Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by W. Nikola-Lisa, illustrated by Grandma Moses

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-8050-6243-2
Publisher: Henry Holt

Over 60 years ago, an amateur art collector, Louis Caldor, saw some paintings displayed in the window of a drugstore in upstate New York. Caldor introduced an art dealer, Otto Kallir, of Galerie St. Etienne to the work of this unschooled folk artist and primitive painter, Anna Mary Robertson Moses. “Grandma” Moses, as she was soon known, was then almost 80. A 1940 New York gallery show, “What A Farm Wife Painted,” created a sensation. “By her hundredth birthday on September 7, 1960 . . . [she] had become not only one of the most well-known and beloved artists of her time, but a true American icon.” Nikola-Lisa really presents two books in one. He sets the scene by placing a charming Kodachrome (featuring the spry, calico-clad Moses at work at her painting table) facing his brief one-page biography. Once the page is turned, The Year with Grandma Moses can then be read as a simple picture-book celebration of 19th- through early–20th-century rural and small-town life. Each right-hand page features a reproduction of one of Moses’s extraordinarily detailed and sweetly imagined oil-on-board paintings, captioned by a simple, yet evocative, narrative. Each stencil-decorated facing page features well-matched passages from Moses’s own 1952 memoir, My Life’s History. These excerpts demonstrate that Moses’s powers of observation and creativity were not limited to the visual arts and add those needed, telling, details that provide a rich context for readers. Unfortunately, the memoir text is italicized and displayed on shaded ovals that darken at center. Though old-fashioned and elegant in design, the readability is sometimes compromised. Despite those occasional challenges, the book is an accessible and beguiling introduction to this true American original. Moses was, after all, the first late-20th–century self-taught “outsider” artist to both win huge popular acceptance and capture an entire nation’s imagination. (illustration credits, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. All ages)