Grandma Moses: The Unforgettable Grandmother That Proved Nothing Is Impossible

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Grandmas hold a special place in our hearts, and for a great reason! Grandmas are loving, supportive, giving, and fun; they read and tell the best stories and – in my case – were two of the best cooks I have ever known. Isn’t it wonderful to be in such a respected category? While every grandma is special in their own unique way, there are some that go above and beyond for not only their family but for the world, spreading love, joy, and light in various ways. One of the most famous of these game-changing grandmas is Anna Mary Robertson Moses, AKA Grandma Moses.

Who Was Grandma Moses?

Wikimedia Commons/National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Katie Louchheim

Grandma Moses is a famous artist with an unconventional story, as she didn’t even pick up a paintbrush and begin to professionally paint until she was 78 years old! In addition to painting such recognizable pieces as “Catching the Thanksgiving Turkey” and “Sugaring Off,” Grandma Moses was a farmer’s wife, mother, author, and, yes – an actual grandma.

When was Grandma Moses born? 

Anna Mary Robertson was born on September 7, 1860, in Greenwich, New York.

What did Grandma Moses do before painting? 

Wikimedia Commons/Unknown – 1860s

Robertson was born to parents Margaret Shanahan Robertson (a homemaker) and Russell King Robertson (a flax mill operator and farmer) and was the third of ten children. Like most children in her generation, Robertson began working at a young age, dropping out of school at 12 to live with and work for wealthy families, which she did for the next 15 years. Soon after, she met Thomas Salmon Moses at a farm where they both worked. They were soon married and spent the next 20 years working on farms around Staunton, Virginia. When they needed extra money, the now Mrs. Moses would make potato chips and butter to sell.

Wikimedia Commons/Unknown

In 1901, the Moses’ purchased their first farm, selling it a few years later to move back to New York. During this time, Moses gave birth to ten children, only five of who would live past infancy. In 1927, Thomas Moses succumbed to a fatal heart attack, leaving behind his wife to tend to their farm. Moses and her son, Forrest, managed the farm together until 1936 when the former retired and moved in with her daughter.

How old was Grandma Moses when she started to paint?

Moses had always been creative and enjoyed the arts. As a girl, she used lemon and grape juice, sawdust, grass, and other items to make her landscape paintings. Later in life, she enjoyed decorating and painting her home and embroidering gifts for friends and family. By the time she was 76, Moses’ arthritis had made it too painful to embroider, which is why she once again picked up a brush and returned to painting.

Grandma Moses Paintings

Grandma Moses’ first piece was a Christmas gift for the mailman, as, in her own words, it “was easier to make [a painting] than to bake a cake over a hot stove.” Over the next several years, however, she would create some of the country’s most beloved folk art (which she referred to as “old-timey New England landscapes), including:

Catching the Thanksgiving Turkey (1943)


In keeping with her folk art specialty, Grandma Moses painted many scenes that captured turn-of-the-century life, including the annual ritual of choosing the family’s Thanksgiving turkey! Interestingly enough, Grandma Moses painted this same theme numerous times, each with its own unique spin. 

The Burning of Troy in 1862 (1943)


The Burning of Troy in 1862 depicts a fire that occurred in Moses’ hometown when she was only two. Based on a newspaper clipping she had saved from her childhood, the pictured art was her fifth time painting this subject and has been lauded for the great detail in both the foreground and background (versus just one or the other).

Sugaring Off (1943)


Quite possibly Grandma Moses’ most famous painting, “Sugaring Off,” was inspired by an old lithograph by Currier & Ives and features little details that only Grandma could dream up. In addition to it being easy to recognize for its distinct Grandma Moses style, “Sugaring Off” is one of the artist’s most valuable pieces, as, in 2006, it sold in an auction for $1.2M!

The Thunderstorm (1948)


Grandma Moses’ attention to detail was impeccable, which can best be seen in pieces like “The Thunderstorm,” as it perfectly captures both the impending storm and the people’s reactions. Billed as a juxtaposition of abstraction and realism, “The Thunderstorm” was a pinnacle in Grandma Moses’ artistic career.

The Rainbow (1961)


Despite being 100 years old when she painted it, “The Rainbow” proved that Moses still had it in her, as the photo’s centerpiece rainbow is not at the forefront but rather hiding behind other layers and details that make the piece even more interesting.

A Blizzard (1956)


If I were creating a picture of a blizzard, I would probably just leave a sheet of white paper untouched and call it art! Grandma Moses, on the other hand, painted the storm, plus details like people, buildings, the sky, and even a distant landscape.

