Anna Mary Robertson Moses
"Grandma" Moses

The late Lin Van Buren wrote and submitted this biography. One of the best-known American artists of the 20th century, "Grandma" Moses, began her painting career in Rensselaer County. She is special to us not just because she produced her world-famous paintings in our county, but because our county was the SUBJECT of most of her paintings. Her legacy to us is paintings from the mid-20th century that were of her childhood in the 1860s and the 1870s, and of the world she saw around her in Hoosick in later life as the seasons passed. She painted for us scenes of rural life in this part of New York state, showing us such cyclical events as the maple-sugar harvest, the catching of the Thanksgiving turkey, the first snowfall, quilt-making and the country fair. The scenes that "Grandma" Moses painted were scenes familiar to all our Rensselaer County ancestors of her era. And "Grandma" Moses has, through her extraordinary perception, memory and talent, preserved these glimpses of our ancestors' way of life for us to see today. Here is the story of "Grandma" Moses.

ANNA MARY ROBERTSON MOSES (1860-1961), better known as "GRANDMA" MOSES, was born into a farming family on 7 September 1860 in Greenwich, Washington County, NY, which county, of course, adjoins Rensselaer County and is our neighbor to the north. One of 10 children of Russell King Robertson and his wife Mary, Anna Robertson grew up understanding fully both the hard work of farming and the good times of rural life. In 1873, when she was 12 years old, she went to work as a servant on a neighbouring farm. She worked in service for about 14 years. Then she met a "God-fearing hired man" two years her junior, Thomas Salmon MOSES (1862-1927) of Hoosick, Rensselaer County, NY. She was already 27 years old - unusually late for the times - when she married Thomas Moses on 9 November 1887. Thomas Moses had heard that there were opportunities for those who went south at this time, and he and his wife decided to move to the Carolinas. En route, they stopped off to visit friends who lived in the Shenandoah Valley, near Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia. The friends persuaded the Moseses to settle there instead, and they did. Thomas and Anna Moses farmed this mountainous, rocky part of western Virginia at quite a few locations for about 16 years. Sometimes they were tenant farmers, but twice, in 1896 and again in 1903, they bought farms. During her time in Virginia, Anna Moses churned and sold butter to augment the family income. She is also reported to have made and sold potato chips. Despite her relatively late start, Anna Moses gave birth to 10 children, of whom five died in childhood and were buried near their Virginia home.

In 1905, when Anna Moses was 45 years old, their farmhouse in Virginia burned, and Thomas Moses decided to return to his native Hoosick, Rensselaer County, NY. He, his wife Anna and their five surviving children - Lloyd MOSES, Forrest K. MOSES, Winona ("Ona") MOSES, Hugh W. MOSES and Anna MOSES - moved from Augusta County, VA to Rensselaer County, NY. Anna Moses later spoke of her great sadness at having to leave behind the graves of her five dear deceased children when they moved away from Virginia. Not long after their return to New York state, Thomas and Anna Moses bought a dairy farm called Mount Nebo, situated near the hamlet of Eagle Bridge in the town of Hoosick, Rensselaer County, NY. For about 20 years, Thomas and Anna Moses and their children worked this farm. Thomas Moses died there on 15 January 1927; Anna Moses was 67 when she became a widow. Her son Forrest Moses continued to work Mount Nebo farm, and Anna Moses continued to live there for two years while also caring for her ill daughter Anna, who had married her first cousin Frank MOSES (son of Walter MOSES, who was a brother of Thomas Salmon Moses). Frank and Anna Moses resided with their daughters Zoan MOSES and Frances MOSES in nearby Bennington, Bennington County, Vermont, and Anna Moses Moses had contracted tuberculosis. Anna Robertson Moses continued the hard work of farming until the onset of arthritis. She then devoted more of her time to needlepoint, until the arthritis made it impossible for her fingers to do the very close work that needlepoint requires. When her daughter Anna died on 5 February 1933 and was buried in Park Lawn Cemetery in Bennington, VT, Anna Robertson Moses ran her son-in-law's household in Bennington and looked after her granddaughters for two years, until her son-in-law remarried in February 1935 and his new wife took over the running of the household.

