Bob admires unique lifestyle of Grandma Moses

Bob admires unique lifestyle of Grandma Moses By Bob Karolevitz I've always been a fan of Grandma Moses, not so much for her paintings but for her as an individual.

What she did, she did it her way � and I like that!

Although she lived to be 101, we hardly know her, except for her primitive art which is probably more popular now than when she was producing it.

For those of you who have only a faint recollection of her, let me fill you in on the life of that amazing woman who became famous in spite of herself.

Anna Mary was born in eastern New York on Sept. 7, 1860, one of Russell and Margaret Robertson's 10 children. "We came in bunches like radishes," she later wrote. She was an admitted tomboy in her early years, but � when she wasn't out trying to out-do her five brothers � her mother taught her all the domestic duties expected of a young farm girl.

At age 12, with limited formal schooling, she left home to become a live-in maid for various families in the area. For 15 years she cooked, cleaned and cared for somebody else's children, until one day she met a hired hand named Thomas Moses. He was a sensible sort who didn't have much money, she acknowledged, but she said: "Some women like a man because he is rich, but that kind of like is not lasting,"

After their marriage, they moved southward to a rented farm near Staunton, VA, "to get out of the cold." There they had 10 children � only five of whom survived to adulthood � but generally life in the Shenandoah Valley was good.

What little money Anna Mary had brought with her, she used to buy a cow. Then she churned butter, selling enough to pay for two cows. She tried something else, too.

Slicing a few pounds of potatoes, she fried them to a crisp. Soon she was in the potato chip business, selling what was then a novelty product as far away as Charlottesville and White Sulpher Springs. All was working out well for them until Thomas got homesick for the North, and they moved back to a farm near Eagle Bridge, NY.

Before her husband died in 1927, she started to paint little pictures which she gave away as presents. Mostly, though, she embroidered with colored yarn.

Unfortunately � or fortunately, as it turned out � rheumatism or arthritis in her hands made stitching difficult. "At night I couldn't sleep because of the aching," she said. It was her sister who suggested that she should concentrate on painting, and that's what the 76-year-old widow did, mostly to keep busy and to pass the time away.

When some of her pictures were displayed in a drugstore in nearby Hoosick Falls, they were admired but they didn't sell. That's when Louis J. Caldor, a civil engineer and art collector, came to town and saw them. Enthused, he bought 10, but more important, he became her "angel."

Eventually he took the paintings to Otto Kallir, an art dealer who was interested in folk art. Kallir agreed to give Grandma Moses a show in his gallery in New York City. That was in 1940, and she was then 80.

The rest, of course, is history. For the next 20 years she painted almost every day, completing 26 pictures after her 100th birthday. Then one day she dropped a tube of paint and couldn't get up after she knelt down to pick it up.

Nearly 101, she went into a nursing home in Hoosick Falls "just to rest up." Sad to say, she never got back to Eagle Bridge as she died on Dec. 13, 1961.

By then she was a celebrity, having been interviewed on television by Edward R. Murrow, being hounded by reporters for her pithy sayings, writing her memoirs for Harper & Brothers and even being invited to the White House by President Truman where she got him to play the piano for her.

And that, in brief, is why I've always liked Grandma Moses. She was one of a kind, and she gives the rest of us septuagenarians a good reason to carry on.

© 2001 Robert F. Karolevitz

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