Apple Butter Making (1944)


“Apple Butter Making” is a true piece of Americana and the perfect example of primitivism art. Based on Grandma Moses’ childhood memories of growing up in Virginia, “Apple Butter Making” features one of her former homes (the brick structure near the bottom) and that of a community coming together to make a tasty treat.

The Quilting Bee (1940)


While most of Moses’ art consisted of outdoor landscapes, she did paint the occasional interior shot, like the one you see in “The Quilting Bee.” Grandma Moses explained why she didn’t care for painting non-landscape pictures, sharing, “That don’t seem to be in my line. I like to paint something that leads me on and on into the unknown, something that I want to see away on beyond. Well, maybe I try again.”

Halloween (1955)


Quite possibly one of the most famous artworks depicting Halloween is this Grandma Moses piece of the same name!

Christmas at Home (Undated)


Doesn’t this look like something off a Christmas card? That’s because it is! In fact, for several years, Hallmark made a special line of Christmas cards featuring some of Grandma Moses’ most iconic paintings! 

How many pictures did Grandma Moses paint? 

In addition to the above ten paintings, Grandma Moses is said to have created another 500+ throughout her “professional” career.

Why is she called Grandma Moses? 

Moses initially used “Mrs. Moses” when displaying her art but was later dubbed Grandma Moses by the media.

What kind of artist was Grandma Moses?

Grandma Moses specialized in paintings of landscapes and rural life that are generally categorized as folk art.

How much do Grandma Moses’ paintings cost?

When she first started, Grandma Moses sold her work for $3 to $5 per piece; however, as she grew in popularity, the cost per painting increased, selling for $8,000 to $10,000 a pop. Today, the value of Grandma Moses’ original work ranges anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of dollars. (As we noted earlier, one of her most famous pieces, “Sugaring Off,” sold in 2006 for $1.2M!)

Where can I see art by Grandma Moses?

There are numerous galleries around the U.S. that display Grandma Moses originals, including:

  • Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D.C.)
  • Figge Art Museum (Davenport, Iowa)
  •  Phillips Collection (Washington D.C.)
  • University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art (Iowa City, Iowa)
  • Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary (Williamsburg, Virginia)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC)
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington D.C.)
  • Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester (Rochester, New York)
  • Maier Museum of Art at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (Lynchburg, Virginia)
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington D.C.)
  • Lauren Rogers Museum of Art (Laurel, Mississippi)
  • Brooklyn Museum (NYC)
  • Bennington Museum (Bennington, Vermont)

When is Grandma Moses Day?

Grandparents have their own special days each year (birthdays, of course, plus Grandparents Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day), but when you are a world-renowned painter and beloved icon like Grandma Moses, you get an extra day to celebrate! Grandma Moses Day is every year on her birthday, September 7th. The first Grandma Moses Day was observed in 1960 by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who proclaimed it to take place to commemorate her 100th birthday. Despite her passing the next year, her special day (as well as her memory!) continues to live on.

When (and how) did Grandma Moses die?

Grandma Moses died from natural causes on December 13, 1961. She is buried at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Hoosick Falls, New York.

What are some famous Grandma Moses quotes?

People should take time to be happy.

A strange thing is memory, and hope; one looks backward, and the other forward; one is of today, the other of tomorrow. Memory is history recorded in our brain, memory is a painter, it paints pictures of the past and of the day.

“I have written my life in small sketches, a little today, a little yesterday… I look back on my life as a good day’s work, it was done and I feel satisfied with it. I made the best out of what life offered.

“I like to paint something that leads me on and on into the unknown, something that I want to see away on beyond.

Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.”

“If I hadn’t started painting, I would have raised chickens.

I would never sit back in a rocking chair, waiting for someone to help me.

A primitive artist is an amateur whose work sells.

I have written my life in small sketches, a little today, a little yesterday, as I have thought of it, as I remember all the things from childhood on through the years, good ones and unpleasant ones, that is how they come out and that is how we have to take them.

I was quite small, my father would get me and my brothers white paper by the sheet. He liked to see us draw pictures, it was a penny a sheet and lasted longer than candy.

Does anyone else want to be Grandma Moses when they grow up? She is the perfect example of how you are never too old to not only try something new but to positively excel at it! May she be an inspiration to us and future generations to never give up on our dream and to never be afraid to try new things. Thank you, Grandma Moses, for making the world a more beautiful place for our generation and that of our grandchildren.

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