Grandma Moses

Last updated

Grandma Moses
NPG 81.8 Grandma Moses Clara Sipprell (cropped).jpg
Anna Mary Robertson

(1860-09-07)September 7, 1860
DiedDecember 13, 1961(1961-12-13) (aged 101)
Hoosick Falls, New York, United States
Nationality United States
Known for Painting, Embroidery
Notable work
The Old Checkered Inn in Summer
Spouse(s)Thomas Salmon Moses (m. 1887–1927; his death)

Anna Mary Robertson Moses (September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961), or Grandma Moses, was an American folk artist. She began painting in earnest at the age of 78 and is a prominent example of a newly successful art career at an advanced age. Her works have been shown and sold worldwide, including in museums, and have been merchandised such as on greeting cards. Sugaring Off was sold for US$1.2 million in 2006.


Moses appeared on magazine covers, television, and in a biographical documentary. Her autobiography is My Life's History, she won numerous awards, and she held two honorary doctoral degrees.

The New York Times said: "The simple realism, nostalgic atmosphere and luminous color with which Grandma Moses portrayed simple farm life and rural countryside won her a wide following. She was able to capture the excitement of winter's first snow, Thanksgiving preparations and the new, young green of oncoming spring... In person, Grandma Moses charmed wherever she went. A tiny, lively woman with mischievous gray eyes and a quick wit, she could be sharp-tongued with a sycophant and stern with an errant grandchild." [1]

She was a live-in housekeeper for a total of 15 years, starting at age 12. An employer noticed her appreciation for their prints made by Currier and Ives, and they supplied her with drawing materials. Moses and her husband began their married life in Virginia, where they worked on farms. In 1905, they returned to the Northeastern United States and settled in Eagle Bridge, New York. They had ten children, five of whom survived infancy. She embroidered pictures with yarn, until disabled by arthritis.

Early life

Anna Mary Robertson in the 1860s Anna Mary Robertson - 1860s.jpg
Anna Mary Robertson in the 1860s

Anna Mary Robertson was born in Greenwich, New York on September 7, 1860; she was the third of ten children born to Margaret Shanahan Robertson and Russell King Robertson. She was raised with four sisters and five brothers. Her father ran a flax mill and was a farmer. [2] She briefly attended a one-room school. [1] That school is now the Bennington Museum in Vermont, which has the largest collection of her works in the United States. [3] She was inspired to paint by taking art lessons at school. As a child, she started painting using lemon and grape juice to make colors for her "landscapes" [1] and used ground ochre, grass, flour paste, slack lime, and sawdust. [4]

At age 12, she left home and performed farm chores for a wealthy neighboring family. She continued to keep house, cook, and sew for wealthy families for 15 years. [1] [2] One of these families, the Whitesides, noticed her interest in their Currier and Ives prints and bought her chalk and wax crayons. [4]

Marriage and children

At age 27, she worked on the same farm with Thomas Salmon Moses, a "hired man". They were married and established themselves near Staunton, Virginia where they spent nearly two decades, living and working in turn on five local farms. Four of them are The Bell Farm or Eakle Farm, The Dudley Farm, Mount Airy Farm (now included within Augusta County's Millway Place Industrial Park), and Mount Nebo. [5] [6] To supplement the family income at Mount Nebo, Anna made potato chips and churned butter from the milk of a cow that she purchased with her savings. Later, the couple bought a farm. [2] Mount Airy near Verona, Virginia was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Having bought the house in January 1901, it is the first residence the family owned. They lived there until September 1902. [7] [8]

Anna Mary Robertson Moses with two of her children Anna Mary Robertson Moses with two of her children - estimate between 1890 and 1910.jpg
Anna Mary Robertson Moses with two of her children

Five of the ten children born to them survived infancy. Although she loved living in the Shenandoah Valley, in 1905 Anna and Robert moved to a farm in Eagle Bridge, New York at her husband's urging. When Thomas Moses was about 67 years of age in 1927, he died of a heart attack, after which Anna's son Forrest helped her operate the farm. She never married again. She retired and moved to a daughter's home in 1936. [1] [2] [9] She was known as either "Mother Moses" or "Grandma Moses", and although she first exhibited as "Mrs. Moses", the press dubbed her "Grandma Moses", and the nickname stuck. [10]

