On a spring day in 1938, a New York City civil engineer and art collector, passing through the upstate village of Hoosick Falls, New York, spied four small paintings in the window of a local drugstore. Inquiring inside, Louis J. Caldor found that the paintings, along with several others by the same artist, had been gathering dust, unsold, for about a year. He bought all of them for a few dollars and proceeded to visit the painter on a farm in nearby Eagle Bridge.
There he purchased another ten works from the surprised, 77-year-old farmer's widow, Anna Mary Robertson Moses, who had only recently taken up painting. Invited to stay for tea, Caldor amazed his hostess and her relatives when he assured them that he was going to make the artist famous. The following year he was able to get three of her works included in a Museum of Modern Art show of self-taught artists and to find a dealer, Otto Kallir, who would champion the elderly painter and launch a quarter-century career that would make her an internationally known celebrity.
The combination of the farmwife's homespun personality, her long life, her charming, naive evocations of rural life, and a rising national interest in folk art catapulted the lady who became known as Grandma Moses to acclaim and fame. A darling of the mass media, saluted by Presidents and collected by prestigious museums, she was welcomed into millions of American homes via magazine articles, radio, television and numerous reproductions of her work. "She's the white-haired girl of the U.S.A. who turned from her strawberry patch to painting the American scene at the wonderful age of 80," trumpeted Gimbel's Department Store, advertsing their Thanksgiving exhibition of her paintings in 1940.
Now, four decades after her death at the age of 101, an ambitious touring retrospective allows Moses' art to be appreciated apart from her persona. "Grandma Moses in the 21st Century," curated by Moses authority Jane Kallir, granddaughter of the artist's dealer, and organized and circulated by Art Services International of Alexandria, Virginia, has opened at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C, where it will be on view through June 10. The exhibition will then travel to the San Diego Museum of Art (June 20-August 26) and will continue on to five additional venues before closing in December 2002. The national tour is sponsored by AARP and is accompanied by a handsome exhibition catalog.