Sunday, 27 September 2015


“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.” - Doug Larson

Naïve artists can often reach a tender place in the viewer’s heart that other artists fail to do so spectacularly. And it is not always a wave of cheap sentimentality that their art evokes. The feeling can be genuine, deep, spiritual and complex. Henri Rousseau’s art often does that for me and I can lose myself in one of his paintings, especially since I saw some of them with my own eyes when I was visiting France many years ago.

Folk art is another example of such art that is created by ordinary people and whose simple function is to beautify everyday objects or adorn an otherwise simple home. The folk artist can be extremely talented and some examples of folk art are exquisite and not necessarily naïve nor simple. The artist for today’s Art Sunday is such an artist whose paintings are both beautiful and can also evoke an immediate emotional response from many viewers.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses (September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961), known by her nickname Grandma Moses, was a renowned American folk artist. Having begun painting in earnest at the age of 78, she is often cited as an example of an individual successfully beginning a career in the arts at an advanced age. Her works have been shown and sold in the United States and abroad and have been marketed on greeting cards and other merchandise.

Moses’ paintings are among the collections of many museums. The “Sugaring Off” canvas (shown above) was sold for US$1.2 million in 2006. Moses has appeared on magazine covers, television, and in a documentary of her life. She wrote an autobiography of her life, won numerous awards and was awarded two honorary doctoral degrees. The New York Times said of her: “The simple realism, nostalgic atmosphere and luminous color with which Grandma Moses portrayed homely farm life and rural countryside won her a wide following. She was able to capture the excitement of winter's first snow, Thanksgiving preparations and the new, young green of oncoming spring... In person, Grandma Moses charmed wherever she went. A tiny, lively woman with mischievous gray eyes and a quick wit, she could be sharp-tongued with a sycophant and stern with an errant grandchild.”

Starting at 12 years of age and for a total of 15 years, she was a live-in housekeeper. One of the families that she worked for, who noticed her appreciation for their prints made by Currier and Ives, supplied her with art materials to create drawings. Moses and her husband began their married life in Virginia, where they worked on farms. In 1905 they returned to the Northeastern United States and settled in Eagle Bridge, New York. The couple had five children who survived infancy. Her interest in art was expressed throughout her life, including embroidery of pictures with yarn, until arthritis made this pursuit too painful.

Moses painted scenes of rural life from earlier days, which she called “old-timey” New England landscapes. Moses said that she would: “Get an inspiration and start painting; then I’ll forget everything, everything except how things used to be and how to paint it so people will know how we used to live.” She omitted features of modern life, like tractors and telephone poles, from her works of art.

Her early style is less individual and more realistic or primitive, despite her lack of knowledge of, or perhaps rejection of, basic perspective. Initially she created simple compositions or copied existing images. As her career advanced she created complicated, panoramic compositions of rural life. She was a prolific painter, generating over 1,500 canvasses in three decades. Initially Moses charged $3 to $5 for a painting, depending upon its size, and as her fame increased her works were sold for $8,000 to $10,000.

Her winter paintings are reminiscent of some such of the known winter paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, although she had never seen his work. A German fan of her work said, “There emanates from her paintings a light-hearted optimism; the world she shows us is beautiful and it is good. You feel at home in all these pictures, and you know their meaning. The unrest and the neurotic insecurity of the present day make us inclined to enjoy the simple and affirmative outlook of Grandma Moses.”

Grandma Moses died on December 13, 1961 at 101 years of age in Hoosick Falls, New York at the Health Center. She is buried there at the Maple Grove Cemetery. President John F. Kennedy memorialised her: “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 her life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recall its roots in the countryside and on the frontier. All Americans mourn her loss.” After her death, her work was exhibited in several large travelling exhibitions in the United States and abroad.


  1. I saw a Grandma Moses once and wondered many things. The fact that the questions came after viewing her view showed me it was not as primitive as I first believed.