greenwich, upstate New York, one of a family of 10 children. In 1887, at the age of 27, she married a “hired man”, Thomas Salmon Moses, and the couple established themselves on a farm in Virginia where they spent nearly two decades. During this time she gave birth to 10 children, five of whom died in infancy. In 1905, the couple returned to New York and settled in Eagle Bridge, not far from Anna Mary’s birthplace. In 1927 her husband Thomas died, but she continued to farm with the help of her youngest son until advancing age forced her to retire to a daughter’s home in 1936.

Often, during her younger days as a wife and mother, she had been creative in her home by, for example, using housepaint to decorate a fireboard—but her earliest works used embroidery rather than paint. Her embroidered pictures were much admired by friends and relatives, so when arthritis eventually made it painful to wield a needle, her sister suggested that it might be easier to paint—the pivotal suggestion that spurred her painting career in her late 70s.

Thomas Moses, Norfolk, Conn, 1949 (found on artnet)


According to art historian Judith Stein, Grandma Moses was “practical at heart, turning to painting in her seventies after working with worsted wools for embroidered compositions”, which risked being eaten by moths. She painted mostly scenes of rural life. Grandma Moses told reporters that she turned to painting in order to create the postman’s Christmas gift, seeing as it “was easier to make [a painting] than to bake a cake over a hot stove.” Stein notes that “her sense of accomplishment in her painting was rooted in her ability to make ‘something from nothing”.

Her early style is less individual and more realistic (also known as primitive art), despite her lack of knowledge of (or perhaps rejection of) basic perspective. She did not develop her immediately recognizable signature folk style until later. Many of her early paintings in the realist style were given to family members as thank-you gifts after her visits. She was a prolific painter, generating over 1600 canvasses in 3 decades. Before her fame, she would charge $2 for a small painting and $3 for a large.

Old House, 1953 (found on artnet)

In 1938 a New York engineer and art collector, Louis J. Caldor, who was driving through Hoosick Falls, saw some of her paintings displayed in a drug store window. They were priced from $3 to $5, depending on size. He bought them all, drove to the artist’s home at Eagle Bridge and bought ten others she had there. The next year, three Grandma Moses paintings were included in “Contemporary Unknown American Painters” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She did not remain unknown for long. Her first solo exhibition, “What a Farm Wife Painted”, opened October 1940, followed by a meet-and-greet with the artist and an exhibition of 50 paintings at Gimbel’s Department Store November 15, followed by a third solo show in as many months, at the Whyte Gallery, Washington, D.C. (“Gimbels had supplemented Moses’ art display with a table beneath the paintings spread [with] samples of Grandma’s culinary talents—homebaked bread, rolls and cake, plus some of the preserves which won her prizes at the county fair.”) This brought her to the attention of collectors all over the world, and her paintings became highly sought after. After her death, large traveling exhibitions circulated throughout Europe and Japan, where her work was particularly well received.

The Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont, holds the largest public collection of Moses’ paintings in the country, as well as “Yarn paintings”, art supplies, and the 18th century tilt-top table Moses painted with rustic scenes and used as her easel.

We Have a Turkey, 1944 (found on artnet)

Her paintings were soon reproduced on Christmas cards, tiles and fabrics in America and abroad. In 1946 her painting The Old Checkered Inn in Summer was featured in the background of a national advertising campaign for the young women’s lip gloss Primitive Red by Du Barry cosmetics. President Harry S. Truman presented her with the Women’s National Press Club trophy Award for outstanding accomplishment in art in 1949, and in 1951 she appeared on See It Now, a television program hosted by Edward R. Murrow. In 1952 she published her autobiography and titled it Grandma Moses: My Life’s History.

On her 100th birthday in 1960, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller proclaimed the day “Grandma Moses Day” in her honor.

In November 2006, her work Sugaring Off (1943), became her highest selling work at US $1.2 million. The work was a clear example of the simple rural scenes she became known for.

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Information for this post found on Wikipedia.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2012 1:14 pm

    Thank you. I didn’t know this before. What an inspiration! Sharon

    • September 7, 2012 2:27 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Sharon. This little lady is really amazing, I guess her life proves that nothing is impossible and that sometimes you can find hidden talents even though nobody expects you to have them. Kristina

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