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The Southwick Studio Then & Now  

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the north window and cobbler's bench.
A photograph by F. Earl Williams of
the north window extension from outside.

Inside the: Southwick Studio

There are most likely several reasons why Woodward bought the Southwick place; it was high on a sloping hill with wonderful vistas all around him, plenty of inspiration to draw from and paint. The home itself was old, historic and possessed a classic New England simplicity he appreciated. It is fairly well known that he loved to fashion his homes with old boards rescued from crumbling buildings in the surrounding area. He also collected 'perfect' stones he'd come across when out painting. In many respects, he was a preservationist. New England was not just a home to him, it was a passion he wanted to be kept alive and so the 1830's blacksmith shop had to be an irresistible opportunity to him.

A photograph of the north window today
A photograph of the north window today.
RSW used this corner to show paintings to clients.

However, for it to be a fruitful studio a couple of things had to be done. For one thing, it sat below the house and for another, it needed more light. So the shop was raised up about 4 feet from where it sat, using turn lifts and a stone foundation was built for it to rest on. Then, Woodward had an extension added to the north side of the studio and had a picturesque "artist" window built aptly called the "North Window." It cannot be expressed enough what an oddity this was in cold New England. Because of the way the sun tracks across the sky from east to west you get a lot of places with windows facing either direction. But in addition to that, the sun tends to track southernly and in the winter even MORE southernly. So windows on the north face of any home in New England would be a rarity. Yet, the artist "North Window" is a tradition dating back centuries to Europe.

A photograph of the bookshelves and cabinets today
The bookshelves and cabinets today.

Light possesses color which varies and is referred to in temperature tones like warm or cool. Warm light color is found in the early mornings and evening as the sun rises and falls. The light holds tones of red and orange. When the sun is highest (noon) the color temperature cools to blues and violets. As you can imagine, this would greatly affect the paint color choices of an artist mixing paints for a palette. A north window is believed to hold the most consistent and natural light temperature throughout an entire day and therefore is ideal for an artist. The window also gave Woodward a full vantage point to the north from which to paint and paint he did. He painted more window paintings from the north window than any of the other windows in the studio.dow paintings from the north window than any of the other windows in the studio.

A photograph view of the valley and hills
The desk corner today with me acting as
docent for a recent Friends of Woodward event.

We should never lose sight of or forget that Woodward's father was a real estate developer who wanted his son to go to school for engineering and design. He was a skilled draftsman. It is essential to almost every aspect of his life, including his painting style and why he worked in pastels along with oil. RSW was a gifted draftsman with an eye for design and skilled enough to draw his visions out and with that skill, he fashioned the old blacksmith shop and the barn to suit his needs.

Below you can see original scans of his plans for the studio and barn in his own hand. He had added shelves and cabinets opposite the doors where you enter the studio that also concealed an area to store frames and canvases. In the southeastern corner, he designed a desk area from which he could work and write letters with amble light coming from the numerous windows. Outside the new North Window would also include an extension on to the barn to stable his horse Trigger.

Drawing of RSW's vision for the barn extension
Drawing of RSW's vision
for the barn extension

Drawing of RSW's design for shelves and storage
Drawing of RSW's design for
shelves and storage

Drawing of RSW's design for his desk area
Drawing of RSW's design
for his desk area

In August 1956, writer and art critic Ernest W. Watson happened to find himself near Shelburne Falls and took it upon himself to visit Woodward for a half a day and wrote an article about his time spent with RSW and particularly the studio itself. It was published in the September issue of American Artist Magazine. It would probably be one of the last interviews Woodward would give in that he would die in June of the next year. However, for our purposes here, his description of the studio at the time he visited it is of great value.

An excerpt from - Robert Strong Woodward: Painter of New England Hills and Farms

It is well worth a trip to Shelburne Falls just to see Woodward's studio. Once the sturdily timbered structure was a blacksmith shop, of which we are especially reminded by the giant forge bellows that hangs in the fireplace corner. Every studio has its individuality that mirrors the character of its owner. Here, one is immediately impressed by a meticulous orderliness which bespeaks the artist's genius for organization. All is thoughtfully designed for maximum efficiency-cabinets, shelves, tables, desk and all needful appurtenances. It is not a cold efficiency; everything is arranged with what I was going to call good taste. But the word has not enough warmth. It excludes those subtle touches that spell the difference between an "interior decorated" room and one made gracious by the daily ministrations of an artistic conscience. The environment is unusually important to this man to whom home is a bigger chunk of the world than to most of us. His entire establishment-home, grounds, and barns-- is groomed with the same loving care as the studio itself.

