Mind, Matter, Grandma Moses

December 10, 2020

"The Wind in Winter" (left), a 1950 painting by Grandma Moses, on exhibit at SVAC through Feb. 21, 2021.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

That pithy Mark Twain quote floated heavy in the ether a few days ago as I gently, reverently lifted a painting encased in a rustic wood frame and began to place it at 60 inches on center against a matte-white gallery wall.

First, though, I stared at the yellowed paper on the back, squinting to read the painting’s creation date: January 1950. “How old was she then?” I mumble-wondered as I shifted the painting back around and guided its silver, braided double wire onto a sturdy gold hook.

Painting safely on the wall, I lifted my phone, consulted the internet and seconds later had my answer: "Grandma" Moses was a few months shy of 90 when she painted “The Wind in Winter,” depicting a quintessential New England scene of villagers enjoying the snow despite a blustery wind pushing tree limbs sideways. It is one of two Grandma Moses works now on display in Southern Vermont Arts Center’s Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum, where I was helping install the new exhibit “Out of the Vault: Selections from SVAC’s Collection.”

Before she was "discovered" and achieved global fame as an artist, Anna Mary Robertson Moses was a widowed upstate New York farm wife in her late 70s. Embroidery had been her craft of choice, but arthritis was making stitching increasingly difficult. So instead she painted—both because it was less painful and “to keep busy and out of mischief,” she would say later. Despite the late-in-life start, she would paint 1,500 works over a legendary career. She lived and painted until she was 101.

Now, coming on 60 years after her death, perhaps the it's-never-too-late lessons of Grandma Moses can contribute some inspiration and hope in a year in which we desperately need them. If you’re anywhere near Manchester, Vermont, before February 21, don a mask and visit the SVAC exhibit—and experience not only the Grandma Moses works, but dozens of amazing pieces from other accomplished iconic artists including Luigi Lucioni and Ogden Pleissner.