Sunday, August 19, 2012

Grandma Moses in Virginia

Granda Moses, aka Anna Mary Robertson Moses (1860-1961) was a well-known American folk artist.  Her family and friends either called her "Mother Moses" or "Grandma Moses".  Life celebrated her on its cover in September 1960.

Late in her life she became an artist after having a successful career in several other endeavors (we'll get to that).  During the 1950's her exhibitions were so popular that they broke attendance records all over the world.  Her images of America's rural past were transferred to curtains, dresses, cookie jars, and china.

(Mt. Airy, in Augusta County, VA)
But what you may not know is that she spent some of her formative years in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  She and her husband lived in Augusta County, near Staunton, from 1887 to 1905.  The story goes that she boarded a train at 27 for North Carolina with her new husband but ended up in Virginia.  Their first home was the "Bell Farm" near Swoope, which is west of Staunton.  It was here that Anna started making her famous butter which she started selling for 8 cents a pound.  As demand for her "Yankee" butter grew, so did the price and Anna's prosperity.  The price went up to an amazing 50 cents a pound.  The couple moved to "Belvedere Farm" in 1888 and she was producing 160 pounds a week.  Her income at that time exceeded $3000 (the average wage for an industrial worker was about $400).  

In the early 1890's Anna and her husband decided to buy a farm and purchased "Mt. Airy" (pictured above).  The house sat on 177-acres with a circa 1830 farmhouse.  The family only lived at Mt. Airy for two years.  They sold the farm and decided to settle in Staunton to settle their affairs before moving back to New York.  They were unable to find accommodations and ended up buying another farm, "Mt. Nebo" where they remained for three years. 

Here is her painting "Mt. Nebo on the Hill."  One of her most famous paintings is "Moving Day on the Farm" from her time at Mt. Nebo (pictured below):

While living at Mt. Nebo Anna launched another successful business, selling potato chips.  She learned to make them in New York but they had not caught on but once she made them in Virginia, well, let's just say she had the golden touch a second time. She started selling them for 25 cents a pound but the price went up immediately.  But her husband wanted to return to New York so in 1905 they left, much wealthier than they were when they arrived.  But Thomas died of a heart attack and Anna found herself a widow in 1927.  She did not start painting until much later, when she was in her 70's but her memories of her life in Virginia feature prominently in her work.  It is believed that 40 paintings depict the life she loved in Virginia.  She was quoted as saying that she loved her life in Virginia and it shows in her work.  Don't you love these?

She was "discovered" when in 1938 a New York engineer and art collector, Louis J. Caldor, was driving through Hoosick Falls where she lived and saw some of her paintings displayed in a drug store window.  They were being sold for $3 to $5.  He bought them all and then drove to her house and bought everything she had.  Her work took off from there and she had showings in New York galleries the following year.  In November 2006, her painting Sugaring Off (1943) sold for $1.2 million.  

Talk about breaking the Glass Ceiling!  Grandma Moses was a female entrepreneur well become it was fashionable (or acceptable) to be one.  Everything she touched seem to turn to gold.  And she lived to be 101!  Who knew?

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