Grandma Moses

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Anna Mary Robertson Moses (September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961), better known as "Grandma Moses", was a renowned American folk artist. She is most often cited as an example of an individual successfully beginning a career in the arts at an advanced age. Moses had ten children but five died at birth. Although her family and friends called her either "Mother Moses" or "Grandma Moses," she first exhibited as "Mrs. Moses," yet the press eagerly dubbed her "Grandma Moses," which stuck." [1] LIFE magazine celebrated her 100th birthday by featuring her on its September 19, 1960 cover.

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." [2]

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." [1]

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. [1]



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.[1] She painted mostly scenes of rural life. Others have noted that she abandoned a career in embroidery because of arthritis. Grandma Moses told reporters that she turned to painting in order to create the postman's Christmas gift, seeing as "was easier to make [a painting] than to bake a cake over a hot stove."[1] Stein notes that "her sense of accomplishment in her painting was rooted in her ability to make 'something from nothing', as Lucy Lippard defined the aesthetics of women's 'hobby art' in 1978." Stein considers [Moses'] quilting work, for which she transformed cloth scraps into useful and beautiful objects, akin to hobby art. [1]

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.[3][4] 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 3600 canvasses in 3 decades. Before her fame, she would charge $2 for a small painting and $3 for a large. Her winter paintings are reminiscent of some of the known winter paintings of Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, such as The Hunters in the Snow and Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap.

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