Anna Mary Robertson Moses, or Grandma Moses, was the quintessential American folk artist. She was also the embodiment of the American success story. In her late seventies, she began painting primitive scenes recalled from her youth. Within a few years her work was being purchased by avid collectors and shown in museums.
Like Currier and Ives, who inspired some of her early work, her paintings evoked a nostalgic response from the public. In brightly-colored, well-organized compositions, she depicted a simpler way of life that had vanished.
Moses was born on a farm near Eagle Bridge in upstate New York in 1860. At age 12 she worked as a hired girl, doing the housekeeping, cooking and tending the sick and elderly. After 15 years of this, she married farmhand Thomas Moses and moved to Virginia, where they rented a farm. She bore 10 children, five of whom died in infancy. Her life was typical of a farmwife of the day - constant work. After 18 years, the family returned to Eagle Bridge and bought a dairy farm. The children grew up and married. In 1927, Thomas Moses died.
Grandma Moses stayed on the farm, now run by one of her sons. When she became too old to work outside, she began stitching worsted-yarn pictures to pass the time; when arthritis made stitching too painful, her family suggested she try painting. In 1938, three of her paintings in the window of a drugstore in nearby Hoosick Falls caught the eye of a knowledgeable collector. They launched her career as a painter.
At first her paintings were somewhat limited in scope, with few figures and the emphasis on content. By the 1940's however, feeling more confident in her new medium, she became more expansive, painting landscapes with rolling hills and many small figures engaged in a variety of activities.
Grandma Moses was extraordinarily prolific, producing an estimated 1,600 paintings. With old-time frugality, she painted them in batches to avoid wasting paint. Sometimes she completed as many as five pictures in a single week. She continued to paint until a few months before her death in 1961 at age 101.