A view of the Hiram Woodward House (left) and Studio (right) looking toward the east.
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 Thomas à 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 à 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 Hiram Woodward Studio showing grapevines and stone steps.
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 (left) and House (right) looking toward the north. Robert Strong Woodward can be seen on the porch.
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 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.
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.
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
Boston Evening Transcript, July 14, 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
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.
Hiram Woodward Studio Fire 1934.
GUTTED BY FIRE
Lightning Bolt Strikes
Valuable Paintings and
Furniture Owned by
Robert S. Woodward
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Some relief from the extreme heat
of the past few days followed the
North Adams Transcript, July 5, 1934
The Hiram Woodward barn.
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 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.