MOUNT VERNON — “Grandma Moses? I’ve never heard of her. Who was she?” It seems unbelievable that there are younge people who have never heard of the famous artist and icon, Grandma Moses. She is famous for starting a career late in life and well known to anyone of the post-war generation.
Grandma, whose real name was Anna Mary Robertson Moses, was born Sept. 7, 1860, and died in 1961, at the age of 101. She took up painting at the age of 75 because her arthritis made it difficult to continue embroidering. She is known as a folk artist and her images of American’s rural past were used to decorate textiles, pottery, Christmas cards, and sell cigarettes, cosmetics, cameras, and food products. In fact, her style has become so familiar that many people are unaware of its source.
She was the daughter of Russell King Robertson and Mary Shanahan. Russell was one of four brothers of Scotch descent. Two of the brothers, Ezra and Hezekiah, settled in Mount Liberty. William Archibald settled in Franklinton. Descendants of the Robertson clan still live in the Knox and Morrow County area, and there is a Robertson Family reunion to this day. Family members recall that she came to at least one of these reunions in 1926 before she became known as Grandma Moses. Humberts, Pratts, Morelands and Litzenbergs are in the family tree in this area.
Her fame began with being discovered by New York engineer and art collector Louis J. Caldor in 1938. Driving through Hoosick Falls, N.Y., he saw some of her paintings that were being sold for $3 to $5 on display in a drug store window. He bought them all and went to her home purchasing 10 others. The next year, Grandma Moses had a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York with other “Contemporary Unknown American Painters.” In 2006 one of her paintings, Sugaring Off (1943), sold for $1.2 million.
Her great-grandson, Will Moses, lives in the family home on the farm that Grandma and her husband bought in Eagle Bridge, N.Y. A fourth generation Moses, he paints in a style reminiscent of Grandma but with richer detail, precision and sophistication. His work is in the White House, the Smithsonian, and many other museums. He is avidly collected in Japan and has shows and exhibitions all over the United States. He is also an illustrator for children’s books and has nine books published to date.
The Knox County Renaissance Foundation is hosting a show in the historic c.1858 IOOF Building at 112 S. Main Street from 4 to 8 p.m. on July 5, during the Heritage Centre Association’s First Friday, with 42 works of Will and Grandma Moses. Mr. Moses will be at the show.
This is a fund raiser to further the restoration of the building now owned by KCRF. Advance tickets are available at Paragraph’s Bookstore, Sips Coffee House and by mail at KCRF, P.O. Box 1993, Gambier, Ohio, 43022. Student tickets are $5, advance adults tickets are $10 and $15 at the door. There will be food and musical entertainment. KCRF is a nonprofit corporation. More information is available at www.kcrf.wordpress.com.
On June 25 Chris Yoe, local artist and painting instructor will be offering another Fine Wine and Creative Design night at Sips Coffee House, 101 S. Main St. from 6 to 9 p.m. This time she will show how to re-create the art of Grandma Moses. Materials will be supplied at a cost with $5 donated to the foundation and the restoration of the IOOF Building. No experience is necessary. Those interested can register for this event at www.finewineandcreativedesign.com.