A photo of the beech tree looking back up toward the pasture studio.
A photo of the beech tree with outcropping ledges in foreground.
As related elsewhere in this website, Robert Strong Woodward rode around the countryside in his open Packard Phaeton
touring car on all of the back roads, looking for places and views which he felt would make beautiful oil paintings or chalk drawings. During his travels in the very early 1930s he came across an abandoned pasture on a hill top in Heath, Massachusetts, so named Burnt Hill, because it was a low bush blueberry pasture. It is common knowledge in the area, that these luscious sweet blueberries grow more prolifically if their territory is set afire every year or so to burn off the underbrush. In this pasture he discovered a windswept beech tree, unusual in this part of the country. It stood alone on the crest of the mountain with all of its branches bent toward the east by the prevailing westerly winds. At that time the tree was in the prime of its life with no dead branches and with healthy green leaves and smooth grey live bark. It was an artist's conception of a perfect tree with a grandiose vista behind it. He made his first picture of the tree sitting in his open car in the pasture in the year 1930.
A photo of a cook-out picnic beneath the beech tree.
The pasture at that time was owned by Roswell and Florence Tripp. Because this was soon after his second studio burned to the ground, RSW did not have the finances to purchase the land although he desperately desired to do so. He continued to return to the mountain top to make paintings of the tree in different seasons and eventually in 1937 bartered two oil paintings (Blue Drifts
and Autumn Brilliance
) for the approximately 140 acres of pasture land then known as the Benson Place.
Corn waiting to be roasted at a cook-out under the beech and a package
of marshmallows waiting to be toasted for desert.
At that time the road leading to the hilltop was not a "town road." That is, it was not maintained by the town of Heath so RSW had to have his hired help keep it passable. There was always grass growing in the middle of the road. Gravel was dragged in on a Ford coupe which had had the rumble seat removed and a makeshift truck body installed in its place. The road was never passable during mud season; however for most of the rest of the year except during winter he would be driven up to the pasture to paint.
Many picnic outings were held under the beech tree.
Eventually, in the year 1937, when the pasture officially became his, his trusty Fabian Stone, who was a jack-of-all-trades, built a cabin sort of structure on the brow of the hill. Thus he could paint inside with a woodfire burning in an old black Glenwood living room stove, and continue to make oil paintings and chalk drawings of the beech tree from the large front windows of the studio building.
The beech tree was not only the subject of paintings and chalk drawings, it was also lived under and picnicked under and even slept under. A large stone seat was built beneath the tree, and a fireplace and stone seats built into the ledges along the right side of the path down to the tree from the Heath House. The photographs show some of the outings enjoyed beneath this gorgeous tree.
The paintings and chalk drawings are but a few examples, but do show the beauty of the tree in various seasons of the year.
Today, the beech tree is now long gone, but a number of smaller young beech trees remain. Much of the horizon is now blocked by trees and brush. But many oil paintings and chalk drawings and many memories still exist today.
The Heath pasture stone wall in 2006
Low-bush blueberries in the Heath pasture
The rock out-crop shown in many Heath paintings
The horizon as seen from the Heath pasture
Below are a number of the paintings that Robert Strong Woodward painted of the beech tree.