Once he had completed an oil
painting, it was a routine practice of Robert Strong Woodward to have it
photographed. (For some reason it was not his routine to have his chalk drawings
photographed). The one and only professional
photographer in the small town of Shelburne Falls
was Herbert (Bert) Ashworth, and RSW had a very close working
relationship with him. Ashworth had taken over the photography business of Jonas
Patch. His studio was located over the Baker Pharmacy on Bridge Street in
Shelburne Falls where he practiced until his death in 1965.
As one of the Woodward employees I
carried many oil paintings up the stairs to his studio and placed them on the
easel before Berts wood-framed bellowed camera, which
could be rolled around the room to position it properly. It accepted only the 7
x 8 inch format in upright position, so for a horizontal painting, the
painting had to be placed on its side on the easel. The back of the camera could
be opened up to reveal a ground glass viewing site which Bert used
for focusing. He would do this with his head covered
with a large black cloth. If the brightness was not proper it could be adjusted
by sliding circular metal discs of different apertures (which served as
irises) into the side of the large lens, until one
allowed the proper amount of light to enter the camera. These can be seen
hanging on the side of the box camera in the photo below. There was no such
thing as an automatic iris or even a manually operated iris in those days. The
image portrayed on the ground glass was approximately 7 x 8 inches.
Once everything was lined up and
focused properly, a wood box with a negative inside
was slipped into place, the ground glass removed and the photographic image
captured. Bert would repeat this process several times, develop the black and
white negatives and then pick out the one which satisfied him. After being dried
this was used to print out by direct contact a black and white photograph of the
oil painting image. There was no color in those days; only black and
white was available. Because Robert Strong Woodward
did not like black and white, he always had Bert tint the copies a sepia color
and then mount them on mats.
These matted sepia prints were then
used by RSW to send away in the mail to prospective painting purchasers for
their inspection, and to choose which ones they would like to try in their
homes. On the back of a sepia print RSW would often make
a hand-written description of the painting, describing particularly the
colors. An example is shown below.
After a selection had been made it
was one of my jobs to frame the chosen oil paintings, and carefully pack them
into large wooden boxes for shipping. These were shipped by freight from Benny
Kemps freight office on Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls where the Greenfield
Savings Bank is now located. From here they were
hauled up to the train station and away they went to their destinations. Pictured
below are some photos of the process involved.
Greenfield Recorder Gazette, July
Bert Ashworth when a young man.
(Photo courtesy Dr. Barbara L. Ash, Professor Human Resources,
Suffolk University, Boston, MA
------ and great niece of Herbert Ashworth)
Dr. Barbara Ash
All of these negatives produced by
Mr. Ashworth have been preserved and are in the possession of this writer. Sepia
prints of each have also been preserved or reprinted. We are trying to obtain
digital color images of as many of the paintings as possible
in addition to the sepia images now on this
SIGN which hung on the side of the building where his studio was located. This
is now in the Buckland Historical Society.
2. The Ashworth
camera was the one previously used by Jonas Patch and is now located in the Buckland
Historical Society. Note
the iris sizes hanging on the side of the camera.
3. This shows
the back of the camera. The door opens to reveal a ground glass plate onto which
the inverted image coming through the lens could be seen and focused. Until the
development of plastic negatives, glass negatives were used. A blank negative
was then inserted and the image captured. On occasion Bert would use the glass
type, even after plastic ones were available
Bert was buried in the Arms Cemetery in Shelburne Falls
4. A black and white developed negative of the
oil painting The Evening Moon.
direct contact copy of the negative on black and white photographic paper which
has then been tinted sepia, dried and mounted on a mat.
6. Scan copy of
RSW's comments on the back of The Evening Moon sepia
print describing the coloring of the painting.
7. Next, a recent
color image of this painting.
one of the large wooden boxes in which the actual oil painting or paintings
selected would be wrapped and sent by freight to the prospective buyer.
Many Woodward oil paintings would be selected and sold and
delivered by freight in this manner. Others would be sold after people visited
the studio to examine them. He frequently allowed people to take paintings home
to try on their walls to be sure that they were satisfied with color matches.
And, of course, other paintings and chalk drawings sold at professional
all the negatives of the oil paintings which were photographed and sepia print
copies of each of them. Very few of the chalk drawings were photographed so we
are very appreciative when owners send us color
images of any of the chalks. Because
many of our images of the paintings are only
in sepia, we also especially appreciate obtaining
digital color images to add to our website.