Who is the next Grandma Moses?
September 20, 2010 10:00 AM   Subscribe

So I'm looking for stories of people who took up art or some other interesting practice later in life, say after 40, and did really well at it. Grandma Moses is the typical example of late-life artistic accomplishment. Are there others we might not have heard of?

note: I'm not a journalist, this is just for my personal enlightenment.
posted by mecran01 to Education (21 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Penelope Fitzgerald started her writing career fairly late in life.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:01 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Julia Child was 40 when she decided to learn how to cook at le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
posted by hermitosis at 10:03 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The adult section of the wikipedia article on late bloomers lists some of these.

You might also enjoy this article.
posted by hought20 at 10:06 AM on September 20, 2010

Gauguin started painting later in life. He was a stockbroker or financier before taking up art. It wasn't drastically late in life though, but in his 30s.
posted by acheekymonkey at 10:10 AM on September 20, 2010

Oh, I love that Ben Fountain article and read his book. Keep it coming!
posted by mecran01 at 10:15 AM on September 20, 2010

I got my first guitar at 37.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:21 AM on September 20, 2010

I liked the book Never Too Late about a guy who took up music as an adult.
posted by sharding at 10:31 AM on September 20, 2010

Rabbi Akiva, one of the great rabbis of the last two thousand years, supposedly began his religious studies at around age 40.
posted by andoatnp at 10:36 AM on September 20, 2010

Next spring, I'm going to be publishing a book called The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 about a woman named Mary Delany, who effectively invented collage when she was 72 (in 1773), and continued doing it for ten more years. The biography I'm publishing is by Molly Peacock, a wonderful poet, and grew out of her essay "Passion Flowers in Winter" in The Best American Essays 2007.

In addition to The Paper Garden, which is not yet available (but which I hope you'll read when it is!), there is also a book about Mrs. Delany's work called Mrs. Delany and Her Circle.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:40 AM on September 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh and there's also Mrs. Delany, Her Life and Her Flowers, which was written by one of Mrs. Delany's descendants, Ruth Hayden.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:42 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is somewhat fringe, so I apologize, but I think it fits your request. Billy Henson (I can't find a good link, sorry) started ceramics late in life, well into his retirement and only a handful of years before his untimely death of stomach cancer. He became well-regarded (deservedly so) in the folk pottery world in a short period of time and his pottery is highly sought after today by collectors and museums. He's especially notable as being a true self-taught artist like Grandma Moses: he built his wheel and kiln from detailed drawings in the Foxfire books.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:50 AM on September 20, 2010

Raymond Chandler was past 40 when he started his writing career.
posted by Bourbonesque at 11:04 AM on September 20, 2010

She's not famous yet, but the bass player in my husband's band is 50. She started playing bass at 48 and she's excellent and getting better every day. (She played guitar recreationally as a child/young woman and put it down for 25+ years to raise a family. But bass and guitar are very different.)

This same woman also started her own jewelry design company at age 43.

Malvina Reynolds became a songwriter at 48 also. She became an influential folksinger/songwriter in the 1960s.
posted by xenophile at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2010

I learned to draw at age 43 and became a syndicated cartoonist. Gauguin's still better though.
posted by lpsguy at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ivor Cutler didn't even try getting any of his works published until he was forty.
posted by scruss at 1:48 PM on September 20, 2010

@mediareport: thanks for that link, this was sort of a hard topic to search for prior art.

@ipsguy you have no idea how inspiring that is.
posted by mecran01 at 1:57 PM on September 20, 2010

Rosalie Gascoine became a sculptor in her fifties.
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 4:05 PM on September 20, 2010

Philip Pullman didn't start publishing novels until his thirties; Tolkien was almost 40 when he wrote The Hobbit and in his fifties when Lord of the Rings came out.

My wife's English Language lecturer was a mathematician and (I think) programmer into her 40s, and then became interested in Old and Middle English and became a published expert and lecturer on her new topic.
posted by rodgerd at 12:22 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Philip Pullman didn't start publishing novels until his thirties (rodgerd)

He is hardly unusual in this regard. I'd say that's about normal, actually, particularly for novelists who have to make a living off something other than their writing (i.e., almost all of them).
posted by ocherdraco at 6:05 AM on September 21, 2010

Marion Cunningham! According to Judith Jones in The Tenth Muse, Marion was a depressed agoraphobic alcoholic housewife and then one day when she was 49 she just kind of snapped, got on a plane and flew across the country, then flew right back. She decided if she could do that she could quit drinking, and next thing you know she's reviving the very sad and neglected old Fannie Farmer Cookbook and lunching with people like Edna Lewis and Ruth Reichl.
posted by ifjuly at 7:35 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

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