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Dewing Woodward and the Blue Dome Fellowship

Updated: Apr 11

By Bruce Weber

Dewing Woodward, 1916

Tulsa Daily World, Feb. 29 1916, p. 1

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042344/1916-02-29/ed-1/seq-1/


Martha Dewing Woodward (known as Dewing) was the founder and president of the Blue Dome Fellowship, which thrived near Woodstock in the hamlet of Shady from 1913-1917. Woodward was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1856. She was one of the eight children of John Vanderbilt Woodward, who is said to have been a cousin of Cornelius Vanderbilt. She began to paint at the age of 11 when she executed her father’s portrait. After attending the Hattie Hall Seminary for Young Ladies in Williamsport, she served as an art professor and dean of liberal arts at the Female Institute at Lewisburg (now Bucknell University), where she taught classes in drawing, china decoration and tapestry, among other subjects. From there she moved to Baltimore, where she was head of the art department at the Womens College of Baltimore (now Goucher College) and a member of the Baltimore Watercolor Club.(1)

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Nude with Peacock, 1898


Between 1892 and 1903, Woodward spent eleven years off and on living in Paris. In the early 1890s she attended the Académie Julian in Paris where her teachers included Tony Robert Fleury, Jacques Blanche and Jean Francois Raffaelli. In 1894, Woodward won the Grand Prix Concours de Portrait for a likeness of an elderly woman. During her time in France she also won medals in Marseilles and Nantes, and spent time in Barbizon and Arles.


During a break from France in the mid-1890s, Woodward taught at the Ethical Culture School in New York, and in 1896 she established the Dewing Woodward School of Drawing and Painting in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which was Provincetown’s first school of painting, predating Charles Hawthorne’s well-known school by four years.(2) In 1900, she published the novel Some Adventures of Two Vagabonds under the pseudonym Wealthy Ann York, her mother’s birth name. By that time she was living with the aspiring artist Laura Louise Johnson, who was also from Williamsport.

In 1905, Woodward and Johnson visited Byrdcliffe, drawn to Woodstock by their acquaintanceship with the painter and illustrator Walter Shirlaw, who was staying in the art colony at the time.(3) They had heard about the area’s pictorial surroundings, liked the place, and bought a parcel of fifteen acres of land in Shady. In 1912, after a fire burned their cabin to the ground, along with Woodward’s work, library and writings, they used the insurance money they received to build a log house on the crest of the property which was adorned with a roof made of red tiles, which they called Red Roofs. The house was described as “a spacious rambling abode snuggling against a terrace of hillside.”(4)

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Birge Harrison. by 1917

Silverpoint

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Hervey White, by 1917

Silverpoint

This was the second tragic fire that Woodward experienced. Earlier her cottage in Provincetown burned to the ground and with it her paintings, lectures and antiques. Her homes in Shady were popular meeting spots for local artists, including Birge Harrison, Henry Lee McFee, William Emile Schumacher, Alfred Hutty, Eugene Speicher, Marion Bullard, Andrew Dasburg, and Edmund and Florence Rolfe. Woodward created silverpoint portraits of Birge Harrison and the Byrdcliffe and Maverick art colony founder Hervey White, and mistakenly fancied herself as the only artist working in America in the medium of silverpoint.(5) Woodward seems to have developed a close relationship with White, whose Maverick Press published her short story “The Mass of the Shepherds of Provence.” In 1916 Woodward exhibited a now lost work titled Maverick Folk Fest at the Blue Dome Fellowship’s exhibition in New York City. White remarked that Red Roofs was "permeated with European hospitality . . . . Here, men could gather for conversation with their kindred . . . . At the long table. Miss Woodward presiding, Miss Johnson her abettor and aide. My poor experience had never known anything like it . . . ."(6)

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Sophie Schuyler Dey, by 1917

Silverpoint


In 1913 Woodward was given a commission that required the use of models, and had a group of female models from New York City come up to pose for her. Since they were not being used all the time, and there were many painters in and around, Woodward and Johnson asked artists in the community to come by when they were not being utilized, and draw or paint the models in the nude, in the out-of-doors or in a forest setting. The group grew to include Henry Dey and his wife Sophie Schuyler Dey, Remington Schuyler and his wife Ann, Edmund Rolfe and his wife Florence, Alfred Hutty, Katherine Merrill, and the well-known painter Jonas Lie, who had studied with Woodward at the Ethical Culture School in New York, and remained close with his former teacher. In October 1913 the group gathered around the fireplace toasting marshmallows and decided to make the event an annual fiesta. The group named Woodward life president, and named themselves after her favorite slogan, “Worship God Under the Blue Dome of Heaven.”


The Blue Dome Fellowship was established as an association of artists and students who joined together primarily for the mutual benefit of studying the problems identified with painting the nude figure in light and color under the open sky. Woodward and Johnson believed that it would be beneficial for artists to work together to help solve the difficulties that ensue when painting the figure outdoors in different surroundings, light and climates. They would place models under a light blue gauze scrim or canopy that would cast a colored reflection upon the figure, and mute or soften the bright sunlight. The fellowship had a board of directors and a group of counselors that included people prominent in the arts, among them the museum director Cornelia Bentley Sage Quinton, the American art critic and editor Leila Mechlin, and the sculptor and teacher R. Tait McKenzie.

