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The Hiram Woodward House and Studio



 A view of the Hiram Woodward studio looking toward the east.
A view of the Hiram Woodward House (left) and Studio (right) looking toward the east.

 The Hiram Woodward house
The Hiram Woodward Studio (left) and house (right)
In the week before Christmas, December 1922, Robert Strong Woodward's first studio, Redgate, caught fire and burned to the ground from an overheated wood stove, destroying his paintings, painting supplies as well as furniture and personal possessions. He had been living in a small cottage less than a mile away, on the property of Hiram Woodward, a distant cousin. Shortly after the fire, in May 1923, he purchased the Hiram Woodward farm from Frederick and Leona Burnham. With the help of his hired man, Fabian Stone, he began to renovate the old house, making part of it into a new studio.

 Robert Strong Woodward with his horse and buggy.
Robert Strong Woodward with his horse Thomas Kempis and phaeton buggy.
Using this as a base of operations, he traveled about town making paintings and chalk drawings of local farms and pastures. In the early days he traveled by horse and buggy, or in the winter, by sleigh. There were two horses that he owned while at Redgate and the Hiram Woodward studios, Tsune and Thomas Kempis. He was able to hitch up his horse and buggy by himself, but frequently allowed Fabian to do it for him. It is known that he would travel daily as far as Heath alone to paint. This was about 10 miles away on the other side of the Deerfield River and would take over an hour to travel.

 1929 Nash Advanced 6 at the back of the Hiram Woodward Studio.
1929 Nash Advanced 6 at the back of the Hiram Woodward Studio.
It is while he was at the Hiram Woodward Studio that he first owned a motor car, a Nash. With the help of Fabian and the nurse, Miss Cowles, he was able to travel more easily. This made it possible to expand his area for painting and for visiting galleries which would display his works. A second Nash replaced the first in 1929. In July 1930 he even spent several weeks in Boston making paintings and chalk drawings. Art critics lauded the maturation of his style as it evolved, and museums continued to acquire his work.

 An interior view of the Hiram Woodward corner windows.
An interior view of the Hiram Woodward corner windows.
On days when the weather was less favorable for outdoor travel, he continued painting inside his studio. He made a number of still life paintings at the Hiram Woodward Studio of fruit and bottles set up in front of a printed cloth backdrop. But here he began to go beyond the simple still lifes to include landscapes. While he had painted through the window at the Redgate Studio, he never included the window itself in the painting. Now he went one step further to set up a still life in front of a window. He included plants, glass bottles, figurines, and fruit in the foreground, muntins and lites (wood glazing bars and glass panes) mid-ground, and the landscape outside beyond the window as the background. These "window paintings" from inside the studio became extremely popular in later years. Sales from his paintings earned him enough income to support a hired man, and a nurse/housekeeper, and his necessary living expenses.

The entrance to the studio showing stone incline to ease entry for a wheelchair.
The entrance to Hiram Woodward Studio showing stone incline to ease entry for a wheelchair.
Robert Strong Woodward spent much of his energy and resources on renovations to the properties he owned. Some renovations were necessary to enable him better access between rooms and buildings in his wheelchair. Other renovations were made to create the old New England rustic ambience that he loved. Old weathered barnboards including their hand wrought nails were collected from delapidated old buildings and barns that had fallen down in the local towns. These boards were used to cover the walls of many of the rooms. Hand wrought hinges and latches were used everywhere.

 Robert Strong Woodward made sketches of how he would like the renovated building to look.
RSW made sketches of how he would like the renovated building to look.
All the window glass was the old hand-blown small panes of glass. Unlike modern plate glass, these windowpanes included ripples, bubbles and waves in the glass. While plate glass was available by the mid 19th century, Robert Strong Woodward preferred crown glass. The panes were made by hot molten glass blown and spun rapidly to make a large glass disk and then cut into glass panes. Modern electricity was installed, but all the wiring and electrical outlets were located in areas hidden from view. Even though electric lights were available, much of lighting was done by candles, Chinese lanterns, and oil lamps.

 The stone fireplace at the Hiram Woodward Studio.
The stone fireplace at the Hiram Woodward Studio.
 Robert Strong Woodward at the Hiram Woodward place.
Robert Strong Woodward at the Hiram Woodward place.
Much of the furniture and furnishings were antiques. A single piece of mahogany was used to make a large dining table with a center panel and drop leaves. On the wall hung a mirror that was at least 150 years old and on the floors were handmade braided rugs. There was a large stone fireplace with a long, flat, stone mantle adorned with antiques and candles. The stones had been meticulously arranged by Mr. Woodward, and likely built into a fireplace by Fabian. Known for his stone work, Fabian frequently collected stones on his outings with RSW. These were brought back to the Hiram Woodward place and used to make ramps or stone steps at entrances to buildings. Grass always grew between the flat stones, as concrete was unacceptable. Eventually all the wooden and concrete steps were removed and replaced with stones.

