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SILO PAINTINGS





          
In the 1920's Robert Strong Woodward made three pictures of a silo in the process of being built, one a chalk drawing, which he titled The Unfinished Silo, and the second, an oil titled The New Silo. This oil was later copied as a chalk drawing and titled In the November Sun.

In the Woodward diary there is a description of where this barn and silo were located "on the old road from Conway to Ashfield, the Kendrick farm."

In the past few weeks my wife and I have traversed all of the old roads between Conway and Ashfield looking for, hopefully, the old barn behind the silo. We well knew that the silo would be long gone along with all of the other unused silos in our country area. We never found such a barn either.

Then last night I called an old former patient of mine who lived in that area all of his life, John Krasnoselsky. John is now 95 and beset with multiple maladies. He told me that his doctor is talking "days or weeks" not "months" these days. I questioned John as to whether he remembered a Kendrick farm which would fit the description above. He did. "It is a yellowish painted house at the bottom of the hill just past the Beldingville Cemetery on Beldingville Road in South Ashfield. The barn fell down years ago but the house is being restored by a New York City architect."

So today we went back to the Beldingville area of Ashfield and found the house. No one was home but we walked up and down the road in front of the house and discovered nearby the old foundation of the silo and a stonewall foundation of a part of the old barn. Both of these show in the painting. One of the current photos looks down into the cistern which is about 6 feet deep. Please examine the photos of the area taken today and compare them with the painting and the chalk drawing done 75 some years ago.

moss covered cistern on the left and the stone wall foundation of the barn on the right
Moss covered cistern on the left, stone wall barn foundation on the right
View looking down into the nearly 6 feet deep cistern on which  the silo was  built
View looking down nearly 6 feet into the cistern on which the silo was built
          
Robert Strong Woodward painting from a buggy with his horse Thomas  Kempis tied to a tree nearby
Robert Strong Woodward painting from a buggy.
His horse Thomas Kempis tied to a tree nearby.
Change is difficult to accept. What was once an active working farm has now all but disappeared. I know it was my imagination but I swear I could smell the pungent odor of silage as I walked around the base of that old structure. Hopefully, the current owners of the two Woodwards will someday read this and travel down the Beldingville Road in Ashfield, MA, go past the Beldingville Cemetery, then down the steep hill to a spot just before a large close-to-the-road yellowish house, and stop to enjoy the spot at which their painting or chalk was made. It is likely that RSW drove in a buggy the 7 miles to this location with his beloved horse, Thomas Kempis, from his first studio, Redgate, up East Buckland Road, on to Barnes Road, then left on Baptist Corner road and right onto Beldinville Road. Thomas Kempis would be tied to a nearby tree during a day long painting session. Perhaps his trusted hired man accompanied him, although he would often make such a working trip by himself.

ADDENDUM: ITEM OF INTEREST:
When visiting the site of The New Silo it was immediately obvious that the silo had been constructed on top of a huge cement cistern. The rounded top of the large cement tub is visible in the original painting and in the chalk drawing. The pictures taken of the site in November of 2006 show what this cistern looked like. These pictures also show the stone foundation which was under the side of the barn. For days I was in wonderment as to why the silo was constructed in this way. When telling the story to a local farmer's son he said that this was a way of collecting the results of fermentation (ie. ethyl alcohol for one) during the days of prohibition. All the juices resultant from the fermentation process would be captured in the large cistern on which the silo was built. A hose could be dropped into this and the liquid either pumped or sucked out, filtered and transferred to a wooden barrel. I could not find a living farmer today to confirm this ingenious use but it is probably true. I have since considered the possibility that the collection tub was simply to collect all of the liquid resulting from the fermentation process and prevent it from running out from the base of the silo onto the lawn. I prefer to believe the first explanation!

It has been a learning experience and a joy to research the provenance on these two Woodwards. May the people who now own them enjoy them throughout their lives, and then pass them on to their children for another generation of appreciation.

ADDENDUM #2
I received an e-mail from a "real farmer," one who has a working silo, and he presents a different view of the need for a cistern.
-The silo was built on a cistern because silo 'juice' is highly acidic and corrosive. It needed to be collected so as to protect the surrounding environment from being exposed to it.

-It would terminate the life in a stream of trout or other waterway.

-It would permanently contaminate a spring used for drinking water.

-It would damage any farm equipment that came into contact with it.

-It would kill any living plant, tree, garden, etc.

Corn was harvested early in the fall season (or late summer). Un-dried corn had a very high moisture content, causing the 'juice' to be prolific.

MLP
January 2006