Decorative arts

Fireboard decorated by Moses in 1918 1918 fireboard byGrandmaMoses.png
Fireboard decorated by Moses in 1918

As a young wife and mother, Moses was creative in her home; for example, in 1918 she used housepaint to decorate a fireboard. Beginning in 1932, Moses made embroidered pictures of yarn for friends and family. [2] [9] She created quilted objects, a form of "hobby art". Lucy R. Lippard stated in "The Word in Their Hands" that she found "hobby art" to be "an activity so 'low' on the art lists that it still ranks way below 'folk art...'" She found that hobby art often involves reuse of otherwise discarded objects. [11] [10]

By the age of 76, Moses had developed arthritis, which made embroidery painful. Her sister Celestia suggested that painting would be easier for her, and this idea spurred Moses's painting career in her late 70s. [2] [9] Grandma Moses also 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". [10] Being practical, painted works would last longer than her embroidered compositions made of worsted wool, which risked being eaten by moths. Judith Stein noted that "her sense of accomplishment in her painting was rooted in her ability to make 'something from nothing'". [10] When her right hand began to hurt, she switched to her left hand.

Art career

What appeared to be an interest in painting at a late age was actually a manifestation of a childhood dream. With no time in her difficult farm-life to pursue painting, she was obliged to set aside her passion to paint. At age 92 she wrote, "I was quite small, my father would get me and my brothers white paper by the sheet. he liked to see us draw pictures, it was a penny a sheet and lasted longer than candy." [12]


Moses painted scenes of rural life [10] from earlier days, which she called "old-timey" New England landscapes. Moses said that she would "get an inspiration and start painting; then I'll forget everything, everything except how things used to be and how to paint it so people will know how we used to live." [1] From her works of art, she omitted features of modern life, such as tractors and telephone poles. [13]

Her early style is less individual and more realistic or primitive, with a lack of knowledge of, or perhaps rejection of, basic perspective. [14] [15] Initially she created simple compositions or copied existing images. As her career advanced, she created complicated, panoramic compositions of rural life. [16]

She was a prolific painter, generating more than 1,500 canvasses in three decades. [16] She initially charged $3 to $5 for a painting, depending upon its size, and as her fame increased her works were sold for $8,000 to $10,000. [1] Her winter paintings are reminiscent of some of the known winter paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, although she had never seen his work. [17] A German fan said, "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." [1]

Initial exhibitions

During a visit to Hoosick Falls in 1938, Louis J. Caldor, an art collector who worked as an engineer in the state of New York, saw paintings made by Moses in the window of a drug store. He bought their supply and ten more from her Eagle Bridge house for $3 or $5 each. The next year, three Grandma Moses paintings were included in New York's Museum of Modern Art exhibition titled "Contemporary Unknown American Painters". Her first solo exhibition, "What a Farm Wife Painted", opened in New York in October 1940 at Otto Kallir's Galerie St. Etienne. [2] [10] 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 included samples of her baked goods and preserves that won Moses prizes at the county fair. Her third solo show in as many months, was held at the Whyte Gallery, Washington, D.C. [10] In 1944, she was represented by the American British Art Center and the Galerie St. Etienne, which increased her sales. Her paintings were exhibited throughout Europe and the United States over the next 20 years. [2] Otto Kallir established the Grandma Moses Properties, Inc. for her. [4]

The paintings of Grandma Moses were used to publicize American holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Mother's Day. [18] 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." [18] During the 1950s, her exhibitions broke attendance records around the world. Art historian Judith Stein noted: "A cultural icon, the spry, productive nonagenarian was continually cited as an inspiration for housewives, widows and retirees." [10] Her paintings were reproduced on Hallmark greeting cards, tiles, fabrics, [2] and ceramics. They were also used to market products, like coffee, lipstick, cigarettes, and cameras. [10]


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. When she reached 88, Mademoiselle magazine named her a "Young Woman of the Year". [10] She was awarded two honorary doctoral degrees. The first was bestowed in 1949 from Russell Sage College and the second two years later from the Moore College of Art and Design. [1]

