At the close of a difficult year full of assorted challenges for all of us, and just before we celebrate the birth of Time’s latest child, 2016 A New Opportunity, I thought we’d take a closer look at someone who maximized her latent talent late in life. Throughout her life she displayed an avid interest in all things beautiful, but only began painting in earnest at age 78.
Working on her canvas in the field
Anna Mary Robertson, the third of ten children (having a really large family was par for the course those days) was born in September 1860 to a not very well-to-do family living in rural Vermont. She left home at an early age for the rather unpromising field of domestic service.
From age 12 to age 27 she was a live in housekeeper for several wealthy but fortunately benevolent families who noticed even at that stage her flair for drawing and appreciation of paintings in their homes, and met her husband-to-be, a fellow farm worker, in Virginia. After many years of making ends meet through various projects the young couple were able to afford their own farm.
She spent the first twenty years of married life in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, after which the family moved to a farm outside Eagle Bridge in upstate New York, close to the Vermont border and not too far from where she grew up.
Her husband Thomas Moses died in 1927. In 1936 she went to live with her daughter, shortly before commencing her new career as an artist.
Although she had always been artistically inclined, Granny Moses had taken up embroidery and quilting as a hobby, as opposed to painting. She was always resourceful and creative in all her activities. At age 76 she found that the effect of age-related arthritis was hampering her ability to embroider effectively. At this point her sister suggested that she take up her paintbrushes and focus on her painting skills, which turned out to be the most brilliant advice possible.
County Fair: celebrating a highlight on the local calendar!
She painted over 1 500 canvases during her formal art career, from age 76 until her death in 1961 at the age of 101.
She started off by selling her canvases for only $3-$5; as her fame spread across the nation and the world her delightful works were increasingly sought after and were eventually selling for $8000 – $10 000.
Grandma Moses’s deceptively simple style (she’s known as a member of the Primitive school since she had no formal art training) captures the rustic simplicity of American farm life in a bygone era. There’s nothing depressing or threatening in her pictures. They simply show Grandma’s impressions of day to day rural activities in New England.
At the Bend in the River: an idyllic and peaceful scene in the countryside
Her first works were exhibited in the community of Hoosick Falls in 1938 at which time she was approaching 78 years of age. Some of her works were displayed in a Washington DC gallery in 1940 from whence things developed in leaps and bounds.
She often painted scenes celebrating Christmas and other holidays, as seen below:
So Long till Next Year: Santa rides off into the night
A Tramp at Christmas: sharing the goodwill of the season with the less fortunate
Since the products of her paintbrush were cheerful and iconically American, Hallmark rapidly got in on the act and her work was reproduced on their greeting cards. It found its way to tiles and ceramics, and in advertisements for coffee, cigarettes, lipstick and cameras.
Appearing on Time magazine, 28 December 1953
Her 100th birthday, 7 September 1960, was proclaimed by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to be “Grandma Moses Day.”
She passed away in Hoosick Falls shortly before Christmas 1961. To this day her legacy lives on in her nostalgic paintings as well as the inspiration to us all to never allow age to limit the fulfilment of our dreams.
“The death of Grandma Moses removed a beloved figure from American life. The directness and vividness of her paintings restored a primitive freshness to our perception of the American scene. Both her work and her life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recall its roots in the countryside and on the frontier. All Americans mourn her loss.” –President John F. Kennedy
We Love to Skate: A charming winter scene
“There emanates from her paintings a light-hearted optimism; the world she shows us is beautiful and it is good. You feel at home in all these pictures, and you know their meaning. The unrest and the neurotic insecurity of the present day make us inclined to enjoy the simple and affirmative outlook of Grandma Moses.” – an unknown German admirer of Granny Moses’s works.