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Artists Who Started Late in Life: Grandma Moses

Updated on August 30, 2015
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Right Place, Right Time

As you may or may not know, I am an artist. What is more I appreciate the stories and struggles that artists have to endure to make the mark in history that some of them have made. Many times it just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I know that it seems like artists who are not very talented or who show no more talent than some others who did not achieve fame did, however it is a lot of chance, happenstance and who you know more than talent most of the time.

Here is a lady who was in the right place at the right time with the right simplicity for the war weary times.

Grandma Moses 1860-1961

Completely uneducated in art and considered a primitive and folk artist, Grandma Moses only began painting in earnest at the age of 78 when her husband died and left her some money. Her work is still loved in the US and abroad. Grandma Moses created works of rural life from the early days of her childhood and depict a nostalgia that is simple and beautiful.

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Have you ever seen any of Grandma Moses work in person?

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Anna Mary Robertson

Her birth name was Anna Mary Robertson, the middle child in a large farm family in upstate New York. By the time she was 12, she was making a living and helping out by being a live-in housekeeper and taking care of the children in another farm family nearby. She only went to school when the children she was looking after went, and then only in the summer months, because she didn’t own a coat and couldn’t go in the winter. This meant she didn’t go to school often but learned enough to survive as a good farm wife of the last century. She knew how to sew, cook and clean, as well as taking care of children.

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Anna and Thomas Moses

Soon Anna met and married Thomas Moses and they moved to Virginia where he was a share cropper, farming other people’s land. They had 10 children there in Virginia but 5 of them didn’t survive infancy. She used to say that she had 5 angels planted in the Shenandoah Valley. Her only access to art supplies during those years was when she had a little paint left over from painting the barn or fences. She also had wool and stitched some of her first real pictures. However Thomas must have been doing well during this time because he was able to save enough for them to buy some property and move back to upstate New York. Her new home was so close to Vermont that Anna said she could throw a rock into Vermont from her kitchen window.

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Arthritis stopped the stitchery

Thomas died of a heart attack in 1927 leaving her to take care of the farm with the help of one of her sons. She developed arthritis in her hands at the age of 76, which made the stitched pictures she was used to doing very painful. Her sister suggested painting would be easier. She began painting in earnest with the extra money Thomas left her. It was inspired mostly by prints of Currier and Ives she had seen in the homes of the children she had cared for in the early years. With few materials and only a love of the memory of her childhood, she began painting and soon gained the interest of a local furniture salesman. He asked to put her paintings on his walls to decorate the store. She only relented when he reminded her that selling some would give her more money to buy more painting supplies. Later some art dealers from New York City happened into the store and saw something special in the simplicity and back to a simpler way of life that she depicted.

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Art shows in New York City

Her first art show was labeled as “Mrs. Moses, a farm wife” but subsequent shows dubbed her Grandma Moses and the name stuck. She was surprised about the fame and the news reporters that kept finding her. She felt herself a simple woman with a love of painting and nothing more. Yet she charmed people wherever she went with her wit and quick tongue. When asked how she began a painting, the reporter waited, expecting to hear her explain her drawing process or style development or even her muse approach. She instead explained how she first found a frame and then cut a hunk of wood to fit the frame. In her estimation the painting was nothing without a frame so she started there. Artists know this is the opposite of the usual approach but part of her charm. When asked what she was going to do with all the money she made from her art, she merely said she would send her grandkids to college. I imagine she did.

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10 American Primitives

Her art is still traveling around the world in art shows. She is well loved in Japan where the recent show advertised as “10 American Primitives” was relabeled by the Japanese as “Grandma Moses and 9 others.” Her work shows a style of breaking the perspective rules that the Japanese seem to admire.

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TV show from the 50's

A few years ago I was watching Public Television. Some nameless retro show came on from the 50’s. It was one of the first shows that tried to be “variety” all things to all people. They interviewed a prizefighter for a few minutes asking how he prepared for a fight. I really wasn’t interested. Then they switched to a scientist who had just discovered some cure that is from so long ago, I was only mildly interested. Just as I was thinking there must be something good on somewhere else, the announcer said, “and now via satellite… we take you to upstate New York to the home of Grandma Moses.” I was stunned and intrigued. I had read about her and saw photos but never in my wildest dreams did I think there was actual footage somewhere of her working. Sure enough, in glowing black and white, there she was. At that time she was 92 years old and was painting. Her easel was a chest of drawers with one drawer open to lean the painting against, the bottom of the painting in her lap. I read that she always painted on wood and not canvas. She was painting a white picket fence and painted the straightest line I have ever seen. I hope and pray I am that steady at 92! It was a fascinating interview that only lasted about 6 or 7 minutes but I loved it. I got to see and hear the actual Grandma Moses. No wonder so many people loved her. She was charming.

