Dividing of the Ways
The third of ten children raised on a farm, Anna Mary Robertson left home at age twelve to work on a neighboring farm, where she met her future husband. The couple married in 1887 and moved to Virginia, where they worked as tenant farmers until 1905, when they had saved enough money to buy their own farm in Eagle Bridge, in upstate New York. She herself gave birth to ten children, of whom five died in infancy. At seventy-five years old, three years after the death of her daughter Anna, she began to paint. “Grandma” Moses was known for her bucolic rural scenes affirming American values, depicted in a naive style. The elderly painter captured the American imagination with her humble origins, hard life, and inspirational determination. She quickly became a national and international celebrity; her work was organized into traveling exhibitions, published in monographs, and reproduced on Christmas cards. In 1949 she received a special award from President Truman. As art dealer Jane Kallir explained: “Facing the harsh realities of the Cold-War era, the public took heart in a real-life tale that seemed to prove the old adage, ‘it’s never too late.’ The media seemingly never tired of repeating Moses’ fairy-tale story. In 1953, she was featured on the cover of Time Magazine; in 1960, Life sent noted photographer Cornell Capa to do a cover story on the artist’s 100th birthday. That birthday—declared ‘Grandma Moses Day’ by New York’s governor, Nelson Rockefeller—was celebrated almost like a holiday in the nation’s press. . . . Her death was front page news all over America and throughoutmuch of Europe.”
Valérie Rousseau, “Dividing of the Ways,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.