Greenfield Recorder Gazette, July 21, 1948
Once he had completed an oil painting, it was a routine practice of Robert Strong Woodward to have it photographed. (For some reason it was not his routine to have his chalk drawings photographed). The one and only professional photographer in Shelburne Falls was Herbert ("Bert") Ashworth, and RSW had a very close working relationship with him. Ashworth had taken over the photography business of Jonas Patch. His studio was located over the Baker Pharmacy on Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls where he practiced until his death in 1965.
The Ashworth Studio sign which hung on the side
of the building where his studio was located. This is
now in the Buckland Historical Society.
The Ashworth camera was the one previously
used by Jonas Patch and is now located in
the Buckland Historical Society. Note the iris
sizes hanging on the side of the camera.
As one of the Woodward employees, I carried many oil paintings up the stairs to his studio and placed them on the easel before Bert's wood-framed bellowed camera, which could be rolled around the room to position it properly. It accepted only the 7 x 8 inch format in upright position, so for a horizontal painting, the painting had to be placed on its side on the easel. The back of the camera could be opened up to reveal a ground glass viewing site which Bert used for focusing. He would do this with his head covered with a large black cloth. If the brightness was not proper it could be adjusted by sliding circular metal discs of different apertures (which served as irises) into the side of the large lens, until one allowed the proper amount of light to enter the camera. These can be seen hanging on the side of the box camera in the photo below. There was no such thing as an automatic iris or even a manually operated iris in those days. The image portrayed on the ground glass was approximately 7 x 8 inches.
This shows the back of the camera. The door opens to reveal
a ground glass plate onto which the inverted image coming
through the lens could be seen and focused. Until the
development of plastic negatives, glass negatives were used.
A blank negative was then inserted and the image captured.
On occasion Bert would use the glass type, even after plastic
ones were available
Once everything was lined up and focused properly, a wood box with a negative inside was slipped into place, the ground glass removed and the photographic image captured. Bert would repeat this process several times, develop the black and white negatives and then pick out the one which satisfied him. After being dried this was used to print out by direct contact a black and white photograph of the oil painting image. There was no color in those days; only black and white was available. Because Robert Strong Woodward did not like black and white, he always had Bert tint the copies a sepia color and then mount them on mats.
A direct contact print on black and white
photographic paper which has then been
tinted sepia, dried and mounted on a mat.
These matted sepia prints were then used by RSW to send away in the mail to prospective painting purchasers for their inspection, and to choose which ones they would like to try in their homes. On the back of a sepia print RSW would often make a hand-written description of the painting, describing particularly the colors. An example is shown below.
RSW's comments on the back of The Evening Moon sepia print describing the coloring of the painting.
"Evening colors. Sky running down from pale blue through dull white light, through ochre,
and a band of rose above dark blue evening distant hills. Foreground henna, violet dull yellow
with subtle evening atmosphere."
Finally here is one of the large wooden boxes in which
the actual oil painting or paintings selected would be
wrapped and sent by freight to the prospective buyer.
After a selection had been made it was one of my jobs to frame the chosen oil paintings, and carefully pack them into large wooden boxes for shipping. These were shipped by freight from Benny Kemp's freight office on Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls where the Greenfield Savings Bank is now located. From here they were hauled up to the train station and away they went to their destinations.
Many Woodward oil paintings would be selected and sold and delivered by freight in this manner. Others would be sold after people visited the studio to examine them. He frequently allowed people to take paintings home to try on their walls to be sure that they were satisfied with color matches. And, of course, other paintings and chalk drawings sold at professional galleries.
We have all the negatives of the oil paintings which were photographed and sepia print copies of each of them. Very few of the chalk drawings were photographed so we are very appreciative when owners send us color images of any of the chalks. Because many of our images of the paintings are only in sepia, we also especially appreciate obtaining digital color images to add to our website.
Bert Ashworth when a young man. (Photo courtesy
Dr. Barbara Ash, Professor Human Resources, Learning
and Performance Programs, Suffolk University, Boston
- and great niece of Herbert Ashworth)
Many thanks to Dr. Barbara Ash
for information and photographs
Bert was buried in the Arms Cemetery in Shelburne Falls