Norman Rockwell, Grant Wood, Edward Hopper—American artists who captured pockets of American life in their work. For Rockwell, it was heartwarming snapshots of human-to-human moments in small towns. For Wood, looks into the lives of those in the Midwest. For Hopper, the loneliness of urban and suburban life. Yet the perspective of Anna Mary Robertson Moses in her unique artwork has charmed and captivated Americans for generations.
The name Anna Mary Robertson Moses might not immediately ring any bells, because she was known professionally as “Grandma Moses.” Born in Greenwich, New York, in 1860, she exhibited an interest in art from a young age. At the age of 12, Moses (then Robertson) started working as a housekeeper for a wealthy family who lived nearby. Her employers recognized her interest in art and provided the young girl with art supplies. In 1887, she married Thomas Moses and the happy couple moved from New York to Shenandoah Valley, where they lived for nearly 20 years. In 1905, they moved back to New York to the hamlet of Eagle Bridge, where they dubbed their new residence “Mount Nebo.”
At Mount Nebo, Grandma Moses spent her time farming and painting. She wasn’t terribly concerned with her work being popular or even selling, she simply painted for the sake of painting. In 1938, New York City art collector Louis Caldor happened to pass through the area and saw Moses’s art at a drugstore. He was captivated by the work and tracked down the artist—now 78 years old—and bought several of her pieces. When Caldor brought them back to the city to exhibit, many people laughed him off or were turned off by the artist’s age. But throught sheer perseverance and a belief in her talent, Caldor made Grandma Moses a household name. She would sometimes visit the city, often dressed in conservative outfits giving speeches about making jams and preserving fruits as if at a county fair, and become something of a sensation in the art scene of 1940s New York City.
Grandma Moses’s amazing ability to capture sweet scenes of country life made her arguably the most famous folk artist in American history. By the time she died in 1961 at the age of 101, her name, face, and art were known across the nation. In many ways, Grandma Moses was one of the most popular artists of her generation, and the way she managed her image and the mythos surrounding her are clear precursors to celebrity artists like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Even today, Grandma Moses’ art adorns postage stamps and pillowcases, and is reproduced for families to bring into their own homes.
And Mount Nebo itself still stands. The farm, which is still owned by the Moses family, is now an art gallery. It turns out that artistic talent runs in the family, and Grandma Moses’ great-great-great grandson Will Moses now not only owns Mount Nebo but sells his own beautiful folk art from it.
Besides Will Moses’ gallery in the former homestead, the shadow of Grandma Moses looms large in Hoosick: She was buried in the town, murals of her art cover nearby buildings, and the cozy, rolling hills of upstate New York will make you feel like you’ve dropped right into one of her paintings.
Know Before You Go
Make sure to check the website for hours. If the gallery is closed, there is a historical marker outside the homestead you can read and take pictures of.