“If I hadn’t started painting, I would have raised chickens.”
I’ve raised my daughter and I’m pushing 60 years old and full of energy. It’s with that enthusiasm that I like to remember women who inspire other women. “Grandma Moses,” the acclaimed American painter who became a prototype for late bloomers, was born on this day in 1860.
Anna Mary Robertson Moses was simply an upstate New York farm wife until she was discovered by a New York art collector who spotted her paintings in a drugstore window. Her work became immensely popular and her story captivated the collective imagination of the art world.
The press loved her countrified ways and, in fact, it was a news reporter from New York’s Herald Tribune who gave her the nickname “Grandma Moses.” She handled the hoopla with aplomb. When her arrival in Manhattan in 1940 created a stir she demurred, “If they want to make a fuss over me, I guess I don’t mind.”
As a young wife and mother, Moses was creative in her home as so many women are. She embroidered beautiful landscapes and assembled magnificent quilts for family and friends until, at the age of 76, she developed arthritis which made needle arts a painful pursuit. Her sister suggested that painting would be easier for her and a career was born! She would often adapt her painting to accommodate her physical restrictions. If her right hand began to hurt, she switched to her left hand.
But Moses was more than just a talented artist, she was a feminist heroine with a strong belief in women’s autonomy. She wrote in her autobiography: “Always wanted to be independent. I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting down and Thomas,” her husband, “handing out the money.”
Grandma Moses worked until a few months before her death at the age of 101. By then she had completed some 2,000 paintings, written an autobiography and been awarded two honorary doctoral degrees. 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 displayed in the collections of many museums. Sugaring Off was sold for US $1.2 million in 2006.
At the time of her passing, President John F. Kennedy said, “All Americans mourn her death.” Today, I celebrate her life and that of all women with the courage and energy to re-invent themselves in their golden years.