Grandma Moses – Part 3
This is my third and final instalment of the life and times of Grandma Moses, the great American Folk artist. If you have just landed on this page I suggest, before reading this blog, you first go back and look at the earlier blogs covering the early and middle part of her life (My Daily Art Display November 6th and 9th)
I ended the last blog talking about Grandma Moses successful one-man exhibition at Otto Kallir’s Manhattan Galerie St Etienne in October 1940. At the time of her exhibition she was eighty years of age. Before the exhibition had finished its one-month run the large Manhattan department store, Gimbels, asked that Grandma Moses’ artwork be exhibited in their store’s large auditorium in time for the Thanksgiving Festival the following month and they invited the artist to be in attendance to talk to the shoppers. Grandma Moses, who had not attended her one-woman show, agreed to Gimbels’ “meet and greet” request and arrived accompanied by Carolyn Thomas, the owner of the Hoosick Falls drugstore, where the artist’s work was first put on display and her artistic journey had begun.
After the success of the Galerie St Etienne exhibition Grandma Moses works were put on display at other exhibitions in New York and Washington. In 1941 she exhibited some of her works at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts and for her painting The Old Oaken Bucket, she was awarded the New York State Prize. Over the years Grandma Moses received numerous requests from people for copies of her work, which they had seen at various exhibitions. She rarely refused and this would explain why titles of her works often recurred. It should also be noted that although she provided copies of specific works for people, she would often deviate slightly from the original. In some cases the scene would be the same but the time of year and thus the weather conditions were changed and thus the tonal quality of the painting was adjusted.
When one looks at the many winter scenes depicted in Grandma Moses’ paintings one can understand why a greetings card company would be interested in her work. The Brundage Greeting Card Company arranged for a number of her paintings to be part of their 1946 Christmas card selection and the following year, 1947, Hallmark acquired the right to reproduce Grandma Moses paintings and they went on to appear for many years on their Christmas and Greetings cards.
In 1849, aged 89, Grandma Moses attended the Women’s National Press Club Awards held at the Statler Hotel in Washington. Over seven hundred guests and dignitaries attended and watch President Truman hand out the six awards to women who had made substantial contribution in their field. Grandma Moses’ received her award for her outstanding accomplishment in Art. Other award winners were Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s widow, Eleanor for her work as Chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, Madeleine Carroll, the actress and America’s first female elected mayor of a large city (Portland, Oregon), Dorothy McCullough. The day after the Awards ceremony Grandma Moses was invited by President Truman and his wife to take tea with them at their Blair House residence (The White House was closed between 1949 and 1951 while the building, which had been found to have serious structural faults, was completely gutted and rebuilt and refurbished).
At the end of May 1949, Grandma Moses returned home to Eagle Bridge in triumph and was met and serenaded by an estimated eight hundred people. Eagle Bridge had never seen the like before. She remembered that day well and despite all the homecoming celebrations, she wrote of the time in a letter, simply stating:
“…In a way I was glad to get back and go to bed that night…”
In February 1949, Grandma Moses’ youngest son Hugh, who, along with his wife Dorothy, had been living with her and helping run the Mount Nebo farm died suddenly. She remained at the farmhouse but two years later in 1951 she moved across the road to a new ranch-style house, which her sons, Forrest and Lloyd had built for her. Now aged 91, she was not to be left to live alone as her daughter Winona returned from California to be with her.
In March 1952 when President Truman was finally allowed to go back with his wife to live at the White House after its extensive refurbishment, Grandma Moses wrote to his wife:
“…As I have seen in the papers, the White House will be reopened on April 1st. It would be a great pleasure to me to dedicate on this occasion an original painting by Grandma Moses to the White House and to the American people, if the President and you would approve of my intention, and if there is a place for it…”
Her offer was accepted and her painting entitled July Fourth has been hanging in the White House ever since. This is My Daily Art Display featured painting for today. In 1955 she completed another painting for a US President – this time it was a work of art for President Dwight Eisenhower, entitled The Eisenhower Farm, which was presented to him in January 1956, by Vice President Richard Nixon to mark the third anniversary of his inauguration. Eisenhower was delighted with the painting but did comment that he wished his farm was as big as the one depicted in Grandma Moses’s painting.
Following the end of World War II Grandma Moses fame spread to Europe. They had already seen illustrations of her work in magazines but there was now a hunger to see the originals. In 1950 a collection of fifty of her works was sent to Europe and were shown at exhibitions in all the major European art capitals such as Vienna, Munich, Salzburg, Paris, Berne and The Hague. The attitude to her artwork changed after these exhibitions. The art critic for the London journal, Art News and Review wrote:
“…Grandma Moses is one of the key symbols of our time…….She is clearly an artist, whose paintings reveal a quality identical with genius…”
High praise indeed !!
In 1955 she took part in a famous TV programme with the legendry radio and TV commentator Edward Murrow and in May 1960 Governor of the New York State, Nelson Rockefeller issued a proclamation declaring September 7th that year to be “Grandma Moses Day”, which was the day of her one hundredth birthday.
By this time Grandma Moses’ health was starting to decline. Her strength was waning and she was having severe difficulty with walking. After a number of falls her son Forrest took her to the Health Centre at Hoosick Falls. Sadly for Grandma Moses it was decided that she could not continue to live in her home as she needed constant care and so she was admitted to the nursing home. Away from her own home she was unable to paint and this saddened her. She never made it back home and although she celebrated her 101st birthday at the Hoosick Falls Health Centre she passed away three months later on December 13th 1961 and was buried at the Maple Grove Cemetery.
News of her death spread far and wide and tributes poured in. President Kennedy issued the following statement:
“…The death of Grandma Moses removes a beloved figure from American life. The directness and vividness of her paintings restored a primitive freshness to our perception of the American scene. All Americans mourn her loss. Both her work and her life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recalled its roots in the countryside and on the frontier…”
I hope you have enjoyed this look at an astounding female artist. I have trawled through reams of information to try and get a true picture of the great lady’s life. I have come across numerous factual contradictions, which I have tried to sort out. My main source of information was a book I bought myself entitled Grandma Moses by Otto Kallir. It is a wonderful book and one I recommend you buy.