Robert Strong Woodward at the door to Redgate Studio
20 year old Robert Strong Woodward was in California in September of 1906, when a revolver accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. About a month later, he was able to leave the hospital and recuperated with his parents in Los Angeles.
Four years later he moved to Boston and attended the fall semester at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, relying on his friend, Joe Cowell, who was also attending the same school, to assist him with all daily activities. This arrangement proved to be too much for everyone, and Robert Strong Woodward left the school and returned to his hometown area.
Map of the area along Route 112 (Ashfield Road) showing location of his cottage and Redgate Studio.
While his parents remained in California, it is believed that he initially lived in his parents old home on Main Street in Shelburne Falls for a short time. However, he soon moved outside of town to the area just west of where the Mohawk Trail Regional High School was later built.
The Hiram Woodward house
He made his home in a small cottage on the property owned by his distant cousin, Hiram Woodward. (He later bought this property and turned it into his home and second studio. See separate essay on the Hiram Woodward Studio here.
) There are no clear photos of the cottage where he lived and where it was located on the property.
Robert Strong Woodward in front of Bert and Tella Woodward's house with
Redgate Studio in the background. Note barn buildings behind Redgate.
A short distance away there was a small shed that had served as a milkhouse on the farm of his Uncle Bert and Aunt Tella (Atella Woodward) Wells (his father's sister). He made arrangments to use this building as his first studio in 1911 and he named it Redgate. The building was very close to the road, but there were large barn buildings immediately behind where he could keep his horse and buggy. He added one addition for a small kitchen and a second to house the piano that a friend had given him.
Looking west toward Redgate Studio with location of cottage shown.
Similar view today showing former location of Redgate Studio.
At this time, it is unknown exactly how RSW split his time between the cottage and the studio. Initially it was believed that he used Redgate as both his home and studio. However, several pieces of information lead us to believe that he made his home in the cottage and worked in the Redgate Studio. This evidence includes the photo to the right in which RSW indicates the location of his cottage in his own handwriting. He is pointing to the location of the Hiram Woodward house. Since some of the renovations that he made included adding a kitchen, it is certainly possible that he began to use Redgate as his home in the latter years of its use. A contemporary newspaper article by Margaret C. Getchell titled From Engineeer to Artist Perforce
written in 1920 describes both the studio where he worked and the cottage where he lived. This article is an excellent description of Robert Strong Woodward's early life and career.
A photograph taken in front of Redgate looking east on Ashfield Road
toward the location of the current Mohawk Trail Regional School.
A similar photograph today looking east on Ashfield Road.
The barn on the right side of the street is now gone.
Robert Strong Woodward at work in the Redgate Studio
This is the only known interior photograph of the Redgate Studio
There is only a single photograph of the inside of the Redgate Studio (left), but various comments indicate that the inside of Redgate was comfortably decorated in a rustic country style. There was a large window with bookcases on each side filled with books on art and poetry. Through the window there there can be seen a small stream with large trees in the foreground of the forest beyond. There are many candles, a wood stove, a divan, and an upright piano. Throughout the room are ceramic knickknacks, pieces of art, and various sketches.
Robert Strong Woodward in his phaeton buggy at Redgate, 1921
Initially, he spent most of his days inside looking after himself. He began to earn his living by producing bookplates, making illuminations, and composing celebratory poetry. Here he could cook his own meals and care for himself almost completely. He was able to hook up his phaeton buggy to his horse, Thomas à Kempis, and transport himself between his home and the studio, as well as into town or out to the countryside to paint. As time went along he found it was necessary to have a part-time handyman, and hired Fabian Stone
, who was to become a very important part of his life and eventually a full-time employee. With this extra expense he realized that he would not be able to support both himself and a hired man with his current income and sometime around 1915, he decided to take up oil painting. This proved to be successful and by 1920 he had also been able to hire a trained nurse who also served as a housekeeper.
A photograph of the view out the rear window of Redgate
showing the trees, the small stream, and geese.
His first oil paintings were created looking out the rear window of Redgate, with a view of the little stream and the large trees. It was out of one of these windows that he painted large 40" x 50" paintings which he showed to the well-known local artist, Gardner Symons
, who encouraged him to show his work. A year later in 1918 one of his paintings was selected to be hung in the New York exhibition of the National Academy of Design. The following year, in 1919, Mr. Woodward was awarded the First Hallgarten Prize
and $300.00 for his painting, Between Setting Sun and Rising Moon
at that show. Thus began his career as an oil painting artist.
