“If I hadn’t taken up painting, I would have raised chickens…it’s all art.” —Grandma Moses
Born on September 7, 1860, Anna Mary Robertson Moses (aka Grandma Moses) was one of the most successful and renowned artists in America and possibly the best-known American artist in Europe. Born in a farming community in Greenwich, New York, Moses had little formal education and left home at the age of 12 to work as a hired girl on a nearby farm. She worked in this capacity until the age of 27 when she married Thomas Salmon Moses, a worker at the farm .
Anna and Thomas invested in a farm in Virginia where they remained for twenty years. During that time, Moses had ten children (five died in infancy). The couple returned to New York in 1905 and settled on a farm in Eagle Bridge. Thomas died in 1927 and Anna remained on the farm until 1936 when she retired and went to live with her daughter.
Moses’ earliest works were in embroidery which she began making in the 1930s. It was not until her late 70s, when arthritis prevented her from continuing with her craft, that she took up painting. A self-taught artist, her first paintings were copies of prints and postcards. Moses soon began painting her own scenes with subject matter based on her memories of the rural countryside and farm life. In 1938, Moses’ paintings were on display at Thomas’s Drugstore, Hoosick Falls, NY when engineer and art collector, Louis J. Caldor discovered them and bought them all.
The following year, Moses’ work was included in an exhibition of “contemporary unknown painters” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1940, Moses had her first successful solo show What a Farmwife Painted at the Galerie St. Etienne. Media and viewers alike were charmed by Moses’ “down-home” personality and the simple realism and nostalgia of her paintings. Her ability to capture optimistic scenes of rural activities such as maple sugaring, soap and candle making, haying, etc., were welcomed by a world recovering from WWII and facing the new threat of the Cold War. Soon, other solo shows followed in the US and abroad and Moses developed a large international following. European critics described her work as “lovable,” “fresh,” “charming,” “adorable” and “full of naive and childlike joy.”
Moses was a prolific painter and created more than one thousand paintings in her lifetime. Her works have been reproduced on holiday greeting cards, tiles, fabrics, and in books. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman presented her with the Women’s National Press Club Trophy Award for outstanding accomplishment in art. In 1951, Moses appeared on the Edward R. Murrow television show See It Now, and in 1952, she published her autobiography Grandma Moses: My Life’s History. In 1953, Moses was on the cover of TIME magazine, and in 1960 on the cover of LIFE magazine celebrating her 100th birthday. Moses also received honorary doctoral degrees from Russell Sage College in 1949, and from the Moore Institute of Art, Science and Industry in 1951.
Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses died on December 13, 1961 at the age of 101. Of her death, her physician, Dr. Clayton E. Shaw, said “she had died of hardening of the arteries, but the best way to describe the cause of death”, he suggested, was to say “she just wore out.”
Sources: New York Times, Orlando Museum of Art, Galerie St. Etienne