“”Blue Dome Fellowship,” New York Tribune, February 27, 1916, Rotogravure Section,

p. 14, https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1916-02-27/ed-1/?sp=14&st=single

The Blue Dome Fellowship held successful annual exhibitions at the Ehrich Gallery in New York City and at the Shady studio, and grew to include numerous amateur and professional artists and students.

Laura Louise Johnson (1863-1947?)

Study of a Back, c. 1916

“Blue Dome Fraternity - Nude

by Helen A. T. Penniman,”

The New York Times, Sunday Edition, February 6, 1916

Among the lesser known participants were Charles Bailey Cook, Henrik Hillbom, Louis Berneker, Helen A. T. Penniman, Roy Elliott Bates, Lilian Whish, Gertrude Stanwood, Minnie La Zarus, Edith F. Raymond, Beatrice Montizambert, Gertrude Morrison, Lilian Newman, and Harriet S. Phillips. While there was no major effort to sell, sales reportedly were numerous. The exhibitions consisted of a mix of outdoor nudes, figure paintings and landscapes. The shows in the city were avidly reviewed and reported on in the New York newspapers; a special feature on the group appeared in the New York Tribune, and featured an image of Woodward painting outdoors, as well as reproductions of various works.

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Paper Dolls, 1913

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum


The Blue Dome models posed in the nude in a sheltered woodland which was made intentionally difficult to reach in order to discourage voyeurs. The models posed six mornings every week, including three mornings in the field, from the first Monday in June for 17 consecutive weeks, with overnight accommodations available for artists in a Sawkill farmhouse nearby. At Red Roofs, Woodward also taught privately; hosted conferences, monthly lectures, and nightly dances; and set up workshops led by other artists.

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Nude, c. 1913

New York State Museum

(Historic Woodstock Art Collection,

Gift of Arthur A. Anderson)

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Seated Nude, c. 1915

Pastel on paper

Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Listening for the Footsteps of Autumn,

c. 1915

Private Collection


A small group of Woodward’s outdoor paintings of nudes have surfaced, the most ambitious of which is Listening for the Footsteps of Autumn, which pictures a full-length female nude standing among brightly colored flowers and trees in a forest. The color scheme consists of pinks, blues, reds and yellows roughly laid on the canvas with a combination of brushes and a palette knife. Woodward based her color schemes on what she termed the “echo theory, a phenomena of after images of color,” which she explained by providing the example that when a red object is held against a white background, then pulled away, the afterimage is green. She also referred to the process as “the reverberation of color.” Woodward explained: “I loved to see the surprised looks on [children’s] faces when I took a red flower away from a white wall . . . . They were all so startled at the green effect it left in their vision.”(7)

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Poultney Bigelow, by 1917

Silverpoint


Listening for the Footsteps of Autumn includes an inscription at the bottom of the canvas to Poultney Bigelow, the original owner of the canvas. Bigelow, who was the subject of a silverpoint drawing by Woodward, lived in a 2 ½ story English style frame house on the banks of the Hudson in Malden, which is located a short distance north of the village of Saugerties.

Bigelow House, Malden, New York


The house stood above the North River, Blue Stone Works, which had a wharf for steamers to load bluestone to transport to New York City. Bigelow was the grandson of Asa Bigelow, who founded the Bigelow Bluestone Company, ranked as the largest bluestone company in the world over the course of the 19th century. Poultney’s father John Bigelow was a friend of the writers Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, and James Fenimore Cooper. He was the co-owner of the New York Evening Post, and served as the United States Counsel in Paris and Minister to France.

Harper Pennington (1854-1920)

Poultney Bigelow, 1896

Charcoal on paper

Private Collection


Poultney Bigelow lived an extraordinary but far from perfectly behaved life. He went to finishing school in Potsdam, Germany, where he became lifelong friends with Prince Wilhelm, the future German Kaiser, and his younger brother Prince Henry. For a period Bigelow was an admirer of Hitler and Mussolini. His antisemitic article of 1894, “The Russian and The Jew” disturbingly described Jews as inherently greedy, manipulative and deceitful.

James Carroll Beckwith (1852-1917)

Head of a Woman (Minnie Clark), c. 1885

Private Collection


Bigelow was a lawyer, writer and publisher. In 1885, he founded Outing, the first American magazine devoted to amateur sports. The publication included the work of the leading American illustrators Alfred Parsons, Thure de Thulstrup, R. F. Zogbaum, and Frederick Remington. Bigelow and Remington met at Yale University and formed a close friendship. Bigelow was friendly with the painter James Carroll Beckwith, who had a country home at the Onteora Club, near Tannersville. In 1915, Beckwith gave a sketch to Bigelow that he painted in the 1880s of Minnie Clark, the original Gibson Girl.

