Artists follow many paths to arrive at their calling.
For some the road is straight and true. For others it takes a circuitous route, filled with detours and delays.
Anna Mary Robertson was born September 7, 1860 in Greenwich, New York.
Grandma Moses, as she was later known, started her life far from the road that leads to artistic expression.
The third of 10 children, she grew up as a farmer’s daughter. Anna Mary had little education, no art training and began working at age 12 as a hired girl for local families.
After marrying Thomas Moses in 1887, she became the mistress of their family farm in Eagle Bridge, New York. She bore five surviving children and after her husband died in 1927, a son and daughter-in-law took over the family farm. She remained in Eagle Bridge and spent the rest of her life on her family farm.
The Creativity Of An Artist’s Soul
Like many women of the time, she enjoyed embroidery and stitched decorative pieces with yarns and thread. When pain from arthritis forced her to abandon her needlework, she began painting scenes based on Currier and Ives prints and illustrations found in books. This transition began in 1936 at the age of 76.
Although she had drawn pictures on newsprint for her father as a child and used white paper to paint a mural when she ran out of wallpaper, she had not spent a life pursuing art. It came with age and the need to keep occupied in her retirement from the hard life of a farmer.
She painted the happy memories of farm life and childhood, including children, animals and the buildings and landscapes of her life as a child. Painting from memory and oral history of her family and community, she portrayed an idyllic portrait of life in rural America.
Naive Or Folk Art
Today Naïve or Folk Art is called Outsider art. It’s just a new name for the genre of art created by untrained painters. Grandma Moses based her art on what she knew best and remembered with great affection. She based her painting on what she had learned doing fancywork with thread, yarn and cloth as her medium and support.
Creating an embroidered piece, using threads stitched closely together to create patterns, was Anna’s art theory. Rather than blending paints on a palette, she painted with little mixing, giving a flattened appearance to her scenes. This one-dimensional look is mildly at odds with some aspects of her landscape painting.
With considerable accuracy, she observed and painted the diminishing of color over a distance, such as hills becoming lighter and hazier near the horizon. She also added atmospheric events to her scenes with roiling clouds of approaching storms. Her landscapes were well observed and regardless of the simplicity with which she painted her scenes, they give a sense of reality to the child-like figures and buildings.
A Simple Life Of Art
Grandma Moses did not seek fame. She painted for pleasure and had merely painted more pictures than her home, friends and family could accommodate. There was no grand search for artistic enlightenment and no struggle to develop a unique style. She had no message to give the world other than to give a bit of happiness to grace a parlor wall.
The simplicity with which she led her life may not have been physically easy, but she didn’t complicate it with the trappings of setting herself up as an artist. She painted.
Artists spend a lot of time and thought attempting to define their vision. They struggle to write an artist’s statement to reveal to the world the true spirit of their work. They may be so caught up in the business of art that they forget what they should be doing. Painting the things they know and developing their skills is far more practical and enjoyable.
Don’t worry about the hype and hyperbole attached with success as an artist. Paint.