Opening of the Martha Robertshaw Exhibit in conjunction with the Dedication of the Big Flats Town Hall, June 14, 2009.
by Bonnie Smith Schweizer
Little did I know that when my mother, Dorothy Smith, hired Mrs. Robertshaw to help her out with her 5 children to do household chores that I would have become involved with the Martha Robertshaw Exhibit that you are viewing today.
Mom started this project after she discovered that Martha Robertshaw, who lived in Fisherville, had married her husband Charles and had painted the interior walls of their home. Charles, a gas victim of World War I, had become wheelchair bound and suffered from respiratory illness.
Martha then transformed the walls and ceiling in their downstairs rooms with colorful oil paintings with vistas of hills, waterfalls, rivers, trees, flowers, farms, animals, churches and country villages in the various seasons. Martha had wanted to bring the outdoor scenes inside their home so Charles could enjoy the outside views. She would paint into the nighttime so she could care for her husband if he needed her. These paintings are truly done out of love and devotion ... a gift from the heart. Martha painted these murals for 16 years until her husband's death in 1956.
Over the continuing years Martha continued to do paintings for friends and family for gifts, for commission and for local art shows. In 1959 Martha created a mural of the River Jordan and the hills of Cavalry in the Fisherville Baptist Church, which is located nearby the Robertshaw home. Martha also made a stained glass window of Jesus Christ's face. This church is now a residence.
The paintings, pencil sketches and her ceramic geese that hung here on the walls today are all borrowed works. I thank all of you that have permitted us to borrow these wonderful paintings.
I never knew that this unassuming lady, who at the age of 9 came to Big Flats from Shinglehouse, Pa., and lived the rest of her life here, had created such wonderful works of art. I would like to read an excerpt from a paper that my mother wrote describing Mrs. Robertshaw. This will give you an idea of how I too remembered Mrs. Robertshaw. My brother Michael described her as a Mother Hubbard lady ...
This is a quotation from an article by Agnes Lucille Anderson, a local newspaper writer, under the headline Chemung Valley's Primtive Artist. Referring to Mr Robertshaw she wrote - "He wanted the seasons, the hill, the rivers, and the trees... all the outdoors from which he was shut away. His wife brought them to him. Under her brush the ceiling of the little house turned to sky, walls became the hills and valley, the rivers and woods, farmers' pastures all from her fertile imagination."
Mom started her project after she had read the obituary of Martha Robertshaw in 1989 that hadn't even mentioned that Martha was an artist. Mom's mission now was to raise the public awareness and to save and preserve these paintings. After extensive research, numerous telephone calls and meetings with anyone who would listen from the Director of Arnot Art Museum, the BFHS; artist, Tom Buechner; the Corning-Painted Post Historical Museum / folklorist, Peter Voorhees; the New York City Folk Art Museum, the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown... well the list goes on and on.
What information mom had, she finally wrote a paper for the Wednesday Morning Club in 2005. She also had a local resident, William Welles, photograph the interior of the house, which he made into slides and in turn, mom started giving presentations to any local group that she could find. Some of you may have heard her speak. As a promise to the Robertshaw Family, mom also invited the family members to one of her slide shows so they took, could also appreciate what Martha had created.
Sadly in August of 2007, mom died but her quest was continued, thanks to the perseverance of the Arnold Family. This Martha Robertshaw Exhibit is here today because of the hard work of Tedd, his wife Carol and their two sons, Walter and William. They have come together as a family to present this display to honor the legacy of Martha Robertshaw, a true folk artist from Fisherville. They have donated their time, effort and numerous hours of work to bring these works for the public to view. These large mural panels that you see in the center of the room will eventually be moved and will be permanently displayed in the Big Flats Town Hall.
I would like to say that I am proud to carry on my mother's mission to show the public the works of Martha Robertshaw.