Laura Woodward was Florida's most important nineteenth-century woman artist, one of its greatest publicists, and integral to the development of Palm Beach County. She was born in Mount Hope in Orange County, New York, on March 18, 1834, and by the early 1870s she was a professional artist living in New York City. She painted in the Catskills, the White Mountains, the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains, and captured the Maine and Massachusetts coasts and the Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania landscapes on canvas as well. A member of the Hudson River and White Mountain Schools, she exhibited at the American Art Gallery, National Academy of Design, Boston Art Club, Brooklyn Art Association, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, and several other venues including numerous Midwest and southern expositions. Her reviews in the New York Times, the Brooklyn Eagle and art publications of the day were glowing and her paintings commanded higher prices than some of her male colleagues.
Woodward began to spend the winters in St. Augustine, Florida, in the 1880s. She was disappointed in the Ancient City because it was not as tropical as she had hoped, so she traveled throughout Florida searching for exotic plants and flowers. She was told of how beautiful Palm Beach was and made the arduous trip south to discover the true tropical foliage she was longing for. By 1889 Woodward was spending time in Palm Beach and Jupiter, painting outside amid what was then largely jungle and swampland inhabited by panthers, bears, and numerous alligators. She brought her watercolor sketches of that area back to St. Augustine where she joined her friend Martin Johnson Heade and the other artists at Henry M. Flagler's Ponce de Leon Hotel. There she became famous for her renderings of the "curious" Royal Poinciana tree and its blossoms. The media determined she should be "adopted by the entire state" of Florida due to the way she publicized its natural beauties.
Flagler owned at least two of Woodward's paintings at his St. Augustine home, Kirkside.--a Palm Beach royal poinciana tree and a seascape. Woodward also exhibited her work at Flagler's Florida Times-Union headquarters in St. Augustine.
According to documented family history that is corroborated in the award winning Laura Woodward: The Artist Behind the Innovator Who Developed Palm Beach, she (and her friend Frances Cragin) told Henry Flagler that Palm Beach should be developed as a resort, using her paintings as full-color evidence of her visionary ideas. Flagler listened to Laura and her friend, was compelled by her art, and bought property in the same locations depicted in her paintings. When Flagler was constructing his Palm Beach Hotel Royal Poinciana in 1893, he established a home and studio for Woodward there--a permanent atelier was included when the hotel was completed in 1894. His newspapers also acknowledged Woodward as being responsible for publicizing the allure of the east coast of Florida to the entire nation. Although she often visited New York and various parts of Florida, Woodward made Palm Beach her home from 1893-1926.
One of the Florida areas visited by Woodward was Miami and the regions around it. She painted Seminoles in their dugout canoes and also sketched in the Everglades--despite the dangerous conditions there. In 1895, Laura, her sister Libbie, and Mrs. Julia Tuttle had an exciting adventure on the Miami River. Woodward's works of Miami and its environs, as well as many other Florida locales, were well-received by the Florida and New York media and collected by prominent art patrons.
Laura Woodward became nationally well-known for her delicate renderings in oil and watercolor of unspoiled nature throughout Florida. In 1920, when the Palm Beach Art League was established, Woodward was acknowledged as their pioneer and became an honorary member. Tragically, due to failing eyesight, Laura was unable to continue painting by then but remained highly regarded as the famous Florida artist and the pioneer artist of Palm Beach. She continued living in Palm Beach until 1926 when, at the age of 92, it was necessary for her to move to St. Cloud where her caregivers lived. She died shortly thereafter on May 9, 1926. In 1940 the Palm Beach Art League held Woodward's memorial exhibition and helped found the Norton Gallery and School of Art, dedicated in 1941 (Norton Museum of Art). Laura Woodward was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2013.
© Deborah C. Pollack
Three prestigious Telly Awards were won by Alan Gerstel and The Education Network for the video, Laura Woodward: Visionary Artist, based on the book by Deborah C. Pollack, Laura Woodward: The Artist Behind the Innovator Who Developed Palm Beach.
From over 13,000 entries from the U. S. and around the world, Laura Woodward Visionary Artist was awarded in three categories: Documentary, Cultural, and Education.
"The Telly Awards honor the very best local, regional, and cable television commercials and programs, as well as the finest video and film productions. The Telly is one of the most sought-after awards by industry leaders, from large international firms to local production companies and ad agencies."
Laura Woodward's story is currently being taught in Florida schools and colleges.
Deborah C. Pollack is deeply honored that she is the recipient of a Florida Memorial University Certificate of Award for making "a significant contribution to advancing the awareness of women's history." This was given to Deborah after she participated in a conference brunch at the impressive university on March 31, 2012 by presenting her book, Laura Woodward: The Artist Behind the Innovator Who Developed Palm Beach. Florida Memorial University, founded in 1879, is Miami’s only Historically Black College or University (HBCU). The article, "Laura Woodward: Florida's Most Important Nineteenth-Century Woman Artist" was the cover story of the 2010-2011 issue of Antiques and Art around Florida.
Laura Woodward: The Artist Behind the Innovator Who Developed Palm Beach was donated to a Palm Beach benefit auction and brought $1,000.00.
A painting by Laura Woodward is included in an essay by artist and writer Erica Ando, PhD, concerning
"Interpreting the Florida Dream: A Short History," an exhibition of Florida artists at Schmidt Center Gallery, School of the Arts, Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, November 5, 2016 - January 21, 2017, Opening Friday, November 4, 2016, 6:30 - 8:30 pm
Laura Woodward: Cover Girl!
Detail of Red Hibiscus by Laura Woodward, Antiques &
Art Around Florida, 2010-2011
A detail of a work by Laura Woodward illustrated is on the cover of an
important Hudson River School volume entitled, The Cultured Canvas:
New Perspectives on American Landscape Painting edited by Nancy
Siegel, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art History,
Towson University; and published by University Press of New England.
Hudson River School greats Thomas Cole and Frederic E. Church are
included. Laura Woodward is discussed in Nancy Siegel’s chapter,
“We the Petticoated Ones: Women of the Hudson River School.”
Another work by Laura Woodward of a workmen's camp in Palm Beach (perhaps the beginning of "The Styx") illustrated in the Laura Woodward book graces the cover of Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier by Ginger Pedersen and Janet DeVries
Several original works by Laura Woodward, including a Seminole on a South Florida waterway, hibiscus, cypress swamp, etc., were in New World Eden: Artist-Explorers in the American Tropics at the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum from January 26-April 18, 2010. The Flagler Museum holds eight other Woodward paintings on permanent display.
Laura Woodward's work was included in Remember the Ladies, Women Artists of the Hudson River School, at Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, from May through October, 2010. This was an historic exhibition--the first one solely devoted to nineteenth-century American women landscape painters.
Laura Woodward was featured in Women Paint Florida, 1880 – 1960, from the Collection of Cici and Hyatt Brown at the Florida Museum for Women Artists from September 4, 2010 to November 14, 2010
An exhibition of color prints of Laura Woodward's works was at the Delray Beach Historical Society until June 1, 2010 and a similar show was held at the Boynton Beach Library from January-April 2010.
A Laura Woodward painting was included in American Masters from the Collection of John and Jean Wilkinson at the Appleton Museum in Ocala, Florida, through July 25, 2010.
Laura Woodward's stunning watercolor of a Palm Beach Royal Poinciana tree in bloom was featured in Reflections II: Watercolors of Florida 1835-2000, from the Collection of Cici and Hyatt Brown November 13, 2011 - March 25, 2012 at the Daytona Museum of Art.