Onteora Club, Tannersville, New York


The Onteora Club was a precedent of a kind to Byrdcliffe and the art colony in Woodstock. The club was formed in 1887 by Candace Wheeler and her brother Francis Thurber. Wheeler was an important figure in the American Arts and Crafts movement and a partner of Louis C. Tiffany in the decorating firm of Associated Artists. She invited many prominent artists, writers, philosophers, and other people involved in the arts, to live there during the summer months or come visit for weeks at a time in order to take part in what was considered a novel “experiment in plain living with high thinking.”(8) In addition to Beckwith, the first residents included writers Mary Mapes Dodge and Elizabeth Custer, actress Maude Adams, and the artist John White Alexander. Among the visitors in the early decades were Mark Twain, conservationist John Burroughs and artist George Bellows.

Dewing Woodward (1856-1950)

Migration (Mural Panel), c. 1936-1940

Coral Gables Woman’s Club


In 1918, Woodward closed down the Blue Dome Fellowship because of financial difficulties and moved to Miami. She explained that she chose to move to the state of Florida because she “liked the colors in this part of the world.”(9) Following the closing of the Blue Dome, Johnson resettled in San Diego. In 1926, Woodward established the School of Fine Arts at the University of Miami, and during the 1930s she was active on projects for the WPA, including on the Index of American Design. In 1935 she resurrected the Blue Dome Fellowship, which appears to have lasted till 1940. In Florida, Woodward specialized in painting scenes of wildlife in the Everglades set at the time of dawn, which she often created on the spot. Among her later works is the mural she painted for the Coral Gables Woman’s Club of Seminole life in the Everglades. Woodward died in Miami in 1950 at the age of 94.

Dewing Woodward, 1916

Tulsa Daily World, Feb. 29 1916, p. 1

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042344/1916-02-29/ed-1/seq-1/


Woodward left behind a legacy in Woodstock of interest in painting the figure in an outdoor setting. Following her departure from the area the Art Students League of New York's Woodstock School of Landscape Painting instituted a class in outdoor figure painting. Its creation led directly to the departure from the school of its director John F. Carlson, who agreed to teach the class only if the students who enrolled had familiarity with working with the figure. After Carlson resigned his teaching position, Andrew Dasburg was hired to teach the class, and his involvement with the school led to its becoming more modern and up to date. Charles Rosen was hired to teach traditional landscape painting, and would soon move to Woodstock, turn away from working in an Impressionist manner, and fall under the combined influence of Paul Cézanne and Cubism. Woodward’s Blue Dome Fellowship helped lead to the dimming of the Woodstock School of Landscape Painting, whose painters devoted to the beauty and character of local scenery had dominated activity in the art colony for more than a decade.


(1) Staff at the University of Miami, Otto S. Richter Library, and the Vasari Project, Miami-Dade Public Library System generously provided newspaper clippings relating to Woodward's life and career. Two excellent sources of information are Ralph Reiss, “The Search for Dewing Woodward,” Bucknell World 14 (November 1991): 14-18, and Mary L. Sieminski. “Williamsport’s Bold Vagabond Artist,” Williamsport Sun-Gazette, June 9, 2013, p. E-1, E-3. During the course of researching. lecturing and writing about the life and career of Dewing Woodward, Mary L. Sieminski has generously shared thoughts and references relating to the artist.

(2) Mary Sieminski and Melissa Renn, “Pioneer of Provincetown: Dewing Woodward and the Cape Cod School of Drawing and Painting,” Provincetown Arts 33 (2018): 22-23.

(3) Louise Johnson, “The Blue Dome Fellowship,” The Miami News, December 29, 1940, p. 10.

(4) Diana Huneker, “Portrait Drawings by Dewing Woodward,” International Studio 62 (August 1917): xxxvi-xxxviii.

(5) For a study of silverpoint drawing in American art see Bruce Weber, The Fine Line: Drawing with Silver in America (West Palm Beach, Florida: Norton Gallery & School of Art, 1985 ). For an expanded version of the author's essay see Bruce Weber, “Modern and Contemporary Drawing in Metalpoint,” essay in Drawing in Silver and Gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art; London: The British Museum; Princeton and Oxford; Princeton University Press, 2015), pp. 225-239.

(6) Hervey White, “Autobiography,” manuscript in the Papers of Hervey White, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, pp. 190-191.

(7) George-Anna Harbison, “Color Echo is Pet Theory of Bird Life Artist Here,” Coral Gables Riviera, early 1940s, otherwise unidentified article, Dewing Woodward file, University of Miami, Otto S. Richter Library.

(8) Elizabeth Bisland, "A Ninteenth Century Arcadia," The Cosmopolitan 7 (September 1889: 519. For further information about Beckwith and Onteora see Pepi Marchetti Franchi and Bruce Weber, Intimate Revelations: The Art of Carroll Beckwith (1852-1917) (New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 1999, various pages.

(9) Fred Frankel, “Artists of Old Florida: Martha Dewing Woodward,” https://artistsfoldflorida.com/artist/martha-dewing-woodward-miami-/.





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