When Robert Strong Woodward first moved back to his old home town, Buckland, Massachusetts, he settled into an outbuilding on the farm of his Uncle Bert Wells located on the now Route 112 near the Mohawk Trail Regional School. He fixed up this old milk house into a studio and apartment and began his professional career to support himself.
Then he started making large paintings in oil out of the rear windows looking into the deep woods and small stream. It was one of these which first won him professional recognition: Between Setting Sun and Rising Moon.
It was not long, however, before he realized that he had to get out into the countryside to capture the New England houses and farm scenes. At this time he had no nurse to tend to his physical requirements or handyman to assist him in getting around. Nevertheless, he purchased his first horse, Thomas à Kempis, and buggy. With much difficulty he learned to care for the horse and hook up the buggy and then take off for a trip, looking for a suitable country scene to paint.
Most of the harnessing of the horse was done sitting in his wheelchair, but some of it required literally dragging himself seated on the ground around the barn floor, and then pulling himself up on the side of a cooperative horse.
It was at this period of his life, while living in his first studio, Redgate, that he discovered the farm of Harrison Keach, located on the road to Charlemont out of Buckland Center. It had everything typifying a country farm: multiple barns and outhouses, pastures and stone walls, woodlands, a country farmhouse, apple trees, etc. He would hook up Thomas à Kempis, load his painting materials into the buggy, pack a lunch and head off for the day to the Keach farm to paint. Many of the paintings were made with him sitting in the buggy and Thomas à Kempis tied to a nearby tree.
The Keach farm was abandoned as a farm in the 1940s and the barns deteriorated and fell down. Only one of the barns and the original old house remain today.
During the early 1900s and into the 1920s RSW made frequent trips from Redgate to the Keach farm, usually 2 or 3 trips for each painting. Then he would spend another day or two touching up the finished painting back in his studio.
Below are some of the images of paintings made during this period of his life. Harrison had taken over the farm of his father, Fred Keach, and married a second cousin, Evelyn Clark of Hawley. His mother, Josephine (Josey) Clark, continued to live on the farm with them. See Josey feeding the chickens in the Woodward painting, The Farmyard, below.
April at Keach's Farm is a painting made on the Keach farm which to date we have not been able to trace down an image. Please click on the title to read what we know about this painting.
Early Sugaring 2 is another oil made on the Keach farm of the Harrison Keach sugar house, whereabouts now unknown.
We have no image of Hill Farm but it is most likely the Keach farm. The Woodward painting diary has the names of many other paintings which we have not discovered yet, but which we think many of them were made at the Keach farm. The Three Barns is the title of both an oil and a chalk drawing known to be made on the Keach farm.
Harrison retired from farming in the early 1930s and took on the responsibility of caring for the three cemeteries in Buckland Center. He would walk from his home down to the center of town and spend all day raking, mowing the cemeteries and repairing the stones which were broken. He compiled a complete list of all of the inscriptions on the old stones, which somehow has become lost since his moving to Hawley and his death.
He was also interested in teaching the young folks in town how to shoot firearms, and held classes at his home for us kids who were interested in becoming marksmen. When I entered the army, I received my "marksman" pin on the first day. I had been well instructed. I was known as "Sgt. York" in my platoon during basic training!
To the left is a photograph of me (left), Beverly Ward, then Alma Ward, and my brother "Josh" (on the right) in front of Harrison Keach's house where he taught us to shoot a rifle. We would often lie on a mattress inside the house and shoot out the window behind us in the photo at a target 50 feet out in the yard. He taught us all the gun safety rules, and eventually entered us in shooting contests sponsored by the National Rifle Association.
Harrison was also a poet, one of the Robert Frost ilk. Collections of his works have been given to the Sons and Daughters of Hawley by Ellene Scott. One of Keach's poems, "The Road Men" was printed in the Edge of Hawley on page 35 of the issue of April, 1988. Below are two of his poems which have survived and were printed in the 1997 edition of The Edge of Hawley
After moving to Hawley Harrison again took on the care of the Hawley cemeteries. especially the old one located in the Hawley State Forest. The story of Harrison's funeral in the South Hawley Cemetery in the Hawley State Forest was lovingly written by a close friend Ellene Scott, and published in The Edge of Hawley Winter & Spring Edition of 1997 (please see text box below). Harrison's dogs, as they became old and died, were also laid to rest in the Keach plot here. Evelyn lived on some years later cared for at a home in Cummington.
HARRISON W. KEACH
potatoes. But most of
all, I remember his dogs, some of whom are buried in South Hawley Cemetery. Harrison died Feb. 5,
1969. He wanted to be buried in South Hawley Cemetery. How did Hawley do this?
David Scott and Ricky Chasse loaded up Ray Scott's snowmobile sled with shovels,
coffeepot, wood. bread, hamburg, onions and hot dogs, and headed for South Hawley Cemetery.
Once there, they built up a fire, and started digging. At noon, they cooked hamburgers, onions and hot dogs on a
heated shovel and had lunch. When finished, the grave was covered with evergreens against the snows.
I have enjoyed writing this article and many thanks to you all and to Dr. Purinton.
Robert Strong Woodward paintings of the Keach farm are located widely around the country today. We have found quite a few. Many we are still searching for, such as Spring Comes to the Keach Farm, and Hill Farm and Apple Blossoms.
A cousin of Harrison, named Herbert Keach owned and operated a farm on nearby Avery Road which burned down sometime in the 1920's. Click here to see the Keach family tree. RSW made at least three oil paintings on this farm. The stones of the cellar walls are still visible from the road as one rides by. Both paintings were widely published in the newspapers of the day with stories about the artist.