Published: November 11, 2003
Concluding a triumphal national tour at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, a major retrospective of the work of the inimitable Grandma Moses has confirmed her enduring popularity and drawn attention to the quality of her art as well as the fascinating saga of her life. Guest curated by Jane Kallir of Galerie St Etienne in New York, the 50-odd paintings and half-dozen documentary panels offer an opportunity to assess Moses’s approach to creating art, examine the original artwork itself and explore her place in the context of modern art history.
The premise of the show, says Kallir, was to take a “fresh look” at an artist whose work is so familiar that we do not examine it closely enough anymore. The preeminent Moses authority also feels that the artist’s enormous popularity and the commercialization of her art made her a popular culture figure and diminished her stature as a painter. This contributed to her being given short shrift by art museums. Now, removed from all the publicity and her public persona, we can look objectively at her art. Moses, argues Kallir, is “ripe for reexamination.”
A genuine Twentieth Century phenomenon, Anna Mary Robertson Moses (1860-1961) was a farmer’s widow who took up painting in her 70s and, fortuitously, came to national attention a few years later. The mixture of her homespun personality, long life, charming evocations of rural life and national interest in folk art catapulted the lady who became known as Grandma Moses to acclaim and fame. A darling of the news media, honored by presidents and art critics, and collected by varied institutions and individuals, Moses was welcomed into millions of American homes via radio, television and reproductions of her work.
By Laura Beach
SALEM, MASS. – In the Oval Office of the White House stands a tall clock that only a handful of the world’s most powerful people will ever see. Richly veneered with figured birch and mahogany, the gleaming case was most likely made by John Seymour (1738-1818) and his son, Thomas (1771-1849), two English-born cabinetmakers who arrived in Portland, Maine, in 1784, but achieved renown for their elegant neoclassical furnishings only after they moved to Boston in 1793.
The clock, which is not permitted to travel, was collected by the pioneering Seymour scholar Vernon Stoneman and acquired for the White House in 1972 through the machinations of the master fundraiser Clement Conger. It was only during his third examination of the piece, which stands a towering eight feet tall, that Robert D. Mussey, Jr, found the initials “JS” inscribed on the interior of its case.
“It takes many pairs of good eyes to advance scholarship. I don’t claim that I’ve caught every inscription, but I’ve caught quite a few,” says the furniture conservator, whose decade-long study of the Seymours has resulted in a landmark volume, The Furniture Masterworks of John & Thomas Seymour, published by the Peabody Essex Museum and distributed by the University Press of New England. A companion exhibition, “Luxury and Innovation: Furniture Masterworks by John and Thomas Seymour,” is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum through February 15.
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