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Monday, January 18, 2016

America's Grandma

At the age of 76, her hands were crippling with arthritis, she could no longer hold a sewing needle to stitch embroidery. 


Anna Mary Robertson Moses
(September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961)
Undaunted, as she could not be idle, she discovered that could hold a paintbrush and "Grandma Moses" was born.

Source: wikipedia
Anna Mary Robertson was born in Greenwich, New York, on September 7, 1860.  She was the third child born to Russell King Robertson and Margaret Shannahan, who had seven more children following Anna.  Before her death, at age 101 in 1961, Anna was interviewed many times and stated that her childhood was very happy though hard work was necessary growing up on a farm.  Her father ran the farm, as well as a flax mill in Greenwich, which is located slightly less than 20 miles east of Saratoga Springs.  




Anna Mary worked on her father's farm until she was 12 years old, at which time she took employment on a nearby neighbor's farm to help support the large family.  She has been referred to as a "hired girl" during that time in her life.  She recounted that the work was beneficial as she received an alternative education, "in cooking, house keeping, in moralizing and mingling with the outside world…”




School attendance was sparse, as her family could not afford warm clothes required for travel during cold months, so she could only attend school for three months of the year, during warmer weather.  The school that she attended is now the site of the Bennington Museum, which houses the largest collection in the world, of Grandma Moses work.

In her own words, recalling her childhood, Anna Mary wrote, 

“…I Anna Mary Robertson was born back in the green meadow and wild woods, on a Farm in Washington, Co., in the year of 1860, Sept 7, of Scotch Irish Paternal ancestry.   Here I spent my life with mother Father and Sisters and Brothers, those were my Happy days, free from care or worry, helping mother, rocking Sisters cradle taking sewing lessons from mother, sporting with my Brothers, making rafts to float over the mill-pond, Roam the wild woods gathering Flowers, and building air castles…”
  

Her father, a Methodist, but did not attend church most likely due to his farm duties, so he opted to walk with his children in the woods.  I think it would be safe to assume that this is from where Grandma Moses drew the nostalgic images in her mind that landed on the many canvases she painted.   As a child, she and her 5 brothers and 4 sisters all loved to draw, and her father would bring home large pieces of paper on which they colored scenes of their rural life. 

As a child she used natural mediums to create her art, using lemon and grape juice to create colors for her scenes, which as a child, called "lamb-scapes".


"The Olden Oaken Bucket"
Working the neighbors farm also brought love.  When Anna Mary was 17 years old, she married a hired farm hand by the name of Thomas Salmon Moses in 1887, in Hoosick, New York.  Anna Mary was the housekeeper. 


Thomas Salmon Moses - wedding picture
Anna Mary Moses - wedding picture
The couple honeymooned in North Carolina, and as they made their way back to New York, they were presented with the prospect of purchasing a farm in Virginia.  They paid $600 for it, and remained for the next 20 years.  On this farm they had ten children, and due to poverty, lack of adequate medical care and simply the statistical rate of death during that era, only five of those children survived.  To supplement their income, Anna Mary made butter and home-made potato chips that she sold locally.  


With two of her children
In 1918, she painted over a large fire-board in the parlor, because she had ran out of wallpaper while decorating.  She wanted to finish the room so she put white paper on the wall and commenced to creating a mural of sorts.  This piece survives and is known as the "Fireboard".  Today, it is displayed at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont. 

After these two decades passed, the couple returned to New York, and again, took up farming at Eagle Bridge.  Ten years later, Thomas died of a heart attack in 1927. 





In 1932, Anna Mary traveled to Bennington, Vermont to care for her daughter, with the same name (Anna), who was ill with tuberculosis.   It is here, that her daughter suggests that Anna Mary take up embroidery to pass time.  Her embroidery is referred to as "worsted" sewing, as her stitches were embroidered onto wool.   Her daughter passed away, and Anna Mary stayed for an additional three years to care for her grandchildren.


In 1935, she returned to Eagle Bridge, in New York, where her son, Hugh and his wife, Dorothy and their children, operated the family farm.  It is said that at the age of 78, she began to create her "old timey" paintings, "in earnest".  She was also fond of making berry preserves and other baked goods, which she brought to county fairs and local events to sell.  Her jam won a blue ribbon, however, no one looked twice at her art work.  





Her work is described as primitive, and at that time, her work was created on old sturdy piece of cardboard.  Today, in some art circles she is noted for being the original folk artist.   She continued to paint in her own style, with her own rules and her work is displayed in the window of Thomas' Drugstore in Hoosick Falls, New York.  




In 1938, Louis Caldor, an amatuer collector of art and an engineer, discovered her work telling Anna Mary that he would make her famous.  He mailed her the first canvases and professional paints that she ever used.







A year later, Caldor took three of Anna Mary's paintings to an art show, with little results, as it was not a public event.  Also, those viewing the paintings were not likely to commit time or money to an almost 80 years old woman.  




Another year passed, as Anna Mary continued to create her paintings, and Caldor still saw the value in her work.  He brought them to a gallery owner in New York City by the name of Otto Kallir, who shared his interest and saw the artist's potential. 


He opened a show in Anna Mary's honor entitled, "What a farm wife painted" during the month of October.   In November, Gimbel's Department Store featured her work in an event called "A Thanksgiving Festival" and it was there, the public was introduced to Anna Mary.  Grandma Moses' wit, old fashioned charisma and charm captured the hearts of the public and press, alike.  She was an instant hit and she became an American icon.  As we say, she was an overnight sensation.  



Her art was mostly created from both her memories and what she lived, through her own experiences.  She never really used an easel, preferring to use her lap or a table top, instead. 



Her country style of art depicts scenes of people doing farm chores, and every day rural events.  She also painted historic events.  Her work has been shown around the United States and Europe, and now the Bennington Museum in Vermont houses the largest collection of Grandma Moses work in the world. 


 

Anna Mary Moses died in 1961, at the age of 101.  It is said that she created over 1,000 paintings.  Her work is found printed on fabrics and used as post and greeting cards. 



 She is honored on a U.S. postage stamp.  Her face was on the cover of LIFE and TIME magazines.   Her life's story and art appears in several published books and found on educational material in video.



All I can say is.... I wish I could have met this high spirited woman, and looked into her sparkling grey eyes, just once.