Valley legacy honored Grandma Moses gets a marker

Posted by | April 25, 2011

The following article by David Ress ran April 22, 2011 on the NewsLeader.com.


VERONA — She made the best butter around, sold potato chips on the streets of Staunton and let her eyes drink in the beauty of the Valley, which captured New York native Grandma Moses’ heart as a newlywed on an overnight train stop here.

Now, the state Department of Historic Resources plans a highway marker to remind passers-by of the famed artist’s ties to the area.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses and her husband, Thomas, lived in Augusta County for nearly two decades.

Grandma Moses' home in Mount Airy in its early years. Anna Mary Moses — who would later gain fame as the painter Grandma Moses — is seated to the left of the front steps of the house with her husband, Thomas, and their children Ona, Forrestand Loyd. The African-American woman in the center is probably Aunt Carrie, mentioned in Grandma Moses' autobiography, while in-laws Charlie and Mattie Prebble are on the right.

Grandma Moses' home in Mount Airy in its early years. Anna Mary Moses — who would later gain fame as the painter Grandma Moses — is seated to the left of the front steps of the house with her husband, Thomas, and their children Ona, Forrestand Loyd. The African-American woman in the center is probably Aunt Carrie, mentioned in Grandma Moses' autobiography, while in-laws Charlie and Mattie Prebble are on the right.

She didn’t start painting until her 70s, several decades after she and her husband had moved back to upstate New York, where they’d grown up — but several pieces are of the Valley. One of her earliest, from 1924, is of Gypsy Hill Park.

The farm she and her husband saved for years to buy, Mount Airy, was just behind what’s now the Augusta County Government Center, and the house — in need of restoration — still stands. It is featured in three paintings, including “Apple Butter Making,” painted in 1947.

The state hopes to put up the marker nearby, possibly on U.S. 11, said Randy Jones, of the state Department of Historic Resources.

While the paintings she did from memory of the Valley are one legacy, Augusta Supervisor Nancy Sorrells thinks there is another, too: “They were really amazing farm business entrepreneurs.”

The Greenbrier sought out her butter because its local reputation was so stellar. She sold her potato chips on the streets of Staunton; the money she and Thomas saved from more than a dozen years of renting farms and selling their special butter, milk and potato chips was what they used to buy Mount Airy, a 180-acre farm they bought for $6,000 in 1901.

Undated photo of artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses, also known as Grandma Moses.

Undated photo of artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses, also known as Grandma Moses.

Sorrells thinks the farmhouse, located on county land on its industrial park, might eventually become office space or a meeting facility.

But, in any event, the fact that the house, built in the 1830s, is still standing speaks to something about the Valley — much as Grandma Moses’ paintings of another time do, too.

“If you tear something down, that sends one kind of message,” Sorrells said. “If you try to preserve something, that sends a different message.”

Here’s what the historical marker will say:

Grandma Moses in Augusta County

Newlyweds Anna Mary Robertson Moses (later known as Grandma Moses) and her husband, Thomas, arrived in Augusta County from New York in 1887, renting several farms before purchasing Mount Airy, a large brick Federal style house built in 1830. The family gained renown for their butter, milk and potato chips. The Moses family moved home to Eagle Bridge, N.Y., in 1905, where, in her late 70s, “Grandma” Moses began painting, becoming world famous for her Primitive American style. There are three known paintings titled “Mount Airy” depicting the house and farm. She died in 1961 at the age of 101.

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