Moses was one of America's best-known primitive painters (artists who did not receive a formal art education).
December 14, 1961OBITUARY
Grandma Moses Is Dead at 101; Primitive Artist 'Just Wore Out'
Special to THE NEW YORK TIMESHOOSICK FALLS, N. Y., Dec. 13--Grandma Moses, the spry, indomitable "genuine American primitive" who became one of the country's most famous painters in her late seventies, died here today at the age of 101.
She died at the Hoosick Falls Health Center, where she had been a patient since August, after a fall at her home in nearby Eagle Bridge. Her physician, Dr. Clayton E. Shaw, said she had died of hardening of the arteries, but the best way to describe the cause of death, he suggested, was to say "she just wore out."
The simple realism, nostalgic atmosphere and luminous color with which Grandma Moses portrayed homely farm life and rural countryside won her a wide following. She was able to capture the excitement of winter's first snow, Thanksgiving preparations and the new, young green of oncoming spring.
Gay color, action and humor enlivened her portrayals of such simple farm activities as maple sugaring, soap-making, candle-making, haying, berrying and the making of apple butter.
In person, Grandma Moses charmed wherever she went. A tiny, lively woman with mischievous gray eyes and a quick wit, she could be sharp-tongued with a sycophant and stern with an errant grandchild.
Cheerful, as a cricket, even in her last years, she continued to be keenly observant of all that went on around her. Until her last birthday, Sept. 7, she rarely failed to do a little painting every day.
Grandma Moses is survived by her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Dorothy Moses; nine grandchildren and more than thirty great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held Saturday at 2 P. M. from the painter's home. Burial will be in the Maple Grove Cemetery here.
Crippled by Arthritis
Grandma Moses, whose paintings hang in nine museums in the United States and in Vienna and Paris, turned out her first picture when she was 76 years old.
She took up painting because arthritis had crippled her hands so that she no longer could embroider. She could not hold a needle, but she could hold a brush, and she had been too busy all her life to bear the thought of being idle.
Two years later a New York engineer and art collector, Louis J. Caldor, who was driving through Hoosick Falls saw some of her paintings displayed in a drug store. They were priced from $3 to $5, depending on size. He bought them all, drove to the artist's home at Eagle Bridge and bought ten others she had there.
The next year, 1939, Grandma Moses was represented in an exhibition of "contemporary unknown painters" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She did not remain unknown for long.
A one-man show of her paintings was held in New York in 1940, and other one-man shows abroad followed. Her paintings were soon reproduced on Christmas cards, tiles and fabrics here and abroad. She was the guest of President and Mrs. Harry S. Truman in 1949 at a tea at which the President played the piano for her.
Honored by Governor
Governor Rockefeller proclaimed the painter's 100th and 101st birthdays "Grandma Moses Days" throughout the state, declaring this year that "there is no more renowned artist in our entire country today."
Yesterday the Governor said, "she painted for the sheer love of painting, and throughout her 101 years she was endeared to all who had the privilege of knowing her."
But to say that she was an American painter was less than the full portrait of Grandma Moses; European critics called her work "lovable," "fresh," "charming," "adorable" and "full of naive and childlike joy." A German fan offered his explanation for her wide popularity:
"There emanates from her paintings a light-hearted optimism; the world she shows us is beautiful and it is good. You feel at home in all these pictures, and you know their meaning. The unrest and the neurotic insecurity of the present day make us inclined to enjoy the simple and affirmative outlook of Grandma Moses."
As a self-taught "primitive," who in childhood began painting what she called "lambscapes" by squeezing out grape juice or lemon juice to get colors, Grandma Moses has been compared to the great self-taught French painter, Henri Rousseau, as well as to Breughel. Until the comparisons were made, she had never heard of either artist.
Painted from Remembrance
Grandma Moses did all of her painting from remembrance of things past. She liked to sit quietly and think, she once said, and remember and imagine. "Then I'll get an inspiration and start painting; then I'll forget everything, everything except how things used to be and how to paint it so people will know how we used to live."