President Harry S. Truman presented her with the Women's National Press Club trophy Award for outstanding accomplishment in art in 1949. Jerome Hill directed the 1950 documentary of her life, which was nominated for an Academy Award. In 1952, she published her autobiography, My Life's History. [2] In it she said "I look back on my life like a good day's work, it was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be." [1] In 1955, she appeared as a guest on See It Now , a television program hosted by Edward R. Murrow. [2]

Later years and death

She was a member of the Society of Mayflower Descendants and Daughters of the American Revolution. [1] Her 100th birthday was proclaimed "Grandma Moses Day" by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. LIFE magazine celebrated her birthday by featuring her on its September 19, 1960, cover. [2] The children's book Grandma Moses Story Book was published in 1961. [1]

Grandma Moses died at age 101 on December 13, 1961 at the Health Center in Hoosick Falls, New York. She is buried there at the Maple Grove Cemetery. [2] President John F. Kennedy memorialized her: "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." [1] After her death, her work was exhibited in several large traveling exhibitions in the United States and abroad. [2]


The 1969 U.S. postage stamp honoring Grandma Moses. It re-creates her painting Fourth of July, which the White House owns. GrandmaMosesStamp1969.jpg
The 1969 U.S. postage stamp honoring Grandma Moses. It re-creates her painting Fourth of July, which the White House owns.

A 1942 piece, The Old Checkered House, 1862, was appraised at the Memphis 2004 Antiques Roadshow . [19] It was not as common as her winter landscapes. Originally purchased in the 1940s for under $10, [20] the piece was assigned an insurance value of $60,000 by the appraiser, Alan Fausel. [19]

In November 2006, her 1943 work Sugaring Off became her highest-selling work at US $1.2 million. [21]

Otto Kallir of the Galerie St. Etienne gave her painting Fourth of July (1951) to the White House as a gift in 1952. [22] The painting also appears on a U.S. commemorative stamp that was issued in Grandma Moses' honor in 1969. [23]

The character Daisy "Granny" Moses (Irene Ryan) on The Beverly Hillbillies , was named as an homage to Grandma Moses, who died shortly before the series began. [23]

Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses were friends who lived over the Vermont-New York state border from each other. [24] Moses lived in Eagle Bridge, New York and after 1938 the Rockwells had a house in nearby Arlington, Vermont. [25] She appears on the far left edge in the Norman Rockwell painting Christmas Homecoming, which was printed on The Saturday Evening Post 's December 25, 1948 cover. [26] [27]


This is a selection of the public collections of her work:


These are selected works:

Related Research Articles

Rockwell Kent American artist (1882-1971)

Rockwell Kent was an American painter, printmaker, illustrator, writer, sailor, adventurer and voyager.

John Kane was an American painter celebrated for his skill in Naïve art.

Famous Artists School American correspondence school

Famous Artists School is an art correspondence course institution, in operation since 1948. The school was founded by members of the New York Society of Illustrators, principally Albert Dorne and Norman Rockwell.

Arnold Kramer American painter

Arnold Kramer (1882–1976) was an American folk artist.

<i>Freedom from Want</i> Painting by Norman Rockwell

Freedom from Want, also known as The Thanksgiving Picture or I'll Be Home for Christmas, is the third of the Four Freedoms series of four oil paintings by American artist Norman Rockwell. The works were inspired by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union Address, known as Four Freedoms.

Queena Stovall

Queena Stovall was an American folk artist. Sometimes called "The Grandma Moses of Virginia," she is famous for depicting everyday events in the lives of both white and black families in rural settings.

Nan Phelps, was an American folk artist from London, Kentucky. Phelps’ work has often been compared to that of the more famous Grandma Moses in both style and subject matter.

Dean Fausett American painter

William Dean Fausett was an American painter. His career spanned over six decades. He painted notable figures like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Grandma Moses, Ezra Taft Benson, and Sir Alexander Fleming. His brother Lynn Fausett was also a painter. Fausett also purchased the historic house of Cephas Kent, Jr. in Dorset, Vermont and was instrumental in it the forming of the Kent Neighborhood Historic District.

Rosalind Bengelsdorf American painter

Rosalind Bengelsdorf was an American painter, art critic and educator. She is also known as Rosalind Bengelsdorf Browne and as Rosalind Browne.