Redgate Studio showing the huge trees behind it.
These trees became the first subject of his oil paintings.
He painted these trees by looking out of the rear window.
From the RSW painting diary:
"1918 -1919 - The first 40" x 50" I ever made. Urged to do it by Gardner Symons
and sent to Spring National Academy Exhibition (N. Y.) where it was awarded the First Hallgarten Prize ($300). My first prize, my first prominent public notice! Mr. Hallgarten, himself, bought the painting from the exhibition for $500, a tremendous sum to me at the time. I had been painting in oils only for two years!"
There are roughly two dozen paintings of the scene outside the rear window of Redgate. In the 1940s and early 1950s, more than 20 years after Redgate Studio burned down, Robert Strong Woodward painted copies of a number of these early paintings. He had several paintings left unsold in the back framing room of the Southwick Studio. On cold winter days, he would pull one out from storage and repaint it. There are probably a number of reasons for this. One may be that as RSW perfected his abilities, he felt that he could do a better job. Over the years, oil paints improved that would last longer. RSW was a perfectionist and was unhappy that some of his early paintings had darkened and cracked. Also as times changed, the style and technique of using a palette knife to apply thick layers paint had evolved to the more modern style of thinner coats of paints applied with a small brush. But undoubtedly the intimate scene of the woodland stream out the back window of Redgate Studio not only elicited a personal memory in him, but also one he must have found extremely aesthetically appealing.
Below are a few examples of the art produced at the the Redgate Studio. Click on each for details.
Below are some additional photographs of the Redgate Studio.
The west side of Redgate Studio in winter
The east side of the Redgate Studio in winter
The east side of Redgate Studio in early 1920s. Note the "small hemlocks in snow"
Back of post card sent by RSW to his parents in California.
"I'm going to send t hese cards instead of a letter this week.
I wonder if I thanked you for my quaint holiday card. I did not
have one that more amused or pleased me. I surely have
enjoyed it. Everything now is white with snow and the
trees glazed in ice. Aunt Julia visited me on Saturday."
Front side of post card sent to RSW's parents. Redgate Studio is at far right.
There were a number of modifications to the Redgate Studio over the eleven years that Robert Strong Woodward worked there.
Changes to Redgate over the years
The top photo to the left shows the lone building pretty much as it was when it was a milkhouse. It was a small retangular building with what appears to be two doors on the east side. There is no gutter on the edge of the roof. There was no building directly behind the studio.
The middle photo to the left shows that a rain gutter has been attached to the roof over the doorway. The second door has been removed and a small extension built out slightly from the east side. This extension had its own small roof and the extension has no windows. There are trees directly behind the studio which shows that there is no addition here yet.
In the bottom photograph to the left, it shows that small extension modified a second time, making it into a larger room with the main roof extended completely over the top. Also, an entire new room has been attached to the rear of the building with at least one window.
1922 Shelburne Falls Transcript story about the Redgate Studio fire.
___________Fire early this morning completely destroyed the studio of Robert Woodward, an artist living on the Buckland road just outside of Shelburne Falls. Everything in the studio went up with the flames including 50 paintings which the artist had recently finished and was to send to the New York Art Museum soon. All the artist's materials including a large amount of canvas, paints and brushes was also destroyed, and about 300 valuable books which he had in the studio. The fire is said to have been caused from an overheated stove, and as the studio is outside the Shelburne Falls fire district no alarm was sent in until the building was practically consumed.
Studio of Robert Woodward on Buckland Road Burned to the Ground Early This Morning. 50 Valuable Paintings Destroyed.
Mr. Woodward who has achieved considerable fame in the past few years in the art world, is a cripple and depends entirely on the proceeds derived from his paintings for his existence, and this makes the case a particularly pathetic one. The 50 paintings which he recently completed were all to be sent to New York Museum within the next few days and would probably have brought a good sum for the artist, but with everything else in the studio they too were reduced to ashes by the flames.
On December 20, 1922, a fire destroyed Redgate Studio. 50 paintings that RSW had collected for display at a New York exhibition were lost along with numerous books and painting supplies. But undeterred, he puchased the Hiram Woodward house and moved his studio there. Robert Strong Woodward's Redgate Studio is now long gone, but his Uncle Bert's farmhouse remains. It was later inherited by Florence Haeberle (RSW's cousin), and is now the current Bartlett home on Ashfield Road, better known today as Route 112.