She would sit on an old, battered swivel chair, perching on two large pillows. The Masonite on which she painted would lie flat on an old kitchen table before her. There was no easel. Crowding her in her "studio" were an electric washer and dryer that had overflowed from the kitchen.
For subject matter, Grandma Moses drew on memories of a long life as farm child, hired girl and farmer's wife. Her first paintings had been sent to the county fair along with samples of her raspberry jam and strawberry preserves. Her jam had won a ribbon, but nobody noticed those first paintings.
She would paint for five or six hours, and preferred the first part of the session because, as she said, her hand was fresher and "stiddier." At night, after dinner, she liked to watch television Westerns, not for the drama but because she liked to see horses.
Grandma Moses, who was born before Abraham Lincoln had yet taken office, spent a lot of her time on what she called her "old-timey" New England landscapes. She painted from the top down: "First the sky, then the mountains, then the hills, then the trees, then the houses, then the cattle and then the people." Her tiny figures, disproportionately small, cast no shadows. They seem sharply arrested in action.
She learned as a child to observe nature when her father took the children out for walks. He was a Methodist, but never went to church, and he allowed his children to believe what they wanted. Instead of going to church, they went for long walks in the woods.
Grandma Moses had had a hard life most of her many years, but neither her fame nor her advanced years cut into her formidable production. During her lifetime she painted more than 1,000 pictures, twenty-five of them after she had passed her 100th birthday. Her oils have increased in value from those early $3 and $5 works to $8,000 or $10,000 for a large picture.
Otto Kallier, owner and director of the Galerie St. Etienne in New York and president of Grandma Moses' Properties, Inc., will not discuss her earnings, but they are reliably estimated to have reached nearly $500,000.
Two one-man shows of Grandma Moses' work toured Europe, each for two years, and a third tour abroad is scheduled in 1962-63.
"Grandma Moses Story Book," an anthology for children illustrated by forty-seven color reproductions of her paintings, was published this year by Random House, and 20,000 copies were sold before publication.
Grandma Moses, the former Anna Mary Robertson was born at Greenwich, N. Y., in 1860, one of five daughters and five sons of Russell King Robertson and the former Margaret Shannahan. What little formal education she had was obtained in a one-room country school.
At the age of 12 she left home to work as a hired girl. She worked in the same capacity until she was 27 years old, when she was married to Thomas Salmon Moses. He was the hired man on the farm where she was doing the housework.
Invested in Farm
The couple took a wedding trip to North Carolina. On the way back, they decided to invest their $600 savings in the rental of a farm near Staunton, Va.
They remained in Virginia for twenty years. Ten children, five of whom died in infancy, were born to them. In addition to caring for the children and running the house, Mrs. Moses made butter and potato chips, which she sold to neighbors.
The couple returned to New York State and began farming at Eagle Bridge. Mr. Moses died there in 1927. For several years his widow continued to operate the farm with the help of her son, Forrest. But she had to give up farm chores, and then embroidery, when arthritis attacked her hands.
She had been embroidering in wool pictures that were reminiscent of Currier and Ives prints of country scenes. Grandma Moses' first paintings were copies from the prints and post cards. Gradually, however, she began to compose original scenes, drawn from her memories of farm life in past generations.
For her work, the painter received honorary doctoral degrees from Russell Sage College in 1949 and from the Moore Institute of Art, Science and Industry, Philadelphia, in 1951. Late in life she became a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Society of Mayflower Descendants after the local chapters had traced her ancestry and invited her to join.
"My Life's History," her autobiography, was published in 1951 by Harper & Brothers. "Grandma Moses, American Primitive," a biography written by Mr. Kallir, was published in 1947 by Doubleday & Co.
It was in "My Life's History" that Grandma Moses expressed her basic philosophy:
"I look back on my life like a good day's work, it was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be."
Kennedy Pays Tribune
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (AP)--President Kennedy paid the following tribute today to Grandma Moses:
"The death of Grandma Moses removed a beloved figure from American life. The directness and vividness of her paintings restored a primitive freshness to our perception of the American scene. Both her work and her life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recall its roots in the countryside and on the frontier. All Americans mourn her loss."