The studio hearth in Woodward's time
A photograph by F. Earl Williams of
the studio hearth in Woodward's time.

How he manages it I cannot say. A huge brick and stone fireplace occupies one corner of the studio. Woodward told me that from the time a fire is laid during the first chill autumn day until late in the spring the blaze is never allowed to die. It is a matter of companionship rather than physical comfort- the room is well heated by steam. The opposite corner, by a north window, is where the artist brings most of his pictures to completion. He paints his landscapes directly from nature, out of doors, but usually, they are brought into the studio for those final adjustments which can better be made under more favorable conditions of light and after a period of study. Through that window may be seen the subject which, with variations, has been the theme for many canvases. Beginning To Snow, reproduced here in color, was painted from that window and I have seen several other versions of the same theme, all winter pictures.

Unlike Beginning To Snow, most of the others exploit the window itself, its mullions intersecting the distant view. It is in this corner that Woodward exhibits his pictures to visitors-many buyers making a pilgrimage to Shelburne Falls in the summer months. The canvases are stacked in a curtained alcove hard by, and are brought out by an attendant, one at a time, and set in a frame. The usual stack of canvases and papers seen in artists' studios is conspicuously absent from this workroom. Across the room are other windows that have figured in many Woodward canvases. They look out upon majestic hills patterned with meadows and forests.

Just inside the doors of the studio.
Just inside the doors of the studio
photograph by F. Earl Williams

Woodward's desk corner
Woodward's desk corner
photograph by F. Earl Williams

From the porch between studio and house
From the porch between studio and house.
You can see the balcony off the studio on the left
and the windows which light his desk corner.
photograph by F. Earl Williams
Outside the balcony door in winter
Outside the balcony door in winter
photograph by F. Earl Williams

All of the small panes in these windows are old glass. Toward the completion of the building's restoration as a studio, Woodward was urged to supply the deficiencies with new glass. "No," he replied, "We must be patient and we shall eventually find old glass." This detail is worth mentioning only because it represents a philosophy of perfectionism that evidently controls every action of the man's life. I cannot refrain from telling here of an experience which goes far to epitomize that aspect of Woodward's character which in part must account for his success. When, after the burning of his second studio, he acquired his present property, the problem of restoring an old building and adapting it to his needs loomed large, especially as he did not have the means for it. Should he accomplish the transformation little by little, making the best of inadequate working conditions over a period of years? His answer, "No," was an affirmation of his faith and an exhibition of the courage that has carried him, victorious, throughout the years. He borrowed the needed funds and laid aside his income-producing brush for a whole year, devoting himself entirely to the designing, constructing and furnishing of his studio and home. He had to create the right environment before he could do his best work. There is not much to be said of Woodward's technical methods. They are simple and traditional. He first makes a charcoal layout on his stretched canvas, working directly from the subject. This is kept around the studio a while for constant study and development. When he is satisfied, he removes all the charcoal that can be rubbed off with a cloth. A faint line pattern remains as a guide for the brush when painting begins. He paints with a turpentine and oil medium. Often he renders the subject first in pastel. Most of what I have written is the story of the man. You cannot separate a man from his work, especially when a triumphant life vies in interest with his work itself and when it becomes a symbol of magnificent courage and greatness of spirit. As to Woodward's art, the pictures speak for themselves. They alone are the testimony of his achievement as a painter."

by: Ernest W. Watson

The table by the entry
The table by the entry as it appears today.

The studio today is preserved to almost the exact condition as it was in Woodward's day due to the dedicated efforts of RSW beneficiary Dr. Mark Purinton. Dr. Mark has dedicated the better part of his life to honoring Woodward and keeping his name and legacy alive through the preservation of the studio and this website. The Southwick Place was recently recognized by the State of Massachusetts as a historical landmark and we await national recognition for the same. In the meantime, Dr. Mark has been very busy converting the old "carriage house" that once held his country medical practice into a museum of sorts, containing numerous records and artifacts pertaining to RSW and his life.

In the future, we hope to provide you with a comprehensive catalogue-of-sorts regarding the wonderful and unique objects and brick-a-brack RSW collected over the years, such as the ceramic duck in the image to the right. They are as much a part of "Woodward" as anything often playing supporting roles in numerous paintings throughout his career. In just the items in the image to the right; there is the duck who appeared inMarch Light; and the pewter plate to the left of the duck made its appearance in Apples and Silk. We hope to bring this to you soon and add another page to the "Southwick Then & Now" story. But until that happens please click the link provided to the lower right regarding the two-year "reconstruction" project of Southwick. ENJOY!