Modern 'Grandma Moses' captures life in simpler times

"The Guinness Book of World Records" is not the first place you'd look for information on an artist, but, then again, Jane Wooster Scott is in a class by herself. Anointed the most-reproduced artist in America by the famed book of milestones, this modern-day Grandma Moses has defied conventions of the art world from the moment she picked up a paintbrush.

Known the world over for her faux-naif scenes of 19th-century Americana (think bonneted children, horse-drawn carriages, and gingerbread houses), Scott never intended to be an artist. Despite starting at a relatively late age - 20 - she unintentionally became a global bestseller and the darling of the greeting-card world. All this with no formal art training.

"A girlfriend was moving into an old house and said to me, 'I need a Grandma Moses,' " says Scott recently in an interview over iced tea and a classic Hollywood Cobb Salad.

"So, I copied one for her and signed it, Grandma Wooster. I never intended for it to go anything beyond a hobby."

The next step found her sharing gallery space with a personal friend, comedian Jonathan Winters.

"Jonathan didn't have enough paintings for his show." He asked her to contribute canvases. "Forty sold in a single hour."

For a woman who married young and never intended to do anything but be a wife and mother (although a brief dalliance with an acting career is what brought her to Los Angeles), this high-powered career was a drastic shift.

That was in the '70s. Today, hundreds of images later, all entitled with descriptions such as "Sweet Corn and Summer Dreams" and "Holiday Sleigh Ride," this Pennsylvania native finds herself working nearly completely on commission. "I'm all booked up for a couple of years now," she says. "I find I'm a little restless because I'm not painting what's in my heart right now."

For Scott, who hails from Havertown, a Philadelphia suburb, this is an exercise in capturing a disappearing world, one that was largely gone even in her own childhood. "That time appeals to me," she says. "Life was so simple then."

While she has been dismissed by the modern-art establishment as "kitsch," or merely an illustrator, her paintings hang in the homes of celebrities, and her name is associated with fine art galleries across the country. Not that her reputation beyond her own fans concerns her. "I appeal to the average Joe," she says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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