 The porch of the studio showing twined grapevines.
The porch of the Hiram Woodward Studio showing grapevines and stone steps.
 The porch of the studio showing twined grapevines.
Table and chairs set up on the porch.
On the east side of the studio, a large porch was covered with grapevines and a high raftered roof. One third of the porch was open to the sky and here were placed an old round colonial table and chairs. It was an ideal place to have tea in the afternoon and watch the moon rise later in the evening. Nearby, at the point where two small brooks converged and under the shade of large trees, Fabian had built an outdoor stone fireplace surrounded by flat stone tables and benches. This area was frequently used for outdoor entertaining, a summer highlight for Mr. Woodward. Guests could swim in a nearby pond with a rustic old cider mill (The Little Shop) in the background.

 A rear view of the Hiram Woodward studio looking toward north.
A rear view of the Hiram Woodward Studio (left) and House (right) looking toward the north. Robert Strong Woodward can be seen on the porch.

A west-looking view of the second of the RSW  homes and studios, with the barn in the background, left.
A west-looking view of RSW's second home and studio, with the barn in the background, left.
Note: Purinton Hill in the background also shown in the painting When The Sun Rides Low
Robert Strong Woodward created a beautiful rustic New England house at the Hiram Woodward place. His renovations produced a comfortable home and working studio which minimized the effects of his disability and allowed his creativity to bring forth a large number of paintings and chalk drawings. Below are just a few examples. Click on each for details.


The Hiram Woodward place after the fire.
The Hiram Woodward place after the fire. (Photo courtesy Herbert Ashworth)
The red lantern
The red lantern
Then on July 3rd, 1934, his home and studio at the Hiram Woodward place met with a disastrous fire started by a bolt of lightning. This lightning strike allegedly caused sparks and fire to come out of every lighting fixture in the house, thus causing the entire building to ignite almost at once. The lightning also took out local telephone service, so the local fire department could not be notified until Robert Haeberle, a neighbor and relative, drove to Shelburne Falls to get help. Much of Robert Strong Woodward's furniture, furnishings and supplies were destroyed in the inferno. However, fortunately, all of RSW's finished paintings were removed from the burning studio by neighbors. Also saved was the red lantern that appeared in a number of paintings including From My Studio Window, My Winter Shelf, Studio Window, Under The Summer Window, and The Window, among others. The red lantern was brought to the Southwick Studio where it still remains today. Only the barn that was not connected to the house was untouched.

The Hiram Woodward place after the fire.
The Hiram Woodward place after the fire. (Photo courtesy Herbert Ashworth)
The Hiram Woodward place after the fire.
Mourning Picture by Edwin Elmer
The house in this painting was where RSW
lived for a short time after the fire.
Robert Strong Woodward was able to almost immediately move himself and his hired assistants into the nearby home of a friend, Elinor Buell, on Ashfield Street (now Bray Road) in Buckland. This was the former home of the artist Edwin Romanzo Elmer. A few years earlier in 1931, Robert Strong Woodward had purchased a small building a short distance away which he called "The Little Shop." While the loss due to the fire was devastating, he still had both a place to live at the Buells and a studio at the Little Shop in which to paint.

 Boston Evening Transcript, July 14, 1934.
Boston Evening Transcript, July 14, 1934.
Lightning Strikes Twice

The bolt that entered the house and studio of Robert Strong Woodward during his absence on the evening of July 3 demolished in the space of a few minutes the most charming group of buildings on the Buckland-Ashfield road. With its background of dark pine woods and its carnival of steep hills it formed a scene of rare picturesqueness. Today one sees only a gutted lawn, torn vines, trampled flower beds and a mass of unsightly debris.

Fortunately the heroism of a neighbor (who saw the flames instantly following the bolt) has saved many of Mr. Woodward's most valued paintings. The house was insured, but only for an amount sufficient to cancel the mortgage upon it. The loss to the artist-owner is absolute. Ten years ago Mr. Woodward lost, also by fire, his previous studio with its entire contents of paintings and other treasures.

Boston Evening Transcript, July 14, 1934.
 Boston Herald, August 9, 1934.
Boston Herald, August 9, 1934.
AN ARTIST'S PLIGHT

To the Editor of The Herald:
The home and studio at Buckland, Mass., of Robert Woodward, one of New England's really distinguished artists, was struck by lightning recently, and in the fire that ensued most of his possessions were destroyed including his paints, brushes and canvases. It has occurred to me that a multitude of friends and admirers of Mr. Woodward would wish to know of this new chapter in the many vicissitudes of his life and, therefore, I am writing to you as a means of communicating this news to the public.