Helen LaFrance African American artist

{{Infobox artist | honorific_prefix = | name = | honorific_suffix = | image = Helen LaFrance.jpg | image_size = | alt = LaFrance in her studio | caption = | native_name = | native_name_lang = | birth_name = | birth_date = November 4, 1919 | birth_place = Graves County, Kentucky | death_date = November 22, 2020 (aged 101) | death_place = Mayfield, Graves County, Kentucky | resting_place = | resting_place_coordinates = | nationality = | residence = | education = | alma_mater = | known_for = | notable_works = | style = | movement = outsider art, [[memory painting] [Black art][women artists]] | spouse = | partner = | awards = | elected = | patrons = | memorials = | website = | module = }}

Archibald Robertson (painter) American painter

Archibald Robertson was a Scottish born painter who operated the Columbian Academy of Painting in New York with his brother Alexander. Known for his miniature portrait paintings, he was asked to paint George and Martha Washington soon after coming to the United States from Scotland. He also made watercolor landscape paintings and engravings. His book Elements of the Graphic Arts was published in 1802.

Bennington Museum

The Bennington Museum is an accredited museum with notable collections of art and regional history. It is located at 75 Main Street, Bennington, Vermont, USA.

Clara McDonald Williamson American painter

Clara McDonald Williamson was a 20th century American painter who worked in the tradition of naïve art. Her subjects were genre scenes of life in the American West, especially her home state of Texas. Like Grandma Moses, she started painting late in life and she achieved a national reputation despite the fact that her career lasted only two decades.

Tella Kitchen was a folk artist known for her paintings of landscapes and town life in rural Indiana and Ohio. She was a self-taught artist, whose work was based on her memories of her life. Her work achieved national recognition, and can be found in the collections of the American Folk Art Museum.

Jane Kallir is an American art dealer, curator and author. She is co-director of the Galerie St. Etienne in New York, which specializes in Austrian and German Expressionism as well as self-taught and “outsider” art. Kallir has curated exhibitions for many American and international museums and is the author of the catalogue raisonné of Egon Schiele’s work in all mediums.

Galerie St. Etienne

Galerie St. Etienne is an Expressionism art gallery operating in the United States, founded in Vienna in 1923 by Otto Kallir as the Neue Galerie. Forced to leave Austria after the 1938 Nazi invasion, Kallir established his gallery in Paris as the Galerie St. Etienne, named after the Neue Galerie's location near Vienna's Cathedral of St. Stephen. In 1939, Kallir and his family left France for the United States, where he reestablished the Galerie St. Etienne on 46 West 57th Street in New York City. The gallery still exists, run by Otto Kallir's granddaughter Jane and Hildegard Bachert on 24 West 57th Street. It maintains a reputation as a principal harbinger of Austrian and German Expressionism to the US.

Otto Kallir

Otto Kallir was an Austrian-American art historian, author, publisher and gallerist. He was awarded the Silbernes Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste um das Land Wien in 1968.

Hildegard Bachert was a German-born American art dealer and gallery director. Born in Mannheim, Germany in 1921, Bachert moved to America in 1936 to seek refuge from the Nazi regime. In 1940, she began working at the Galerie St. Etienne, a Manhattan gallery specializing in Austrian and German expressionist art, where she worked until her death.

Ala Story, born Emilie Anna Maria Heyszl von Heyszenau, was a gallerist and curator, as well as the director of the American British Art Center in New York and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1952–57). She was the daughter of an Austrian colonel and cavalry commandant, W. von Heyszenau, and traced her lineage on her mother's side back to a 12th-century minnesanger, Hoffman van der Aue.

