By Erin Barnaby,
Grandma Moses: American Modern takes a new look at this iconic artist through a modernist lens. Co-organized with Bennington Museum in Vermont, the exhibition showcases more than 60 paintings, works on paper, and related materials by Moses alongside work by other 19th- and 20th-century folk and modern artists. Grandma Moses: American Modern is on view at Shelburne Museum June 18 through October 20, 2016.
“Grandma Moses is best known for paintings of simple farm life and the rural countryside that established her reputation as a wildly popular latter-day folk artist,” said Shelburne Museum Director Thomas Denenberg. “This exhibition reexamines her work and explores the way she emerged onto the national stage both as a product of and foil to mid-century American modernism.”
Grandma Moses: American Modern explores the work of the beloved self-taught American artist Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses (1860-1961), whose nostalgic and romanticized paintings were ubiquitous in post-World War II America. Her work exemplifies an ideal of small-town America that took root in the popular imagination in the 1930s and became a national institution by the 1950s.
Although Moses’s paintings seem like pure nostalgia, they are in fact visually sophisticated paintings that melded her memories of growing up in a preindustrial America with her more recent experiences in an increasingly modernized, homogenous nation. Grandma Moses: American Modern counters Moses’s marginalization as strictly a “folk” artist and a phenomenon within popular culture to contextualize her work within a larger narrative of 20th-century American art.
Her paintings will be paired alongside fellow folk artists like Edward Hicks and Joseph Pickett, as well as her modernist contemporaries including Morris Hirshield and Helen Frankenthaler. The exhibition features paintings from the permanent collections of Shelburne and Bennington museums, along with major loans from the Galerie St. Etienne in New York.
Shelburne Museum and Bennington Museum are uniquely appropriate institutions for organizing Grandma Moses: American Modern. Both institutions have had important relationships with Grandma Moses, both during her lifetime and as stewards of her legacy. Electra Havemeyer Webb, the founder of Shelburne Museum, and Moses became fast friends toward the end of their lives. Moses frequently visited the museum, and one of Mrs. Webb’s final pursuits was organizing an exhibition of Moses’s paintings in 1960.
Bennington Museum’s close identification with Grandma Moses dates to 1963, when Otto Kallir and Galerie St. Etienne created the first of several temporary exhibitions at the museum. These led to the “Grandma Moses Gallery,” where at times up to 80 paintings were on loan all through the 1970s. The museum’s long-standing interest in Moses has led to gifts and purchases. Today the museum holds the largest public collection of her work: more than 40 paintings, needleworks, the 18th-century tilt-top table she decorated with landscapes and then used as a painting table, her iconic apron, photographs, documents, and even the schoolhouse she studied in as a little girl.
Grandma Moses began painting in earnest at the age of 78, a phenomenal example of an individual successfully beginning a career in the arts late in life. A down-to-earth farm wife from rural upstate New York, Moses was understood in her lifetime as a memory painter, an artist from an earlier era and a simpler time who provided an ideology of hearth and home for the new patterns of life in suburban America. Images of her paintings have appeared on greeting cards, housewares, magazine advertisements, television, and in the movies. She won numerous awards in her lifetime and was awarded two honorary doctoral degrees; her paintings are included in museum collections around the country.
Grandma Moses: American Modern will be accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalogue published by Skira Rizzoli Publishing and with essays by Thomas Denenberg, Director of Shelburne Museum; Jamie Franklin, Curator of Collections at Bennington Museum; Diana Korzenik, professor emerita at the Massachusetts College of Art; and Alexander Nemerov, professor of art history at Stanford University.
The exhibition will travel to the Bennington Museum July 1 through November 5, 2017.