Grandma Moses: A Short Biography

Published 22 Sep 2017

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, commonly referred to as “Grandma Moses”, was born on September 7, 1860 in Greenwich, New York. She is famously known for her paintings despite the fact that she did not receive any formal training and education on art. She grew up in a family of ten children and worked at their family’s farm while still at a young age. At the age of twelve, she was already earning by working as a hired girl in homes close to her family’s house. Her curiosity for the visual arts began at the time when her father bought sheets of blank newspaper for the children where they could scribble images.

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“Fireboard” is considered as the first painting of Grandma Moses. It is a painting of a scene which she intended to use as the last part of the wallpaper that she was installing for her parlor room in their Eagle Ridge farm at the time. At present, the painting is housed in Bennington Museum in Vermont. During the later parts of her life, Grandma Moses started to embroider pictures in yarn in order to make the most of her spare time. However, her arthritis at the age of seventy-six forced her to give-up embroidery and focus instead on painting.

Her inspiration for the most part of her paintings includes the 1800s prints of American historical events and the lives of both the ordinary and the celebrities. It was Louis Caldor, an engineer and an art collector, who first took notice of her paintings in 1938. A few months after, three of her paintings ended up in an art exhibition known as “Contemporary Unknown Painters” in the Museum of Modern Art sometime in October of the same year. She has been known to draw from what she can remember about her past experiences in life.
In 1940, Grandma Moses had her first solo art exhibit called “What a Farm Wife Painted” and where she was first given the nickname “Grandma”. Public demand for her paintings began to grow in 1943 largely because of the common theme that underlines the majority of her work-;country scenes that bring back the people’s happy memories in a rural setting.

Demand for her paintings from abroad soon followed after her 1940 solo exhibit. Her contribution to “primitive art” eventually earned her the respect of the nation. In fact, former governor of New York Nelson Rockefeller proclaimed the birthday of Grandma Moses as “Grandma Moses Day” in honor of her contribution to American culture. In 1949, Russell Sage College gave her honorary doctoral degrees. Two years after, the Moore Institute of Art, Science and Industry also gave her the same honorary distinction. After tracing her ancestry, she was also invited to join the Daughters of the American Revolution as well as the Society of Mayflower Descendants. Grandma Moses died more than a century after her birth date.

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