Mr. Woodward's canvases, so frequently exhibited in Boston, are widely appreciated, and to those who know the artist himself, of his wonderful courage and fortitude in the face of adversity and of his indomitable spirit, this news comes with profound regret.
Boston Herald, August 9, 1934
 North Adams Transcript, July 5, 1934
North Adams Transcript, July 5, 1934.
 Hiram Woodward Studio Fire 1934.
Hiram Woodward Studio Fire 1934.
ARTIST'S STUDIO
GUTTED BY FIRE


Lightning Bolt Strikes
Buckland Residence

$8,000 LOSS

Valuable Paintings and Furniture Owned by Robert S. Woodward Are Saved.


During a terrific electric storm which swept Shelburne Falls and Buckland Tuesday evening, lightning struck the studio and home of Robert Strong Woodward, famous Buckand artist, and the resulting blaze practically destroyed the building. Most of the contents of the building, including about 25 of Mr. Woodward's valuable paintings, were saved. The loss is estimated at between $7,000 and $8000 which is covered by insurance. There was no one in the house at the time the bolt struck it, Mr. Woodward and his chauffeur having left about a half hour before to attend the theater in Greenfield.

Abner Gould, who lives across the. highway from the Woodward studio, heard a sharp roll of thunder after the lightning bolt had struck the house and looking across the road saw what he described "a blanket of fire" about midway between the building.

The storm had put telephone lines in that section out of commission although Mr. Gould visited several homes in an attempt to find a telephone in operation. Robert Haeberle rushed to Shelburne Falls to notify the fire department there while Mr. Gould and others started the work of removing the contents of the blazing building. Nearly 20 minutes after the start of the fire, the local department received word of it. Five men and the department truck were sent to the scene, which is out of the fire district.

The fire evidently followed the lighting system for flames burst out wherever there were lighting connections. The local department laid three lines of hose from a nearby pond, using the truck's pumper, but the blaze had gained such headway that little could be done to check it. A line of hose was played near a tank containing 300 gallons of kerosene in order to prevent an explosion.

Most or the furniture and furnishings were saved in addition to the valuable canvasses. Many curios and antiques gathered by Mr. Woodward were lost, however.

The building was a story and a half New England cottage to which an ell had been built which served as the studio. The structure was a most attractive one and a familiar sight along the Buckland-Ashfield highway.

Mr. Woodward was located in Greenfield and returned to the scene of the fire. The full loss had not been determined by him today due to the large number of articles contained in the building.

The heating plant of the house was not affected by the blaze, as the firemen played a line of hose around it. The studio was demolished while walls of the main part of the house, although standing, were badly damaged.

The fire department was again called about 2:15 o'clock yesterday afternoon as the smouldering debris in the cellar was fanned by the wind and threatened to do further damage.

Mr. Woodward is fortunate in having secured the attractive summer home Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Buell on Ashfield Street for a temporary home and he and his attendants have already settled there.

During the storm in Shelburne Falls, many branches from trees were broken down and lawns were covered with leaves and small branches. On Main Street a large branch from a maple tree near the home of Stanley W. Cummings blew onto the Frost house occupied by Mr. and Mrs. S. A. Bandeira and Mrs. Bertha Hall and her daughter doing some damage to the chimney and roof. On Bridge Street the telephone wires were broken down by falling branches and the service in that section was crippled for a time.

Some relief from the extreme heat of the past few days followed the shower.

North Adams Transcript, July 5, 1934

 The Hiram Woodward barn.
The Hiram Woodward barn.
 The Hiram Woodward barn has been converted into a house.
The Hiram Woodward barn has been converted into a house.
Immediately after the fire, Robert Strong Woodward began the process of cleaning up the debris. He also began to work on finding a new home and studio, and within two months, he had purchased the Southwick place in Buckland Center. Fabian removed all the flat stones which he had collected over the previous decade, and brought them to this new property to create walkways in the lawns, entrance ramps and steps. Finally the soil was leveled and grass was planted to create an open field. Before the end of the summer the area was clean and neat. The property was later sold and the barn that survived the fire was renovated and became a home. No one would ever know what had happened.

 The appearance today of the site of the Hiram Woodward home and studio.
The appearance today of the site of the Hiram Woodward Studio and home.
Robert Strong Woodward himself wrote in longhand an article documenting his memories of the Hiram Woodward home and studio a few weeks after the fire. The description was almost poetic and provides further detail as well as insight and appreciation into the love that RSW felt for his beloved home and studio.

JGN
2007


LMP
2013