It was then that Anna Moses, by now 74 years old, at last had some time to paint, and paint in earnest she did. She had enjoyed drawing all her life and could recall using berry juices to add colour to her childhood drawings in nearby Washington County, NY. But there was much work to do on a farm, and her father had encouraged his little girl to spend her time working, not drawing. Her brothers reportedly teased her about the "lamb scapes" she drew. But during these years and later while she was in service, the young Anna Robertson tucked away in her mind her vivid observations about scenes of ordinary daily life in this part of New York state.

At first, her painting was as a hobby and nothing more. She was prolific; during the nearly 30 years of her painting career, she produced more than 1,500 works. She lived sometimes with her son Forrest K. Moses on Mount Nebo farm and sometimes with her youngest son, Hugh W. Moses (1900-1949), who had married Dorothy MORRISON. It was her daughter (one source says it was a daughter-in-law) who first recognised her talent. This daughter (and if it was a daughter not a daughter-in-law, then this would have been Winona Moses) arranged to have four of Anna Robertson Moses's paintings displayed in the window of W. D. Thomas's drug store in the village of Hoosick Falls, Rensselaer County, NY in 1938, at which time Anna Moses was 77 years old. During the Easter holidays of that year, a New York City engineer and amateur art collector named Louis J. CALDOR, while travelling through the area, just happened to stop off in Hoosick Falls and sees these paintings in the drug-store window. He saw in them great potential, and he purchased all the displayed paintings on the spot. He also sought out the artist and bought "all 15" of her paintings (another source says that he bought "more than 20" of her paintings). It was Louis Caldor who launched Anna Robertson Moses on her professional career. He arranged for three of her paintings to be included in an October 1939 exhibition of "Contemporary Unknown American Painters" at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. "Grandma" Moses became an overnight sensation - at the age of 79 years. On 9 October 1940, Otto Kallir's Galerie St. Etienne in New York City staged a highly successful one-woman show entitled "What a Farm Wife Painted". This brought her to the attention of art collectors all over the world, and her paintings were highly sought after. She went on to have exhibitions of her work throughout Europe and even in Japan, where her work was particularly well received. She continued her prolific output of paintings, the demand for which never diminished during her lifetime.

"Grandma" Moses celebrated her 100th birthday on 7 September 1960. New York Governor Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller proclaimed the day "Grandma Moses Day" in her honor. She died on 13 December 1961 at Hoosick Falls at the age of 101 years and was buried beside her husband in the New Upper Maple Grove Cemetery at the south end of Main Street in the village of Hoosick Falls, in the town of Hoosick, Rensselaer County, NY. The gravestone of Anna M. Robertson wife of Thomas S. Moses is inscribed with this epitaph: "Her primitive paintings captured the spirit and preserved the scene of a vanishing countryside." She had outlived at least eight of her 10 children; one son, Forrest K. Moses (1893-1974), survived her, and I haven't yet been able to determine if her son Lloyd Moses was still living in 1961.

Art historians classify "Grandma" Moses as an "American primitive" painter. Her style was often copied by others. In her own family, her son Forrest K. Moses also showed a talent for painting, as did his grandson ("Grandma" Moses's great-grandson), Will MOSES, who today continues his painting and resides with his wife, Sharon, and their children Jerry MOSES, Lloyd MOSES and Georgianna MOSES at the same 200-year-old Mount Nebo farm in Eagle Bridge where "Grandma" Moses lived and painted. "Grandma" Moses's paintings hang in public and private collections all over the world, but two locations closer to her home have a number of her paintings on view to the public. One is the Galerie St. Etienne, still associated with the Kallir family, at 24 West 57th Street, New York City, NY 10019, telephone (212) 245-6734, fax (212) 675-8493, e-mail Galerie St. Etienne. The other is The Bennington Museum, West Main Street, Bennington, VT 05201, telephone (802) 447-1571. Although Mount Nebo farm where "Grandma" Moses lived is a private home and is not open to the public, her great-grandson Will Moses does run the Mount Nebo Gallery, 60 Grandma Moses Road, P. O. Box 94, Eagle Mills, NY 12057, telephone (518) 686-4334, toll-free telephone (800) 328-6326.

