Posted on September 7, 2014
She began her career as an artist at age 78!
Yet even with that late start – wait, let's be real – even with that super duper late start! – Grandma Moses became very successful!
Anna Mary Robertson Moses was born on this date in 1860. She and her four sisters and five brothers grew up in New York, where her father ran a flax mill and farmed his land. Anna painted as a child, but she had to make her own paints out of natural materials, such as slack lime, sawdust, lemon and grape juice, grass, ground ochre, and flour.
She started working full time at age 12; she was a servant who performed chores, kept house, cooked, and sewed for a variety of wealthy families. One family noticed her interest in their artwork, and they gave her chalk so she could create her own artwork.
Finally, at age 27, she retired from working as a servant to get married and raise her own family. Of course, that married-and-raising-a-family stuff was also hard work; she helped with farm work, she had a lot of kids to birth and care for and feed and clothe, and she made potato chips and butter to sell.
Every once in a while, as a wife and mother, Moses was able to create art to make her home more attractive or to give as gifts to family members. Some of these art pieces were quilted objects and embroidered pictures. But Moses had little time to make art until her arthritis got so bad that she could no longer work on the farm...and at that point, it was also difficult to hold an embroidery needle.
So she started painting.
Grandma Moses painted what she called “old-timey” pictures of country life, the sort of life she experienced when she was younger.
One might think that a 78 year old woman with painful arthritis wouldn't create very many paintings. For one thing, she wouldn't have much time, right?
Actually, Grandma Moses lived to be 101 years old! And in her 23 years of art-making, she painted over 1,500 canvasses!
An art collector saw some of Moses's paintings in a drug store window, and he bought a whole bunch of them for $3 to $5. He showed some of her paintings in an exhibit called “Contemporary Unknown American Painters” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A few years later Moses had a solo exhibition called “What a Farm Wife Painted.” Soon she was selling her paintings at Gimbel's Department Store – and giving away her award-winning baked goods and preserves! And her work became even more known, even more popular!
Grandma Moses was named Woman of the Year by several magazines and organizations. She was awarded honorary PhDs by two different colleges, the U.S. President (Harry S. Truman) presented Moses with a trophy for outstanding accomplishment in art, and a documentary of her life was nominated for an Academy Award. Moses wrote an autobiography. She appeared on magazine covers and on television. She won numerous awards. One of her paintings hangs in the White House, and Moses's art has appeared on a U.S. commemorative stamp. On her 100th birthday, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller declared September 7 to be Grandma Moses Day!
To say that the paintings that the astute art collector bought for just a few dollars each are worth more now is an understatement. In 2004, one of Moses's paintings that had sold for $10 in the 1940s was appraised as being worth 60 THOUSAND dollars. Soon after that, one of her paintings was sold for 1.2 MILLION dollars!
What we can learn from Grandma Moses is that it is never too late to start to do something you love – and although many of us will never find the success that Moses did, doing something you love to do can be its own reward.
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