Do You Dare to Call Yourself an Artist?
by Kari Pederson
At age 10 I discovered proof that a seemingly ordinary woman could be an extraordinary artist. There, nestled in the pages of my stamp-collecting catalogue, was a commemorative stamp designed to celebrate a painter nicknamed “Grandma Moses.” My curiosity was instantly piqued by her name. Grandma? I was lucky enough to have two grandmas I adored so that must be good! The stamp was also colorful and depicted a country scene full of energy that instantly pulled me into the action.
As I grew older and became a history buff, I researched more about Grandma Moses and her life. What I learned increased my admiration for her and changed how I view art and my own creative potential.
Anna Mary Robertson was born in 1860 and grew up on a family farm as the eldest girl of ten children. In her autobiography My Life’s History, Anna describes her childhood as “happy days, free from care or worry.” From an early age, she drew and painted with whatever materials she could get her hands on. Anna became a hired girl at age 12 and married Thomas Moses in 1887. She continued to dabble with crafts, but the demands of adulthood often took priority over creative pursuits.
The couple farmed for many years as they raised their family. Anna describes these days as “nearly all the same,” but for me, her life holds simple truths that widely broadened my artistic viewpoint.
Anybody Can Be an Artist
I watched my mother paint wonderful scenes for my childhood bedroom, but I had thought all famous painters were men who lived somewhere in Europe. Anna not only had her first exhibit in 1940 long before gender equality, but she often described herself as a regular person. She answered queries about why she started painting by saying, “If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.”
Anna appeared to have no formal artistic training. She simply used her talents to the best of her abilities and taught herself the painting techniques she wanted to learn.
Art Can Be Anything
Anna primarily painted nostalgic scenes from her own memories of rural life. Despite the simplicity of her topics, her work became widely popular and was often turned into greeting cards. Although some people criticized her for her mainstream appeal, I still remember the powerful moment when I first saw one of her paintings. That was the moment I realized that art could take many forms. Art became accessible to me and I started exploring many other types of art.
The Right Time to Stretch Your Wings is NOW
Anna did not start exhibiting or selling her work until she was in her 70s, earning her the nickname “Grandma Moses.“ Her previous art had been gifts for others or done for her own amusement. Anna’s example inspires me to ditch the excuses I use to avoid trying new things and encourages me to step out of my comfort zone.
Grandma Moses did not appear bothered by critics and commented on an unfavorable review in a letter to her agent, “This is a free country and people will talk. Let them. If we do what is right, they can’t hurt us.”
The Sky is the Limit
Grandma Moses began painting more in her later years because this creative outlet was easier than needlepoint on her arthritic fingers. She put paintings in a drugstore window only hoping to make a few dollars, and ended up being discovered and launching a prolific second career. Experts believe she painted 1,500 to 2,000 pieces from her mid 70s until her death at 101 years of age. Her pictures initially sold for $3 while her highest grossing painting to date was purchased for $1.2 million.
I believe the real power of Grandma Moses’s legacy has little to do with whether or not you like her art or are intrigued with her personal history. The true power of her story challenges all of us to see ourselves as the great artists we have the potential to become. If something is stopping you from exploring your artistic side or taking your art to a new level, perhaps it is time to take a step forward and just see what happens. Or in the words of Grandma Moses herself, “life is what you make of it.”
**All citations for the biographical material about Grandma Moses come from her autobiography, My Life’s History by Grandma Moses.
Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. Kari is a new writer to VoiceCatcher’s community website and thrilled to be part of its mission. This is the eighth installment in her series, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities.