Orlando Museum of Art

Orlando, FL

407-896-4231

http://www.omart.org



 

Grandma Moses in the 21st Century

 

The Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) presents Grandma Moses in the 21st Century, a major retrospective of Anna Mary Robertson "Grandma" Moses (1860-1961), one of the most popular artists in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s and arguably the best-known American artist in the world, from September 15 through November 11, 2001. Drawn from public and private collections in the United States and Japan, 87 of her most important works will be assembled to re-examine her art, both on its own merits and in the context of modern art history.

The works were selected by Jane Kallir, co-director of the Galerie St. Etienne in New York and guest curator for the project. Kallir is recognized internationally as the foremost authority on the artist, and it was her grandfather, Otto Kallir, who was key in Moses' "discovery" and subsequent popular success from 1940 on.

 

The Exhibition

Although the story of Grandma Moses' uncanny discovery and tremendous national popularity is well known, this exhibition breaks new scholarly ground in re-examining Moses' most important paintings from a contemporary viewpoint, while charting the considerable evolution of her style.

The exhibition is divided into five principal groupings, bookended by sections devoted, respectively, to Moses' "Early Work" and "Late Work and Old-Age Style." The first section explores the painter's initial artistic evolution, from relatively conventional beginnings copying popular prints, to the invention of her own unique style. The three central portions of the presentation, titled "Work and Happiness," "Place and Nature" and "Play and Celebration," examine the artist's most important recurring themes: profound respect for the American work ethic; sensitivity to local lore; the changing seasons and weather; and a love of fun and festivity. Though Moses only began painting at an advanced age, her exceptional longevity gave her a career of more than 20 years, and the final section of the show charts her continuing development over time. The exhibition concludes with her last finished painting, Rainbow, a joyous celebration of life, completed when the artist was more than 100 years of age. (left: Moving Day on the Farm, 1951, oil on pressed wood, 17 x 22 inches, Private collection, Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, NY, Copyright © 2001 Grandma Moses Properties Co., NY)

 

The Artist

Grandma Moses first came to public attention in 1940, at the age of 80, as part of a general burst of appreciation for self-taught art. However, as interest declined for dozens of other artists who were discovered more or less simultaneously, Moses went on to even wider renown - featured on the covers of TIME and LIFE magazines, in the then-infant medium of television, in film, in best-selling books and on millions of greeting cards.

Anna Mary Robertson was born on September 7, 1860, on a farm in upstate New York, one of a family of 10 children. Her earliest works used embroidery rather than paint. Her embroidered pictures were much admired by friends and relatives, so when arthritis made it painful to wield a needle, her sister suggested that it might be easier to paint. It was this pivotal suggestion that spurred Grandma Moses' painting career in her late 70s.

Grandma Moses is usually characterized as a "folk" or "naïve" artist, terms reserved for those who have never received formal training in art. A term later used to describe work by self-taught artists is "outsider art." She first gained broader recognition when an amateur art collector, Louis J. Caldor, saw her works in a Hoosick Falls, NY, drugstore window. He not only purchased all of the works on display but, in 1939, convinced the Museum of Modern Art to include Moses in a members-only show of contemporary folk painting. The following year, Caldor met independent gallery-owner Otto Kallir, who agreed to mount a one-woman exhibition at his Galerie St. Etienne. Moses' first show, "What a Farmwife Painted," opened on October 9, 1940, to favorable reviews.

Charmed equally by her down-home personality, her biography and her paintings, the postwar mass-media became transfixed by the artist, and she eventually developed an enormous international following. Yet Moses remained unaffected by ail the attention and ever true to her simple rural origins. When Grandma Moses died on December 13, 1961, at the age of 101, she had been a regular news feature for more than two decades and she had completed more than 1,600 works of art.

 

Catalogue

A major 264-page, full-color catalogue, authored by Guest Curator Jane Kallir with contributing essays by four other recognized scholars, will accompany the exhibition. The catalogue is available in softcover and hardcover in the Museum Shop.

 

Organizer

The exhibition is organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia. The national tour has been generously sponsored by AARP.

 

Artist Biography

Anna Mary Robertson was born on September 7, 1860, on a farm in upstate New York, one of a family of 10 children. At the age of 27, she married a "hired man," Thomas Salmon Moses, and the couple established themselves on a farm in Virginia. The Moses family spent nearly two decades in Virginia, during which time Anna Mary gave birth to 10 children, five of whom died in infancy. In 1905, the couple returned to New York and settled in Eagle Bridge, not far from Anna Mary's birthplace. In 1927. her husband Thomas died and Anna continued to farm with the help of her youngest son until advancing age forced her to retire to a daughter's home in 1936.

Often, during her younger days as a wife and mother, Moses had been creative in her home using housepaint, for example, to decorate a fireboard - and her earliest works used embroidery, rather than paint. Her embroidered pictures were much admired by friends and relatives, so when arthritis made it painful to wield a needle. her sister suggested that it might be easier to paint. It was this pivotal suggestion that spurred Grandma Moses' painting career in her late 70s.

Grandma Moses is usually characterized as a "folk or "naïve" artist, terms reserved for those who have never received formal training in art or were self-taught. A contemporary term often used to describe work by self-taught artists is "outsider art." For Moses, her early influences were the bucolic scenes published by Currier & Ives, and items that she was able to collect, such as greeting cards, calendar illustrations and cutouts from magazines and newspapers.

Moses first gained broader recognition when an amateur art collector, Louis J. Caldor, saw her works in a Hoosick Falls, NY, drugstore window. He not only purchased all of the works on display but, in 1939, convinced the Museum of Modern Art to include Moses in a members-only show of contemporary folk painting. The following year, Caldor met independent gallery-owner Otto Kallir, who agreed to mount a one-woman exhibition in New York at his Galerie St. Etienne. Moses first show, "What a Farmwife Painted," opened on October 9, 1940, to favorable reviews. Charmed equally by her down-home personality, her biography and her paintings, the postwar mass-media became transfixed by the artist, and she eventually developed an enormous international following. During the next two decades, her works were publicized by Gimbel's Department Store, printed on greeting cards, calendars, etc., and she was even honored by President Truman in 1949.

Moses became the subject of numerous "firsts" in the advent of electronic news media, such as live-remote radio and television transmissions. In 1950, a documentary film on the artist, narrated by Archibald MacLeish, was nominated for an Academy Award, and two years later Lillian Gish portrayed her in a live television dramatization. In 1955, Edward R. Murrow interviewed Grandma Moses on CBS's "See It Now," one of the few television programs at the time to use color. In spite of the fact that she rarely left her farm in upstate New York, Grandma Moses was in the national and international spotlight.

When Grandma Moses died on December 13, 1961, at the age of 101, she had been a regular news feature for more than two decades and she had completed more than 1,600 works of art.

Read more about the Orlando Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.


This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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