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From School House Hill on Route #372 a little west of Cambridge, New York, one can quickly understand what inspired Grandma Moses, and now her great grandson Will to so eloquently portray life in a simpler time. The view is, in one word, spectacular, and remains very like Grandma Moses painted it years ago. Three mountains ring Washington County, New York State. To the west and north lay soft outline of New York's Adirondacks, to the south the pale grey bulk of the Berkshires in Massachusetts, and to the east the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Grandma Moses was born Anna Mary Robertson in Washington County, on September 7, 1860. As was the custom of the time, she acquired little schooling before hiring herself out as a housekeeper. A very pretty young woman, she soon attracted the attention of Thomas Salmon Moses. Grandma was considered old for marriage when she wed Thomas on November 9, 1887. After the ceremony and dinner Thomas and Anna set out on a honeymoon that was to end in North Carolina where Will had work. The couple got no further than mid- Virginia when they were persuaded to settle and farm the fertile and beautiful Shenandoah Valley south of Staunton. Anna Mary quickly fell in love with the magnificent location of their Virginia holdings. Ten children were subsequently born to the diminutive, hardworking woman. When she left the Valley for New York State in 1905, she wept for small children she left buried in a cemetery in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.
When the Moses family moved back to Washington County, they bought a working farm, known locally as Mt. Nebo, near Eagle Bridge. After Thomas' death in 1927, the youngest son assumed responsibility for the farm and Grandma, as Anna Mary was then called, began "painting" pictures in worsted wool. She eventually turned to a more versatile medium, oil paints. Family remember that as early as 1918, Grandma was decorating her home with naive primitives, known today as American folk art. Grandma might have remained a relatively unknown folk painter if one of her daughter's had not believed that Anna Mary's work deserved exposure. She arranged for a few examples to be placed in the window of a Hoosick Falls drug store. Louis Calder, a New York art dealer introduced Grandma to the world in 1939 after seeing her work in the window. Although folk art was not at this time considered an important part of the U.S. art scene, the opening of "What a Farmer's Wife Painted", a one woman show in October 1940, established Grandma Moses' place in the history of American art.
Grandma Moses began to paint seriously at age seventy-six, and for twenty-five years captured landscapes, architecture and early life style and activities as she remembered them. Anna Mary Robertson Moses died on December 13, 1961 at 101 years of age. She is buried beside her husband on a hill in Maple Grove Cemetery, Hoosick Falls, overlooking her beloved Hoosick Valley and near Mt. Nebo & Eagle Bridge, five miles away.
Little has changed in Washington County since Grandma's time. Although only an hour north of New York's State capitol, Albany, the area retains a quaint, rural charm. Agriculture holds sway. Farms, very like those that Grandma painted, are tucked in the hills and valleys. Deer graze among cattle on hillsides. Forests crown upland hills. County towns and villages offer back-to-basics shopping, along with reasonably priced accommodation, antiquing, museums, specialty shops, art galleries and great mom & pop run restaurants. The Town House Motor Inn on Route #22, Cambridge provides an excellent home-base for exploring the area. Main Street, Cambridge boasts the restored Cambridge Hotel, home of the original Pie a La Mode, historic Hubbard Hall, a community art center and one of the best old- fashioned hardware stores in eastern New York State.
Three miles south of Cambridge, just off Route #22 at Mt Nebo in Eagle Bridge, Will Moses, Grandma's great grandson, an excellent folk artist in his own right, has established Mt. Nebo Gallery. Although Grandma's home is not open to the general public, a roadside plaque at the homestead honours Grandma Moses. The well stocked gallery is located in one of the farm's outbuildings. Will, always a gracious host, answers the inevitable questions.
How much influence did Grandma's years in the Shenandoah Valley have on her paintings of Washington County? The explanation is quite simple. Grandma religiously painted the physical landscape that she could see from the windows of her New York State home. Activities shown in her pictures might be a combination of how she remembered life in both Virginia and Washington County.
Did great grandmother's style of painting influence Will's art? Not really. Will Moses has developed and refined his own unique style and interpretation of folk art.
Did he inherit his talent from his father, his grandfather? Will cannot remember that his father was an artist. To the benefit of today's art buffs, Anna Mary's artistic ability has filtered through the generations.
Visitors should plan to spend at least one day, with camera in hand, touring the county's by-ways with the aid of an excellent map provided by Washington County Tourism Association. Another day should be spent in nearby Vermont, at the Bennington Museum which has an excellent permanent tribute to Grandma Moses. The largest collection of Grandma's paintings in the United States and many early artifacts are displayed in the one room school house that Anna Mary attended as a child. For history and architecture buffs, Greenwich, a short drive north of Cambridge is well worth a visit. This pretty community is widely known as "the most extraordinary, beautiful and architecturally intact village in all of upstate New York. Rawleigh, Eagle Bridge, Anaguassacook and Sushan Covered bridges beg to be explored, as do the small communities of Argyle, Hartford, Chamberlain Mills and Tiplady. Museums abound including the Hartford Museum & Civil War Enlistment Center, the Slate Valley Museum which tells the story of the area's slate industry. Don't miss the five building Campus of Local History known as the Old Fort House Museum in Fort Edward.
Hoosick Falls, Anna Mary's final resting place, wears Moses history on one of its buildings in the form of a mural depicting part of one of Grandma's paintings. The town is noted for its drinking water, voted the best in New York State for 1987 with its qualities sighted as being clear, crisp and cool. Hoosick Falls' streets are lined with excellent examples of period architecture. Styles include Federalist, Queen Ann, early Victorian and Classic Colonial, along with the famous Octagonal House on Route #22, several blocks south of Main Street. Washington County is fast becoming one of the most important genealogical centers on the eastern seaboard because of its many eighteenth century burial grounds that are well worth a visit. Traveling throughout the County is still easy on one's travel budget. Breakfasts can be found for as little as $1.99 at area restaurants like The Burger Den on Route #22, north of Cambridge. Accommodations choices include motels, bed & breakfast establishments. One word of advise. Visitors should go soon, before the area is discovered and prices match those in the more popular state of Vermont, only twenty miles away.
IF YOU GO:
Fort Edward, New York 12828
P.O. Box 94
243 Grandma Moses Rd.
Eagle Bridge, New York 12057
Bennington, Vermont 05201
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