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Artists in 60 Second: Grandma Moses

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Old Checkered House in Winter

The Old Checkered House in Winter (1950), Oil on pressed board.

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:

Folk Art

Date and Place of Birth:

September 7, 1860, Greenwich, New York

Life:

Anna Mary Robertson was born a farm girl, went to work for hire on another farm when she was 12, married farmer Thomas Salmon Moses at age 27 and labored by his side on their farm until his death in 1927. She also raised a a family of five children (out of 10 pregnancies), cooked a gajillion meals, gardened, canned, cleaned, sewed, butchered and performed the thousands of other tasks one must do to farm. In retrospect, she was blessed to have lived long enough to get in a little painting time.

After Thomas' death, and after arthritic hands forced her to abandon embroidery, she took up oil painting in the 1930s. For a while, she sold paintings (and pickles) at the county fair, while also having a group of works on display in the local drugstore's window. Fate led collector Louis Caldor to pass through Hoosick Falls on a summer trip, and he promptly bought the lot. On his recommendation Moses' work was included in a 1939 MoMA exhibition and the rest, as they say, was cultural history.

It was after her 1940 solo exhibition, What a Farm Wife Painted, that the "Grandma" tag was added (presumably she didn't mind, as she qualified in real life). Living to the ripe old age of 101, she became a "household name," saw her work reproduced countless times in a variety of media and continued to paint to the end, producing over 1000 works in total. Ever the thrifty farmer, she never did quite reconcile herself with the sums of money people were willing to pay for her originals.
There is probably no other figure in Art History who needs less analysis than Grandma Moses. She was exactly who she seemed to be.

Important Works:

  • Sugaring Off, 1943
  • Wash Day, 1945
  • A Beautiful World, 1948
  • The Thunderstorm, 1948
  • The Old Checkered House in Winter, 1950

Date and Place of Death:

December 13, 1961, Hoosick Falls, New York

Quotes From Grandma Moses:

  • "If I hadn't started painting, I would have raised chickens."

  • "I look back on my life like a good day's work; it was done and I am satisfied with it."

Sources and Further Reading

  • Bass, Ruth. "Moses, Grandma"
    Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 23 July 2005.

  • Kallir, Jane, et. al. Grandma Moses in the 21st Century
    New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

  • Kallir, Jane. Grandma Moses: The Artist behind the Myth
    New York: Artline, 1982.

  • Kallir, Otto. Grandma Moses.
    New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1973.

  • Kallir, Otto (ed.). Grandma Moses, American Primitive.
    New York: Doubleday, 1947.

  • Rodgers, David. "Moses, Grandma"
    The Oxford Companion to Western Art.
    Ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford University Press, 2001.
    Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 25 July 2005.

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