Sugaring Off by Grandma Moses
Sugaring Off is a famous painting by folk artist Grandma Moses, completed in 1943. Grandma Moses did not begin painting until the age of 78 and she is often cited as an example of an individual successfully beginning a career in the arts at an advanced age. Grandma Moses is known for her nostalgic, rural-themed artwork that she started creating in her late 70s after arthritis made it difficult for her to continue her previous craft, embroidery.
Sugaring Off is one of her most famous works and showcases a scene of rural life during the late winter and early spring months. The painting depicts a process common in the northeastern United States and Canada known as “sugaring off,” which is maple syrup production.
In the painting, people gather around to participate in the process, which involves tapping maple trees for sap and boiling it down to create syrup. The artwork captures the communal aspect of this tradition, with people socializing and working together. This is a common theme in Grandma Moses’ work, which often depicted the rural community activities of her youth.
Grandma Moses’ art is characterized by its simplistic style, bright colors, and lack of perspective, a style often associated with folk or “naive” art. Despite her lack of formal training, her work was well-received and is still celebrated today for its charm and historical value.
The painting also represents on of Grandma Moses’ most popular themes. Like many of her earliest subjects, it derived from popular illustration—in this case, a well-known Currier & Ives lithograph.
Although Moses did at the very start of her career sometimes copy compositions verbatim, she never tried to duplicate this Currier & Ives print. Rather, from the start she freely combined elements from her primary source with vignettes from other sources and from her own imagination. Certain stock images do tend to recur in the “Sugaring Off” paintings; however, among them the burning cauldron, the mother pouring maple sugar on the snow (where it would harden into instant candy), the men with buckets, and the little “sugar house.”
Sugaring Off is notable for its vast assortment of disparate activities in a preternaturally broad landscape. This opening up of the landscape into an almost square, quiltlike panoply of detail is one of the hallmarks of the “Grandma Moses style.” As she matured further, however, Moses would revert to narrower horizontals, requiring greater detail compression.