"Grandma" Moses sometimes painted scenes as she looked at them, but most of the time, she painted from memory. "I look out the window sometimes to seek the color of the shadows and the different greens in the trees," she once explained, "but when I get ready to paint, I just close my eyes and imagine a scene." Of course, it isn't feasible to name here all 1,500-plus pictures she painted, but some particular favorites of mine are these:

Sugaring Off (1955), about the gathering in of maple syrup;
Catching the Thanksgiving Turkey (1943, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City);
Hoosick River in Summer (1952);
The Lake (1957), with its winter hues;
The Old Checkered House (1944), of an inn in Hoosick destroyed by fire in 1907, painted at various seasons of the year;
Haying Time, another milestone in a farming year;
The Quilting Bee (1950), with all its vibrancy of colour and hum of activity;
The Country Fair, with all the excitement of a summer fete;
Candle-Dipping Day, with its vats of tallow under the trees;
Apple Butter Making (1947), an autumn ritual;
Autumn (1958), with colors as rich as in nature;
One-Horse Sleigh, a seasonal favorite;
Out for Christmas Trees (1946), full of festive fun;
Over the River to Grandma's House, again alive with movement;
The Old Mill, a grist mill with winter log-hauling and a frozen stream;
The Old Covered Bridge, painted at various seasons of the year;
Hoosick Valley from the Window (1946), with its frame of lace curtains;
Black Horses, again, full of movement; and

- By Lin Van Buren, 2 March 2003, Purley, Surrey, England

UPDATE: from Elizabeth Fischer Brown in August 2009: "I read your article on Rootsweb and found it most interesting. I do have a little information for you. Winona "Ona" MOSES died in 1958 and is buried at Maple Grove Cemetery in Hoosick, Rensselaer County, NY. I found her gravestone listed at Winona's name is on the headstone with her parents. I do not know the dates, but she was supposedly married to my grandfather's uncle, Charles FISCHER, of Manhattan, NY. I believe they were married and divorced sometime between 1910 and 1920, as is suggested by US Census records. Her headstone has her name spelled Winona R Fisher."

FURTHER UPDATE: The Times Union newspaper of Albany, Albany County, NY published this article on 21 November 2009 about the preservation of the Moses family farm:

Grandma Moses inspiration saved

Rural landscape behind famed painter's work permanently protected

By KENNETH C. CROWE II, Staff writer
First published: Saturday, November 21, 2009

WHITE CREEK -- History, art and farmland preservation came together Friday when the landscape that inspired Grandma Moses' paintings of rural life was permanently protected from development.

"She would approve," Carl Moses said of his grandmother, who died in 1961.

It was the fourth generation of the Moses family that preserved the historic farm in White Creek [Washington County, NY] and neighboring Hoosick [Rensselaer County, NY].

Grandma Moses's great-grandson Rich Moses and his wife, Kathy, began working with the Agricultural Stewardship Association in 2005 to ensure that their vegetable farm would not be overrun by development.

"There are some properties we need to protect. Everything, the sense of the whole program, is similar to protecting Yellowstone," Rich Moses said, drawing a comparison to 19th-century efforts to preserve the Western landscape.

The development rights for the 171-acre Moses family farm were turned over to the Agricultural Stewardship Association for $424,140, supplied by a variety of government and private funds.

Working with local farmers, governments and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, the stewardship association has preserved about 10,000 acres of farmland in Rensselaer and Washington counties. The association is working with farmers to permanently protect another 4,582 acres from development.

The Moses farm may be the one property the association has preserved that is known worldwide. Grandma Moses's full name was Anna Mary Robertson Moses.

"This is a beautiful farm. It's a famous farm because it was owned by a famous person, Grandma Moses," said Teri Ptacek, association executive director.

Situated along the Hoosic River and the Owl Kill, the Moses Farm includes productive soil straddling the boundary of Rensselaer and Washington counties.

"This spot is historic," state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said. "Wouldn't it be a shame for someone to come here and see a huge development?"

The cost to procure the development rights to the Moses Farm on Grandma Moses Road off Route 67 was $424,140. The state provided $317,265 in farmland protection funds; the Castanea Foundation of Montpelier, VT supplied $56,394 through the Agricultural Stewardship Association; the Moses family contributed $47,898 in easements; and the remaining $2,583 came from Washington County.

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