WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Art of Grandma Moses: A charming slice of Americana

By Sanda Baucom Hight
Posted 1/17/20

Once in a while a person of humble beginnings, a person who was not educated at a fine college or university, a hardworking farm person, an ordinary citizen, rises to international fame through a …

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Art of Grandma Moses: A charming slice of Americana

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Once in a while a person of humble beginnings, a person who was not educated at a fine college or university, a hardworking farm person, an ordinary citizen, rises to international fame through a contribution to life that captures the hearts of the American people.

Such was the art and life of Grandma Moses.

Anna Mary Robertson was born in 1860 in rural New York, married Thomas Moses when she was 27 and spent two decades in Virginia, where she and her husband reared their children, worked the land and lived a typical rural family life.

It was not until she was a 78-year-old widow and back in New York that she started painting seriously, since she could no longer do fine needlework to create scenes.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses painted scenes that reflected what she knew about life in New York and Virginia during all seasons of the year: valley and mountain scenes; outdoor wedding scenes; verdant pastoral scenes with people and animals at their daily pace; kitchen scenes; barnyard dances; snowy, rural church scenes that would be at home on a Christmas card; other snapshots of the ordinary lives of humble working people in the mid-20th century.

Anna Mary was a self-taught artist and was not particularly interested in perspective and proportion. She was her own artist; she created art her way.

After her art became known and popular, the press began to call her “Grandma Moses,” a name that followed her to international fame.

When you study Grandma Moses’ art, you will notice that she does not depict elements of industrialization, such as telephone poles, tractors and cars. She focused on her memories of childhood that were happy, pleasant, harmonious and simple.

One of her favorite subjects is the “Old Checkered House,” which appears in several of her paintings. The red-and- white checkered building dominates the scene in each painting, with people and animals going about their business.

Grandma Moses left about 1,500 works of art that are now in museums and private collections around the world.

On Sept. 19, 1960, Grandma Moses was pictured on the cover of Time magazine. Her life’s work was also celebrated in Life.

“Old-timey” was one way Grandma Moses described the scenes in her art. She was not interested in modern art or in depicting ideas that represent conflict or other aspects of tense modern life.

A friend of hers from Germany said this about Grandma Moses: “There emanates from her paintings a light-hearted optimism; the world she shows us is beautiful, and it is good.”

A New York Times story included this comment about her: “In person, Grandma Moses charmed wherever she went. A tiny, lively woman with mischievous gray eyes and a quick wit, she could be sharp-tonged with a sycophant and stern with an errant grandchild.”

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, that treasure of folk art, died at 101, with an enviable body of art and an enduring international reputation.

So, for those of us who have not yet reached 78, there is time yet to do something, create something and be something that generations to follow might love and cherish.

Grandma Moses, we love you for your contribution to our country’s heritage. You created art from what you knew and left it to us as an example of charming Americana.

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on charms and ideas for a fuller life. Email her at srbhight8@gmail.com.

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