Martha Robertshw Biography
by Dorothy Smith, 2004
rewritten by Bonnie Smith Schweizer in 2009
Martha Robertshaw, baptized Vera, was born in Shinglehouse, PA, in 1898 to Hattie and Nelson Robbins. She was the eldest of seven children. Nelson, the father, was born in Big Flats and Hattie the mom (according to the family) was the daughter of an Indian tribe from the Salamanca Reservation.
Tragedy struck in 1907 when little Vera's dad, who was employed by the railroad, was killed. The growing family needed more than the hard-working mother could provide, so she sent Vera to her grandmother's house in Big Flats to be a mother's helper. It was here that Vera, at the age of 9, changed her name to Martha. Martha was a reliable, hard-worker and helped out many families in the area. She attended many of the rural schoolhouses when she wasn't working. Even though sporadic, she did well in school, especially her art classes where she received 90-100 on her work.
Martha continued her work in a variety of homes as an expert adult caregiver, as well as caring for children. Times were difficult, but Martha readily accepted whatever came along and was a conscientious worker.
By 1924, at the age of 26 she married Charles Robertshaw from Big Flats. The newlyweds settled in Fisherville and built there home there. They had just one son, George Charles.
While George grew up, his mom had opportunities to augment the family income since they lived by the new Route 17 that was being constructed. Martha would board some of the workmen from out of town, as well as fix meals that she served in her home. She was also a thrifty housekeeper, kept a garden in the backyard where she also had chickens for eggs and a couple of pigs to butcher.
After her son Charles married Bertha, they gave Martha eight grandchildren which she loved to cook for. One grandson, Dan and his family still live in Martha's house today. The grandchildren still remember Martha's many activitties of sewing, making quilts, attending church and even finding time for her favorite pastime of painting. Martha was never idle and managed to put a shed on the rear of the house with th ehelp of her grandchildren. It wsa here that they made a stoop for her to sit on and do her painting. Everyone wsa pleased when after a busy day, Martha would take out her paints and create a scene from her vivid memory. She would use whatever materials were available. Although her training was limited, her innate talent was obvious to her friends and family.
Of primary importance to Martha was the church and God. When there wasn't a church in Fisherville, they held service in her home until land was secured to build a Baptist church up the hill from her home. It was here that her love to create art and beauty shone through with the paintings done inside the new church. She painted her concept of Bethlehem behind the pulpit, as well as designing and constructing a stained glass window of Christ. The church building still exists, but is a residence today.
Martha loved to paint and whever she was requested to contribute her artistry, she was very willing to oblige and expected nothing in return. She was encouraged to enter her work in local art shows, county fairs, as well as regional exhibits. She prized the awards she earned. She was very generous in her gifts of paintings to her family, notably as wedding presents which are cherished today. Some of her work she sold, as well as doing some on commission.
By 1942, Martha's husband health had deteriorated and he was resigned to stay inside the home, so he asked his wife to bring the home outdoors inside for his viewing. Martha painted the inside of their home as her husband had wished with the seasons, the hills, the rivers, the trees - the entire outdoors from which he was shut away. The ceilings became the sky; the walls became the hills and valleys, the rivers and wood, farmers' pastures all from her imagination. Martha started in the living room painting a spring scene. Even as she painted she added some sculptures that she made of flying geese to a particular scene. She painted directly on the wallboard. If a joint interfered she painted it as well.
The dining room turned into a winter scene, the downstairs bedroom was a colorful panorama reminding one of summer. Even the bathroom didn't escape her talented paint brush. In the kitchen, only a small cupboard was painted as a floral piece.
The ceilings were covered with swirls of light blue, pink and white. A light mahogany wainscoting that covered the lower half of the walls was painted with deep amber colored paint to indicate knots and to look like knotty pine boards. This was an exaggerated style all her own. After some fifty years the paintings still look vibrant.
This was truly a labor of love. Words cannot describe the enormous amount of effort she expended after her regular work was done. Sometimes, one grandson reported, she would paint late into the night. Martha worked on this for sixteen years until her husband's death in 1958. Her interest in painting waned, as she began to help care for her eight grandchildren, worked as a household helper, childcare giver, as well as cared for elderly in her home.
Martha died in 1989 at the age of 90. She is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery along with her husband, Charles.
Her son, George died in 1994 and his wife Bertha died two years later. The eight grandchildren have inherited Martha's house and precious art work as their inheritance.