The Millstone Times January 2022

Interesting People Throughout History By Pam Teel

Anna Mary Robertson was born in 1861 in Greenwich, New York. This famous artist would later be known as “Grandma Moses.” She was the third out of ten children. Her father was a flax farmer. Her mother tended to the household duties. Moses spent her early years learning how to do women's work on the farm. She helped her mother raise the younger children, made soap and candles, boiled down maple sap, and attended to their farm. Despite all of her responsibilities, Moses always looked back at her younger life fondly. She described it as happy days, free from care or worry, helping for mother, rocking her sister's cradle, learning how to sew from her mother, goofing around with her brothers, picking wildflowers, and enjoying the countryside. Mose’s interest in art started at an early age. Her dad would encourage her talent by bringing home extra sheets of newspaper print and letting her experiment with different colors, which she made with mixing berries to make berry juice. Her education was mini- mal. She only attended school for a few months out of the year and then she was expected to spend the rest of the year helping her mother with household chores. Her favorite thing to do in school was to draw maps. She did not paint often in her early life because she was always too busy tending to everyone else, but little time she did have to herself, she did a lot of crafting projects, especially needlework. Art was on the backburner for Mose as she grew into her teens. At the age of twelve, her parents sent her away to board and work as a housekeeper. Over the course of the next de- cade, she would live in various different homes doing all aspects of domestic work. It was in one of these homes in 1886, when she was twenty-six years old, she met Thomas Salmon Moses, who was a hired hand. The two fell in love and were married in November 1887. She believed, when they started out, that we were a team and she had to do as much as her husband did. She always strived to do her share. In Virginia, she became well-known for her homemade butter, which she made and sold on the large dairy farm they were hired to run. Much of the early years of Moses' marriage were also spent raising her children. She had ten children, however five died at or shortly after their births.

In 1905, after nearly two decades working in the South, Moses and her family moved back home to New York settling on a farm in Eagle Bridge. The move proved to be a good one, as it led Moses to take up art again. Her first inspiration came in 1918 when lacking wallpaper in her living room, Moses decided to fill the wall space with a fireboard land- scape. She enjoyed it so much, she started to paint again. Most of her work was given away as gifts to family and friends.

In 1927, Moses’ husband died unexpectedly from heart failure. He had always encouraged his wife to paint more. While her grown son took over the majority of the family's farm responsibilities, Moses was free to begin painting more steadily, turning often to subjects she knew best such as farm activities, like the tapping of trees to get maple syrup, holiday gatherings, and depictions of the places where she had lived. She also drew inspiration from others’ pictures and prints, many of which she stored in a trunk for safekeeping and would refer to later as her "art secrets." She was a big fan of Currier and Ives paintings and saved many newspaper articles and other things with their artwork on it. When Moses was seventy-six years old, she did nothing but paint. When she was 78 years old, she gathered up her collections of paintings to sell. With little luck selling any, she put some in a local county fair, and at the local drug store. Little did she know that this would eventually launch her professional career. In 1938, after being on view for almost a year, Louis Caldor, a New York City art collector driving through the area, saw her paintings. Impressed at her raw talent, he purchased every painting and went to Moses' farm to discuss her work. She was not home but her daughter-in-law told him to return to- morrow and Moses would show him another ten paintings. Assuring her of her talent, Caldor purchased the ten paintings and returned to New York with the promise that he would get others excited about her art. However, he struggled early on to get people to pay attention to Moses' paintings. Some found the work too simple or primitive, others found that it did not align with the then popular Surrealist and just developing Abstract Expressionist art move- ments, but Caldor persevered. In 1939 Moses was included in the exhibition "Contemporary Unknown American Painters" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Then, Caldor met Otto Kallir, the owner of a new gallery who was also drawn to the "folk" quality of Moses' work and her ability to capture the essence of American life. Kallir staged the artist's first solo show, "What A FarmWife Painted," which opened on October 8, 1940 and provided Moses with her first true foothold in the American art scene. It was also in a review of this exhibition that a reporter referred to her as "Grandma Moses" a name which would stick and for which she would be affectionately known for the rest of her career. Continued on page 30...

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