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A Tribute to Local Schoolteacher: Miss Mabel Raguse

Miss Mabel Raguse
Buckland school teacher Miss Mabel
Raguse in her apartment in Shelburne Falls,
MA beneath From a May Hill

Dr. Mark's Original Tribute to Miss Raguse

Back in the 1930s and 1940s Robert Strong Woodward was at the height of his creative genius. At that time there was a grammar schoolteacher living and teaching in the town of Buckland, who fell in love with Woodward paintings and chalk drawings. She purchased two oil paintings and three chalk drawings which filled her little apartment on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls on State Street along the Deerfield River. When she became elderly and was about to enter a nursing home she gave one of the oil paintings (The Village Church in Winter) to the Shelburne Falls Savings Bank, sold one of them (Spring Window) to this writer for the exact price for which she had paid, and gave the three chalk drawings to a beloved couple who rented an apartment from her.

She has now long gone but her "Woodwards" have continued to be much loved and appreciated. The painting given to the bank is now privately owned, but exhibited alternately at the historical societies of both Buckland and Shelburne for several months each summer. The "Woodwards" live on.

MLP, 2007

Miss Mabel's Woodward Paintings....

In the Sugar House, Boiling
In the Sugar House, Boiling, 1932
22" x 29" Chalk Drawing
From a May Hill
From a May Hill, 1940-'42
22" x 29" Chalk Drawing
Spring Window
Village Church in Winter, 1937
30" x 25" Oil Painting
The Unfinished Silo
The Unfinished Silo, 1928-'29
29" x 22" Chalk Drawing


Bartlett Arkell posing with his employees
Top: Bartlett Arkell posing with his employ-
ees. Below: Canajoharie (NY) Art Museum
Canajoharie (NY) Art Museum

2023 Updates and Addendum

To put our tribute to Miss Mabel into context, let's first start with the financial sacrifice she made to own these five paintings. In the 1930s and 40s she could not be making more than $4,000 in annual salary. Perhaps by the end of the 1940s, she was possibly making $4,500 at the most. She would have had to have bought Spring Window in the early 1950s. Six hundred dollars would have been nearly 13% of her annual salary and it would be her last purchase. As an aside, Spring Window would be Woodward's last window painting before he retires in 1952. How beautifully aporos and poetic is it that she would see to it that the painting makes its way back home and into the Woodward estate?

Furthermore, as far as Woodward's best customers go, Miss Mabel is right up there. There may be only three or four people who have as many paintings as her who were not also close friends, private collectors, businessman, or doctor or a lawyer. For context, museum founder, industrialist and philanthropist, Bartlett Arkell, had purchased a total of nine paintings from Woodward. Six of them for the Canajoharie (NY) Art Museum, and three for his own personal collection!

Mind you, Miss Mabel was never married and did not have children. Her expenses were minimal but she also did not have the second income of a husband. With that being said, Miss Mabel adds herself to a collective of single or childless women in Woodward's life who sacrificed marriage and kids for their career. It is an impressive list starting with Helen Ives Schermerhorn, Ethel Dow, Flora White and Mrs. Edith Moors who did not married until well after her child bearing years. Woodward would recognized Miss Mabel for her devotion to his work which was not discovered until long after her passing.

Miss Mabel's letter to the Purintons
Miss Mabel's letter to the Purintons

A Transcript of the Raguse Letter to the Purintons:

Purchased 11/17/77

67 State Street
Shelburene Falls
Tuesday, Oct. 4.

Dear Friends,

I wonder if you would like to purchase my Robert Strong Woodward window painting. MY health and inflation has made me feel that I had best part with this which means so much to me but I feel that you, two, would cherish it.

A Mr. Williams has been wishing I would part with it ever since I hung it. Florence Haeberle has brought me his wishes but somehow I have always thought of you as the one..

I only ask what I paid for it $600 - If you telephone do so please around nine thirty. I'll be right near my telephone.

Mabel R. Raguse

My house is rather cluttered now.

Not only did Miss Mabel see to it that Spring Window made it back to Woodward's estate held by Dr. Mark who was living in Woodward's last home, Southwick, on Upper Street in Buckland at cost. She donates an amazing painting that was once intended to be part of the Mabel Garvan Collection given to Yale University to the local saving and loan where many of the bank's customers can enjoy it. Then donates the three chalk drawings to a family that loves them so much the drawings are now part of its second generation.

It would be unfair to call her a collector. Miss Mabel did not make a dime from her "investment." Miss Mabel was an admirer. An appreciator and advocate of home grown talent and success. Not just any admirer, she was a connoisseur of quality. Her collection, includes some greatly admired paintings. In the Sugar House, Boiling is not only a rare sugaring interior painting but is extraordinary in its composition. Unfinished Silo, also rare in subject, demonstrates Woodward radiant luminosity at its best. The drawing would be highly coveted on the market. Another one-of-a-kind is From a May Hill an unusual perspective of the Burnt Pasture in Heath.

There is one final point to be made about Miss Mabel's paintings. A Village Church in Winter, was made specifically for the Mabel Garvan Collection mentioned above but there is another detail about the paintings that did not get to Mr. Garvin in time before he unexpectedly died. Of three completed oils, A Village Church one of them, ONLY A Village Church in Winter was sold to the public. The other paintings, all in various stages of completion were never finished. When the project fell through, Woodward cut his loses and moved on, so for Miss Mabel to fetch this painting says something else about their relationship.

Woodward's note to Miss Mabel
Woodward's note to Miss Mabel

And so, with all things considered, it is no surprise to us that Woodward would go out of his way to reciprocate his appreciation for Miss Mabel. One which we only recently learned about because, again, it was found in the Buckland Historical Society's collection of artifacts. We call it The Surprise taken from Woodward's note on the back, "'The Surprise' For Miss Mabel Raguse from Robert Strong Woodward."

It is a framed sepia print of a beautifully constructed painting of a maple tree. The name of the painting or its whereabouts are not known to us and so the image also appears in our Unnamed Gallery under its temporary name, "Strength of Years." We do not know when Woodward gave the gift to Miss Mabel or when she donated it to the Buckland Historical Society, but once again, she had the wherewithal to place it somewhere it would be found and appreciated.

Thank you Miss Mabel, may your legacy live on in our pages.

BCM, January 2023