Photograph of the table set up in the studio for supper
On the back of the above photograph is written by RSW the following note:
"Somehow this looks rather "empty" in black and white photograph. Table cloth a very old red one. Table set with all old fashioned things of my grandmother's day. Old china, caster, tooth pick holder, old china, and steel knives and forks, stiff little bouquet of dull pink chrysanthemums, very old lamp with marble base. Goblets originally from vestry of Heath church - "1001 star" pattern. Very large canvas, 40x50, rather dwarfs the table. The meal old-fashioned codfish cake, baked beans, "rye and Injun" brown bread - Indian Pudding.
"1001 star" pattern water glass
Supper served in the studio was a common event during the active working-life years of Robert Strong Woodward. He loved to have his close friends and the prospective buyers of paintings for supper around the fireplace. Often the guests would arrive in late afternoon and be shown 10 or 15 of his latest paintings, propped up in frames in the studio corner to the right of the north window. It would be my job to display them, one at a time for the prospective buyers to examine. I would always be dressed in pressed pleated slacks and a white shirt and tie. My dear mother would always have ready for me a stiffly-starched ironed white shirt for such occasions. (It has been impossible for me to get starched white shirts ever since those days!)
Majolica china still in the studio today
After the painting presentations and while Uncle Rob and his guests enjoyed a glass of sherry or a cocktail (Uncle Rob liked bourbon in ginger ale), Lena Putnam
, the nurse during these years, and I would get supper ready. Much of the work was actually done during the earlier part of the day. The long table under the studio clock would be moved out into the middle of the room and the place settings arranged with Majolica plates from his collection. He usually used the old bone-handled knives and forks which once belonged to one of his grandmothers. (These still remain in a studio drawer.) I never knew which grandmother. Lena and I were always included in the seating for the meal along with the guests and Uncle Rob. There was always an antique caster set in the center of the table to hold the salt, pepper, oil, vinegar etc. And there was always an Oriental incense burning in one of his several heavy metal Chinese incense burners. One of these still remains on the table beneath the studio clock. All of the wall mounted candles would be lighted as well as those on the fireplace mantel.
The fireplace in the studio where dinner was cooked
Supper was made entirely at the fireplace which had been burning briskly all afternoon, so that there would be an abundance of coals. It was my job to tend the fireplace and do the cooking under Lena's supervision. Potatoes were baked in a large iron kettle which I would keep rotating so that one side or the other was up against the coals at all times. A typical meal would often consist of lamb chops cooked on a trivet over coals hauled out from the bottom of the fireplace. Fresh mint sprigs, in season, from the kitchen herb garden would be placed atop each chop. The vegetable would often be fried cauliflower, with aside sprigs of fresh sage also from the kitchen herb garden. This was new to me but it was delicious. The menu, however, was not set in stone. Steaks, pork chops, hamburgers, for example, could be the meat, and almost any vegetable, such as roasted corn, in the husks, done over the trivet covering hot coals. The majolica plates were always warmed by the fireplace just before being loaded and served. Coffee was made by boiling water in a kettle up against the coals, into which Lena would put a cloth bag containing the ground coffee with a pucker string around the top. This was simply dropped into the kettle. How long she knew to keep it in there to brew is still a wonderment to me, but the coffee always came out delicious, although sometimes a bit strong. It was served with heavy cream and sugar. Sometimes Lena would add a little chocolate to the brew. Often the coffee was served black in a demitasse.
All of the meal was served on a table-clothed, centerpieced, candlelit table with ice water in the blue Mexican glasses, which still remain on a studio shelf. Where these came from I never knew, but they were especially dear to him, so probably some close friend gave them to him in the past. Desserts were always simple, such as a thin slice of one of Lena's apple pies (warmed at the fireplace) or just vanilla ice cream with creme de menthe topping. And the very last course would be a small glass of cordial, often apricot, Kahlua or creme de menthe. poured from a cordial bottle with his silver RSW initials on it. And then, (and this was up to me to serve) everyone had a brass finger bowl, full of warm water with some lemon juice squeezed into it and a thin slice of lemon floating on the top, with a large white napkin. I have not seen a finger bowl used since those days.
Old oil lamp with marble base
Bone-handle knife & fork
Lena and I would then pick up, carry the dishes and pans to the kitchen and leave Uncle Rob visiting with the guests, often smoking a Cuban cigar and the guests smoking cigarettes around the fire place. Everyone smoked in those days. During most of those days Lena was quite agile and able to carry things from the studio into the kitchen. Later on her disability from advancing rheumatoid arthritis left most of the transporting up to me. But she still maintained supervisory control. We always did the dishes together in the kitchen. I wiped. Sometimes the elderly housekeeper, Mrs. Schick, who lived here for a few years, would help with the clean up. She always spent several hours the following day, cleaning up the studio, emptying the ash trays and so forth. After she retired it became up to me to do this chore, plus refilling the studio woodbox with dried 2 ft. logs from the woodshed located beneath the studio to keep the fire going. The fireplace burned continuously from early fall until late spring. After the kitchen was cleaned up it was my job to return to the studio to help the guests with their coats at the end of the evening, turn their cars around to head out of the service yard, and in winter to leave them running to get warmed up.
Antique silver caster set for oil
vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar
"Last Wednesday evening, I set up the long table with the red cloth in the studio, with all the appointments of our previous evening and had Ethel Dow
and Cousin Martha down for fried salt pork and creamed gravy, baked apples, corn bread and pumpkin pie. I put Mr. Franklin's House up in the corner, as you had done Sunday morning."
Many famous people, such as movie actress, Beulah Bondi
(Its a Wonderful Life), poet Robert Frost
(Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening) and his wife, famous Hollywood interior decorator, Harold Grieve
, and his wife, many just close friends such as Ethel Dow
and Sally Vanderbilt, some professional associates such as artist Kyra Markham Gaither
and her husband David, some neighbors who had recently moved into town, such as Georges and Janet Wetterwald, and many new unknown people who had come to view and possibly purchase a painting or two -- all came for studio suppers. I am sure these were memorable occasions for all of those lucky enough to be invited to one of these casual Woodward Studio Suppers.
Individual salt holder
I think that after I graduated from Oberlin College, got married and started the four years at Tufts Medical School, the studio suppers came to an end. This was 1950. During my high school days and college days, however, they were a frequent occasion, long remembered and valued as a wonderful and very instructive part of my young life. Uncle Rob died in 1957. I still think I can smell the Oriental incense, the cigar smoke, and the fireplace smoke when I go into the studio.