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101 Years Young

She died at the age of 101 years young, having left the world richer for her few years of painting a life she fondly remembered in the late 1800s!

I love stories about women artist who made it big because so few of them have ever been really recognized for their talent and a male dominated art world. But Grandma Moses was one of the few and I do admire her.

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Artsy comments welcomed

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      CorneliaMladenova,

      Isn't she amazing? I think the fact that she had no art school training to be even more amazing. She just painted what she remembered. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 2 years ago from Cork, Ireland

      Must have been a great lady. I have never heard about her so thank you for this hub, Denise. I found more of her amazing works on Google. Really outstanding artist. :)

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Absolutely, Lawrence. Dig it out and hang it. Who knows how valuable it may be someday. As will all art, keep it out of direct sunlight because the sun can fade and destroy certain older colors. Also extreme changes in temperature are bad for paints and can cause them to "crackle" and eventually chip off. So I hope the trunk it has been stored in isn't out in the garage or up in an attic where temperature changes could have caused some damage. Thanks for sharing.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you, Larry. I agree, she was amazing. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Denise

      This hub reminded me of my Dad's uncle who was an artist in the 1960's

      We went to visit him once when I was a child and just about every surface in the house was an artists easel!

      I've got one of his originals somewhere in a box but maybe its time to dig it out again.

      Lawrence

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      What a magnificent artist profile.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Oh so true, Ms Blossom... I will probably wield a brush till the pry it from my cold dead fingers. I thought her story was encouraging too. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      I knew the story of Grandma Moses, but I love the way you've put it together - it's also encouraging to us oldies who love to continue to wield a brush. God bless.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      drbj,

      Thanks, I appreciate that you liked this one. I think she is inspirational too. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 2 years ago from south Florida

      Fascinating story about Grandma Moses, Denise. I know she would appreciate this beautiful tribute. She was most definitely one of a kind and an outstanding inspiration to everyone, no matter their age.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      MsDora,

      Wow, thank you. That is a very nice thought. I hope so too. It's up to God, I think. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Great information and inspiration from the story of Grandma Moses. Wishing you similar success!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      travmaj,

      It's amazing isn't it? It is like I always say, it isn't over till it's over. I intend to paint till the pry the brush from my cold dead fingers! I think what is amazing also is that she touched the hearts and consciousness of so many. Most artists are resigned to obscurity and never become famous outside their own home or community, but she just happened to be where someone saw her work and took it to someone else who took it to a gallery, where the rest is history. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      integrater,

      I agree. But notice she went at painting just like it was her stitchery. The eyes of people are just dots and the leaves and blades of grass are painted on one at a time like they were stitched there. It adds part of the charm that she painted like she stitched. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      phoenix2327,

      It's so true, homey and charming really describe her work well. There are so many more paintings that capture the homey feel too but I just didn't have room for them all. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Fascinating look at Grandma Moses, I've heard of her of course but have never seen her work. As the years pass so quickly I'm also inspired by her later in life career.

    • integrater profile image

      Certified Noob 2 years ago

      Fascinating. To begin painting or for that matter anything new, at the age of 78 is just amazing.

      Thank you for an interesting hub.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for this hub. I've heard about Grandma Moses but have never seen her work. It is so charming. It looks and feels so homey and comforting.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Rachel L Alba,

      I'm so glad you liked it. I've always been in awe of people who struggle and finally make a mark just by being who they are inside: creative. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 2 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Her folksy are is really my favorite art. Thanks for sharing this information about Grandma Moses and her art.

      Blessings to you.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      justthemessenger,

      That's true, isn't it? Even physical problems aren't the end, they may just be the beginning of something really good! thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • justthemessenger profile image

      James C Moore 2 years ago from The Great Midwest

      I know that I've seen some of Grandma Moses paintings displayed in this hub. However, I must admi that I didnt know the artist. She's inspiring in that she made good from the problems that arthritis presents.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      ChitrangadaSharan,

      What a lovely quote. Thank you for sharing that. I agree, she had a marvelous life. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      This is so inspiring and beautiful! I am really touched.

      Reminds me of a quote, ''When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age."--Victor Hugo

      Thanks for sharing this excellent hub about Grandma Moses and her art!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Kristen Howe,

      She was pretty amazing, wasn't she? I am so glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      aesta1,

      Absolutely, we aren't done till we are done. There are so many things we can accomplish at any time of life. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      bluebird,

      I'm so happy you liked it. I really love researching artists. thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Denise, what a wonderful hub. I've learned so much about Grandma Moses and the story of her life.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a beautiful feature on an artist who painted her life and world. It is such an inspiring story and gives me hope that at my age I can still start something.

    • bluebird profile image

      bluebird 2 years ago

      Very interesting hub!

      I really appreciated the subject of women artists and learning about Grandma Moses, I will be doing some research into her life.

      And coming back to read this hub again. Good job! Thanks for sharing.

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