How Did Grandma Moses Became Famous?
Grandma Moses (1860-1961) became famous as a painter when she held her first exhibition at the age of 78; she is often cited as an example of an individual successfully beginning a career in the arts at an advanced age. She was then “discovered” by a collector, Louis J. Calder, and became internationally known as a modern “primitive”, a self-taught naive painter.
Anna Mary Robertson was born in Greenwich, New York, of Scottish-Irish descent. At the age of 58 she decided to start painting and chose scenes from her childhood, which she presented in bright, uncomplicated colors and peopled with her memories. In 1940, when she was 80, she had her first solo exhibition in New York and nine years later was received at the white house by President Truman. In 1960 Governor Rockefeller proclaimed her birthday, September 7, as Grandma Moses Day in New York State.
Her works were reproduced on Christmas cards, calendars and birthday cards and became immensely popular because of their simplicity and directness and the faithfulness and love with which they recorded humble scenes now vanished from the American way of life. Moses’ paintings are among the collections of many museums. The Sugaring Off was sold for US $1.2 million in 2006.
Moses has appeared on magazine covers, television, and in a documentary of her life. She wrote her autobiography, won numerous awards and was awarded two honorary doctoral degrees.
The New York Times said of her: “The simple realism, nostalgic atmosphere and luminous color with which Grandma Moses portrayed simple farm life and rural countryside won her a wide following. She was able to capture the excitement of winter’s first snow, Thanksgiving preparations and the new, young green of oncoming spring… In person, Grandma Moses charmed wherever she went. A tiny, lively woman with mischievous gray eyes and a quick wit, she could be sharp-tongued with a sycophant and stern with an errant grandchild.”
Starting at 12 years of age and for a total of 15 years, she was a live-in housekeeper. One of the families that she worked for, who noticed her appreciation for their prints made by Currier and Ives, supplied her with art materials to create drawings. Moses and her husband began their married life in Virginia, where they worked on farms.
In 1905 they returned to the Northeastern United States and settled in Eagle Bridge, New York. The couple had five children who survived infancy. Her interest in art was expressed throughout her life, including embroidery of pictures with yarn, until arthritis made this pursuit too painful.