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"Anna Mary Robertson: Grandma Moses and Her Place in History"
2001-03-15 until 2001-06-10
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Washington, DC, USA

Grandma Moses in the 21st Century, an exhibition of 87 of the most important works by Anna Mary Robertson Grandma Moses from public and private collections in the U.S. and Japan, will begin a national tour at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) from March 15 to June 10, 2001. It will examine Mosesí artistic development; her place in the art world at the nexus of folk art, fine art, and popular culture; and the phenomenon of her success.

Moses, a farmer and homemaker from upstate New York who became one of the most respected folk artists of the pre-World War II period, was also one of the first artists to become a media superstar and probably the best known woman artist of her era. Despite her reputation and enormous popularity, Moses has little visibility in histories of postwar American painting. Exhibition Guest Curator Jane Kallir attributes this paradox to the extremity of her success: Moses was a folk artist until she became famous, but then she became a popular painter, and her art was dismissed because of its mass appeal. Grandma Moses in the 21st Century offers an opportunity to arrive at a view of Moses' achievements that moves beyond that popularity.

Moses (1860-1961) first came to public attention in 1940, at the age of 80, as part of a general burst of appreciation for self-taught art. She combined local lore, memory, and observation to craft a unique folk idiom. As with many self-taught artists, her need to be productive and her love of beauty were strong motivating forces. Moses never received formal training in art and did not begin to paint until she was in her late seventies. Her earliest works were embroidery, but when arthritis made it painful for her to use a needle, she turned to painting at the suggestion of her sister.

Moses was primarily a landscape painter. She was an acute observer of the nuances of season, weather, and time of day, but she was not particularly concerned with accuracy when it came to depicting specific local landmarks or events. Rather than serving merely as nostalgic reminders of a lost past, or as personal records of Moses' life, her landscapes occupy an eternal present. Moving Day on the Farm (1951) chronicles the upheaval and adventure of a familyís relocation, while Apple Butter Making (1947) portrays both the hard work and play that surrounds family chores. The exhibition concludes with her last finished painting, Rainbow (1961), a joyous celebration of life completed when she was over 100 years old.

The exhibition is divided into five sections. Early Work and Development examines Moses' initial work, often based on popular prints, and her stylistic development. The three central parts of the exhibition, Work and Happiness, Place and Nature, and Play and Celebration, look at her recurring themes: respect for the American work ethic; sensitivity to local landscape; weather and the seasons; and a love of fun and festivity. Late Work showcases Mosesí continuing development of these themes and her later artistic techniques.

Moses was born Anna Mary Robertson on a farm in upstate New York in 1860. At age 27, she married Thomas Salmon Moses. They made their first home on a farm in Virginia, where she gave birth to ten children, five of whom died in infancy. After nearly two decades the Moses family returned to New York and settled not far from Mosesí birthplace, where Thomas died in 1927. With her children grown, Moses began to spend more time embroidering and eventually turned to painting. She gave her paintings away and also started exhibiting them with her canned preserves at local fairs. Her work was discovered in 1938 in a drugstore window by art collector Louis J. Caldor, who also brought Moses to the attention of gallery owner Otto Kallir. Moses had her first major breakthrough in 1940 with a one-woman show, What A Farm Wife Painted, in Kallir's Galerie St. Etienne in New York.

When Moses died in 1961 at the age of 101, she had completed more than 1600 works of art over a 20-year career. She had also become a marketing phenomenon, with greeting cards by the millions, best-selling books, radio and television interviews, and a licensing program that included everything from fabric to collector plates, that brought her into more American homes than almost any other artist. Her down-to-earth integrity, her example of a productive later life, and her message of hope provided a welcome antidote to the anxieties of the Cold War era.

Grandma Moses in the 21st Century is organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia. The national tour has been generously sponsored by AARP.


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