May/June 1999 | Volume 50, Issue 3
Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses (1860-1961) fills the bill for two reasons. First, a lot of people’s grandmothers who can’t really paint, paint like her. Second, many of the “memory” views of rural life during the Reconstruction era of her New York youth, painted during the decade of television and Sputnik , became the model for the torrent of mediocre, maplesyrupy, Americana-isms that pass for way too much “contemporary” folk art.
I’m nominating Officer Smith. He was the little-known Denver policeman responsible for the hugely obsessive undertaking begun around 1920 that he called “Woman ” Fairest of Earthly Creatures . Utilizing almost fifty thousand images of women—some original photographs but most cut from newspapers and gamy men’s magazines like Police Gazette and Flapper —Smith created hundreds of sophisticated collages on the sixteen-inchsquare pages of an unused locomotive repair ledger from the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.
While popular history, in the form of Mary Pickford and Theda Bara, appears incidentally in the melange of Smith’s cuties, it is the elaborate interplay of scale, shape, color, Roaring Twenties optimism, and sex that make the works so engaging. (Okay, so I happen to own all of Smith’s work, and this is patently selfserving. I still think he was some kind of Jazz Age genius.)