Diana Korzenik is an American artist, educator, author, collector, and benefactor.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 "Obituary: Grandma Moses Is Dead at 101; Primitive Artist 'Just Wore Out'". The New York Times. December 14, 1961.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "Anna Mary Robertson ("Grandma") Moses Biography". Galerie St. Etienne. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  3. Christina Tree; Diane E. Foulds (June 1, 2009). Explorer's Guide Vermont. Countryman Press. p. 123. ISBN   978-1-58157-822-5.
  4. 1 2 3 Arnold B. Cheyney (January 1, 1998). People of Purpose: 80 People Who Have Made a Difference. Good Year Books. p. 110. ISBN   978-0-673-36371-8.
  5. Grandma Moses. My Life's History.
  6. "National Register of Historic Places Program: Women's History Month Feature 2013 - Mt. Airy, Augusta County, Virginia". National Park Service. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  7. Amy Ross Moses (March 2012). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Mount Airy" (PDF). p. 8.
  8. "National Register of Historic Places Listings". Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 8/20/12 through 8/24/12. National Park Service. August 31, 2012.
  9. 1 2 3 "Grandma Moses in the 21st Century (originally published in Resource Library Magazine.)". Traditional Fine Arts Organization Inc. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Stein, Judith (2001). The White-Haired Girl: A Feminist Reading: Grandma Moses in the 21st Century. Alexandria, VA: Art Services International. pp. 48–63. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 11, 2014.
  11. Paul Arnett; William Arnett (2000). Souls Grown Deep: The tree gave the dove a leaf. Tinwood Books. p. 282. ISBN   978-0-9653766-0-0.
  12. Moses, Grandma (1998). People Weekly (Special Collectors ed.). New York, NY: Time, Inc. Home Entertainment. p. 120.
  13. "Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses) 1860–1961". National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  14. Zimmer, William (July 26, 1998). "ART; The Varied Tradition of Grandma Moses". The New York Times . Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  15. American Council of Learned Societies (1959). Dictionary of American Biography . Scribner. p.  557. ISBN   978-0-684-16794-7.
  16. 1 2 Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.); Doreen Bolger; Doreen Bolger Burke (1980). American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: A catalogue of works by artists born between 1846 and 1864. Vol. 3. Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 390. ISBN   978-0-87099-244-5.
  17. Karal Ann Marling (2006). Designs on the Heart: The Homemade Art of Grandma Moses . Harvard University Press. p.  102. ISBN   978-0-674-02226-3.
  18. 1 2 Early, Eleanor (May 1947). "Just a Mother". True Confessions. p. 47.
  19. 1 2 "1942 Grandma Moses Painting". PBS. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  20. Gallagher, BJ (February 11, 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.
  21. Martin Bjergegaard; Jordan Milne (May 1, 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.
  22. Richard L. Lewis & Susan Ingalls Lewis, The Power of Art (rev. 3rd ed.: Centgage Learning, 2013), p. 22.
  23. 1 2 Schubert, Sunny (April 27, 2012). "View from the Pier: Brushing up on some art with Vino and Van Gogh". The Herald-Independent. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  24. Saloman, Deborah (November 1, 2013). "Norman Rockwell's New England". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  25. 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.
  26. Karal Ann Marling (2006). Designs on the Heart: The Homemade Art of Grandma Moses . Harvard University Press. pp.  189, 284. ISBN   978-0-674-02226-3.
  27. "Norman Rockwell's Christmas Homecoming cover of the Saturday Evening Post". Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  28. "Museum Story". Bennington Museum. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  29. "Collections". Bennington Museum. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  30. "Anna Mary Robertson Moses". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  31. "Artists - M - page 4". Figge Art Museum. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  32. "Search: Grandma Moses". Hirshhorn. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  33. "Search: Anna Moses". Lauren Rogers Museum of Art. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  34. "Search: Moses". Maier Museum of Art, Randolph College. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  35. "Search: Anna Moses". Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  36. "Search: Grandma Moses". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  37. "Grandma Moses". National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  38. "Collection - Artists L-M". The Phillips Collection. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  39. "SAAM - Grandma Moses".
  40. "Grandma Moses". University of Iowa Museum of Art. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  41. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Adam Richard Schaefer (2003). Grandma Moses. Heinemann Library. pp. 5–13. ISBN   978-1-4034-0289-9.
  42. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Karal Ann Marling (2006). Designs on the Heart: The Homemade Art of Grandma Moses . Harvard University Press. p. throughout. ISBN   978-0-674-02226-3.
  43. "SAAM - Christmas by Grandma Moses".
  44. "SAAM - Grandma Moses Goes to the Big City".
  45. 1 2 3 V. T. Dacquino (January 1, 2010). Grandma Moses. Benchmark Education Company. pp. 12–17. ISBN   978-1-61672-617-1.
  46. 1 2 Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.); Doreen Bolger; Doreen Bolger Burke (1980). American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: A catalogue of works by artists born between 1846 and 1864. Vol. 3. Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 391–392. ISBN   978-0-87099-244-5.