Widowed farmer's wife Anna Mary Robertson Moses didn't take up oil painting as a hobby until she was 75—and it was a while before the talents of this Eagle Bridge, New York, native were acknowledged. She initially tried selling her paintings in local drugstores and at fairs, but public response was hardly encouraging. "I won a prize for my fruit and jam," she later recalled in her 1952 autobiography, "but no pictures." Yet when her work was championed by art collector Louis J. Callor and gallery owner Otto Kallir, she was catapulted to international fame and acclaim. And to the world, she's always affectionately been known as "Grandma Moses."
The much-loved artist, whose 150th birthday is today, began her creative endeavors copying Currier and Ives prints, but progressed to creating pictures from memory, conjuring up rural images from her youth and committing them to pressboard canvases. She was a visual memoirist, recreating images of a bygone America. "The directness and vividness of her paintings restored a primitive freshness to our perception of the American scene," President John F. Kennedy said of her paintings. "Both her work and her life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recall its roots in the countryside and on the frontier." Furthermore, as author and lecturer Stephen May noted in a 2001 Smithsonian magazine article on Moses, "She became an inspiration to many, especially the elderly, and her humble history and images of bygone days made Americans feel good about their country and their heritage." (You can read the full article online here.)
And of course, the Smithsonian houses a number of Moses items: the Smithsonian American Art Museum has two on view, "Christmas" in the Luce Foundation Center on the third floor and "Grandma Moses Goes to the Big City" in the "Experience America" exhibition on first floor. The Hirshhorn has a 1945 Grandma Moses painting in its collections and a some of Grandma Moses letters can be read courtesy of the Archives of American Art. Above we feature a portrait of the artist by Canadian-born photographer Clara Sipprell that is held by the National Portrait Gallery.