Female Visionary Spotlight – Grandma Moses

“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. Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” – Grandma Moses

Her legacy is both captivating and astonishing and can make you say to yourself, “if not for women like Grandma Moses, where would we be as women today?” She was a cultural icon who inspired housewives, widows and retirees. Her father’s encouragement led her to pursue her childhood dream that manifested itself in earnest when she was 78.

Here are several highlights from her life which began in Greenwich, New York:

  • She was the third of ten children born to Margaret Shanahan Robertson and Russell King Robertson.
  • As a child, she attended a one-room school for a short period of time. She took art lessons using lemon and grape juice to make colors for landscapes.
  • She left home at the age of 12 to work for a wealthy neighboring family. They noticed her interest in Currier and Ives prints and gave her crayons and chalk to encourage Anna to develop her artistic skills.
  • She married when she was 27 years old and had ten children, five of them survived infancy. As a young wife, Anna expressed an interest in art, and created several pieces using various mediums.
  • In 1905, Anna and Robert moved to a farm in Eagle Bridge, New York to pursue farming opportunities. When Robert was 67, he died of a heart attack after which her son, Forrest helped Anna run the family farm. She supplemented her family’s income by working the farm and churning butter using the milk of a cow that she bought with her savings.
  • She was self-taught and often drew from memory. Her work was noted for its light-hearted optimism that portrayed the world as beautiful and good. Her early work was realistic and often primitive, but with time she created advanced and complicated compositions depicting rural life.
  • She painted in earnest and created 1,500 canvasses in three decades. Her early work brought her $3 to $5 a painting and as her fame increased her works sold for $8,000 to $10,000.
  • During the 1950s, her exhibitions broke records around the world. Her paintings were recreated on Hallmark greeting cards, tiles, fabrics and ceramics.
  • At the age of 88, she was named Madamoiselle’s “Young Woman of the Year” in 1951.  She was awarded two honorary doctorates: The first was bestowed in 1949 from Russell Sage College and the second two years later from the Moore College of Art and Design.
  • Grandma Moses’ paintings are displayed worldwide in many museums. One collection, Sugaring Off was sold for $1.2 million in 2006.

Grandma Moses died at the age of 101 on December 13, 1961. President John F. Kennedy memorialized her by saying: “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 life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recall its roots in the countryside and on the frontier. All Americans mourn her loss.”

Her life was far from easy and her accomplishments were many. What remains at the forefront of my mind is that through it all she remained hopeful and charmed everyone wherever she went. With mischievous eyes and a quick wit, Grandma Moses made her own path by realizing the power of life-long learning and by following her dreams even as she approached her twilight years.

 

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