National Museum of Women in the Arts
Grandma Moses
September 07 1860 - December 13 1961
Place of Birth:
Easton
Nationality:
American
Phonetic Spelling:
GRAND-mah MOH-zehss
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Active Dates:
circa 1938 - circa 1961
Work Type/Media:
Painting, Textiles and clothing
Artistic Role(s):
Embroiderer, Folk Artist, Naïve Artist, Needleworker, Painter, Self-taught Artist
Style:
Naïve Artist
Artist's Biography:
Born Anna Mary Robertson in the farming town of Easton, New York, Grandma Moses left home at the age of twelve to work as a hired girl at a neighboring farm. When she married Thomas Salmon Moses in 1887, she refused to be a simple farmwife and helped support her family on their Staunton, Virginia farm by making butter and homemade potato chips for sale. By 1903, Moses had given birth to ten children but only five survived past infancy. While she disliked spending all of her time knitting and sewing, she began to entertain herself and her friends by making needlework pictures and quilts. She filled her time producing colorful scenes of farm life, and when, at age seventy-eight, arthritis rendered her unable to embroider, friends suggested she try painting these scenes instead.

Working with whatever materials and scraps were available, Moses used house paint and leftover canvas or fireboard for her first paintings. Although she was very familiar with the hardships and sorrow of the difficult lives of farmers and their families, she illustrated happy childhood memories of fields and storms, barn dances, and daily life in rural New York and Virginia, omitting telephone poles, tractors, and other elements of the effects of industrialization. While her paintings did not receive much attention at a local fair, they were very popular among her friends, and she displayed a few for sale at a local drug store.

New York collector Louis J. Caldor happened to see her work at the pharmacy and was immediately enchanted. With his support, Moses had an exhibition at Galerie St. Etienne in New York entitled What a Farmwife Painted. When her work was reviewed in the Herald Tribune, the writer admiringly called her “Grandma Moses.” Her paintings became very popular and were appreciated for their nostalgic charm. As a self-taught artist, Moses had little concern for perspective or proportion. However her sensitivity to composition and more accurate rendering of her subjects developed throughout her career. While her contemporaries were experimenting with Abstract Expressionism, Moses continued recording her memories in paintings for her own enjoyment. She never had a studio but instead painted in her bedroom or on the porch. She exhibited her work internationally into her nineties and painted until a few months before her death at age 101.

Other Occupation(s):
Author
Place(s) of Residence:
Staunton
Eagle Bridge
Where Trained/Schools:
none
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Proclamation of "Grandma Moses Day" in New York State, Governor of New York, Albany, NY, USA (1960) Special Commission by President Eisenhower's Cabinet, Washington, DC, USA (1956) Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Art, Women's National Press Club, Washington, DC, USA (1949)
Earliest exhibition:
What a Farmwife Painted, Galerie St. Etienne, New York, NY, USA (1940)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Four Centuries of Women's Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts
Grandma Moses in the 21st Century
Artist retrospective(s):
Grandma Moses: The Artist Behind the Myth, Galerie St. Etienne, New York, NY, USA (1982) Grandma Moses, Anna Mary Robertson Moses (1860-1961), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA (1979) A Life's History in 40 Pictures, Hammer Galleries, New York, NY, USA (1962-1964)
Related places
Hoosick Falls (died at)