Grandma Moses

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Grandma Moses
Grandma Moses NYWTS.jpg
Grandma Moses, 1953
Born Anna Mary Robertson
(1860-09-07)September 7, 1860
Greenwich, New York,
United States
Died December 13, 1961(1961-12-13) (aged 101)
Hoosick Falls, New York,
United States
Nationality United States
Known for Painting, Embroidery
Notable work(s) The Old Checkered Inn in Summer
Spouse(s) Thomas Salmon Moses (1887-1927; his death)

Anna Mary Robertson Moses (September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961), better known by her nickname of "Grandma Moses," was a renowned American folk artist. She is often cited as an example of an individual successfully beginning a career in the arts at an advanced age.

Early life[edit]

Anna Mary Robertson was born on September 7, 1860, the third of ten children born to Russell King Robertson and Margaret Shanahan Robertson. She was born in Greenwich, upstate New York. Her father ran a flax mill and was a farmer. Moses had five brothers and four sisters. She began to work for a wealthy neighboring family at 12 years of age, performing chores on their farm. She continued to keep house, cook and sew for wealthy families for 15 years.[1]

Marriage and children[edit]

In 1887, at the age of 27, she married a "hired man" at the farm where she was a servant, Thomas Salmon Moses, and the couple established themselves near Staunton, Virginia where they spent nearly two decades, living and working in turn on four separate local farms.[1][2] During this time she gave birth to 10 children, five of whom died in infancy. In 1905, the couple returned to New York and settled in Eagle Bridge, not far from Anna Mary's birthplace. In 1927, Thomas Moses died. However, Anna Mary continued to operate the farm, with the help of her youngest son, till advancing age forced her retirement to a daughter's home in 1936.[3]

Her family and friends called her either "Mother Moses" or "Grandma Moses," and although she first exhibited as "Mrs. Moses," the press dubbed her "Grandma Moses," and the nickname stuck.[4]

Decorative arts[edit]

Fireboard decorated by Moses in 1918

Often, during her younger days as a wife and mother, Moses had been creative in her home by, for example, using housepaint to decorate a fireboard. Moses's earliest works, however, used embroidery rather than paint. Her embroidered pictures were much admired by friends and relatives.[3]

Art historian Judith Stein considers Moses's quilting work, for which she transformed cloth scraps into useful and beautiful objects, akin to hobby art, as defined by Lucy Lippard in 1978."[4]

Transition to painting[edit]

Like many persons older than 60 years of age, Anna Mary Moses had developed arthritis by the time she reached the age of 76; this eventually made it too painful for her to wield embroidery needles. Because of this, her sister Celestia suggested to her that it might be easier for her to paint, and this proved to be the pivotal suggestion that spurred Moses's painting career in her late 70s.[1][3]

According to 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. She further noted that "her sense of accomplishment in her painting was rooted in her ability to make 'something from nothing.'[4]

Grandma Moses told reporters that she turned to painting in order to create the postman's Christmas gift, seeing as it "was easier to make [a painting] than to bake a cake over a hot stove."[4]

Art career[edit]

She painted mostly scenes of rural life.[4] 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.[5][6] 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 1600 canvasses in three decades. Before her fame, she would charge $2 for a small painting and $3 for a large. Her winter paintings are reminiscent of some such of the known winter paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder as The Hunters in the Snow and Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap.

In 1938 a New York engineer and art collector, Louis J. Caldor drove through Hoosick Falls and saw some of her paintings displayed in a drug store window. He purchased all of the paintings, priced from $3 to $5, att he store and ten others from her house at Eagle Bridge. The next year, three Grandma Moses paintings were included in "Contemporary Unknown American Painters" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which was the beginning of her artistic career. Her first solo exhibition, "What a Farm Wife Painted," opened in October 1940 at Otto Kallir's New York City gallery, Galerie St. Etienne.[7] A meet-and-greet with the artist and an exhibition of 50 paintings at Gimbel's Department Store was held next on November 15. Her art displays also had samples of her baked goods and preserves that won prizes at the county fair. Her third solo show in as many months, was held at the Whyte Gallery, Washington, D.C. Of the exhibitions.[4] This brought her to the world-wide attention of art collectors. After her death, large traveling exhibitions circulated throughout Europe and Japan.

Grandma Moses's 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) written by Eleanor Early 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."[8]

During the 1950s, Grandma Moses's exhibitions were so popular that they broke attendance records all over the world. The art historian Judith Stein noted: "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."[4]

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 from which she was then suffering, she received the degree in absentia, presenting her acceptance speech via a special telephone hookup.[4]

Moses's paintings were soon reproduced on Christmas cards, tiles and fabrics in America and abroad. In 1946, her painting The Old Checkered Inn in Summer was featured in the background of a national advertising campaign for the young women's lip gloss Primitive Red, which Du Barry Cosmetics was then marketing. President Harry S. Truman presented her with the Women's National Press Club trophy Award for outstanding accomplishment in art in 1949, and in 1951 she appeared as a guest on See It Now, a television program hosted by Edward R. Murrow. The "See It Now" segment on Grandma Moses is presently available on DVD in "The Edward R. Murrow Collection." However, it contains no more than one-third of the actual 25-minute produced interview. In 1952, she published her autobiography and titled it Grandma Moses: My Life's History.

On her 100th birthday in 1960, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller proclaimed the day "Grandma Moses Day" in her honor.[1] LIFE magazine celebrated her birthday by featuring her on its September 19, 1960 cover.


Grandma Moses died on December 13, 1961 at 101 years of age at the Health Center in Hoosick Falls, New York. She is buried there at the Maple Grove Cemetery.[1]


1969 U.S. postage stamp honoring Grandma Moses

A 1942 piece, The Old Checkered House, 1862 was appraised at the Memphis 2004 Antiques Roadshow.[9] The painting was a summer scene in Geneva, New York,[citation needed] not as common as her winter landscapes. Originally purchased in the 1940s for under $10,[10] the piece was assigned an insurance value of $60,000 by the appraiser, Alan Fausel.[9]

In November 2006, her 1943 work Sugaring off became her highest-selling work at US $1.2 million.[11]

Her painting, Fourth of July, hangs in the White House. It also appears on a U.S. commemorative stamp that was issued in her honor in 1969.[12]

The character Granny on the popular 1960s rural comedy television series The Beverly Hillbillies was named Daisy Moses as an homage to Grandma Moses, who died shortly before the series began.[12]

Norman Rockwell was a friend of Grandma Moses who lived over the Vermont-New York state border.[13] Moses lived in Eagle Bridge, New York and after 1938 the Rockwells had a house in Arlington, Vermont.[14] Grandma Moses also appears on the far left edge in the Norman Rockwell painting Christmas Homecoming, which was printed on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post of December 25, 1948.[15][16]

Mount Airy near Verona, Virginia was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. It was the first house Grandma Moses and her husband owned in their married lives. They owned the house from January 1901 to September of 1902.[17][18]



  1. ^ a b c d e "Anna Mary Robertson ("Grandma") Moses Biography". Galerie St. Etienne. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  2. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Program: Women's History Month Feature 2013 - Mt. Airy, Augusta County, Virginia". National Park Service. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "Grandma Moses in the 21st Century (originally published in Resource Library Magazine.}". Traditional Fine Arts Organization Inc. Retrieved August 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Judith Stein, "The White-Haired Girl: A Feminist Reading," Grandma Moses in the 21st Century (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 2001), pp. 48–63.
  5. ^ William Zimmer (1998-07-26). "ART; The Varied Tradition of Grandma Moses". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  6. ^ American Council of Learned Societies (1959). Dictionary of American Biography. Scribner. p. 557. ISBN 978-0-684-16794-7. 
  7. ^ Galerie St. Etienne
  8. ^ Eleanor Early, "Just a Mother," True Confessions, May 1947, p. 47.
  9. ^ a b "1942 Grandma Moses Painting". PBS. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  10. ^ BJ Gallagher (11 February 2014). It's Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been: A Guide to Getting the Life You Love. Cleis Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-936740-69-7. 
  11. ^ Martin Bjergegaard; Jordan Milne (1 May 2014). Winning Without Losing: 66 strategies for succeeding in a business while living a happy and balanced life. Pine Tribe Limited. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-9912609-7-3. 
  12. ^ a b Sunny Schubert (April 27, 2012). View from the Pier: Brushing up on some art with Vino and Van Gogh. The Herald-Independent. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  13. ^ Deborah Saloman (November 1, 2013). "Norman Rockwell’s New England". New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  14. ^ Karal Ann Marling (2006). Designs on the Heart: The Homemade Art of Grandma Moses. Harvard University Press. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-674-02226-3. 
  15. ^ Karal Ann Marling (2006). Designs on the Heart: The Homemade Art of Grandma Moses. Harvard University Press. pp. 187–189, 284. ISBN 978-0-674-02226-3. 
  16. ^ "Norman Rockwell's Christmas Homecoming cover of the Saturday Evening Post". Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  17. ^ Amy Ross Moses (March 2012). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Mount Airy". 
  18. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Listings". Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 8/20/12 through 8/24/12. National Park Service. 2012-08-31. 
  19. ^ "Museum Story". Bennington Museum. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Collections". Bennington Museum. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Anna Mary Robertson Moses". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Artists - M - page 4". Figge Art Museum. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Search: Grandma Moses". Hirshhorn. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Search: Anna Moses". Lauren Rogers Museum of Art. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Search: Moses". Maier Museum of Art, Randolph College. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Search: Anna Moses". Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  27. ^ "Search: Grandma Moses". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Grandma Moses". National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  29. ^ "Collection - Artists L-M". The Phillips Collection. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 
  30. ^ "Grandma Moses". University of Iowa Museum of Art. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 

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