Born into a well-respected family in Mount Hope, New York on March 18, 1834, Laura Woodward was brought up in a rural environment from which women were expected to adhere to certain responsibilities and behavioral standards. These responsibilities included acting as supervisor of household functions and purveyors of child rearing and nurturing.
However Woodward did not adhere to such qualities, the only outlet from which she would express such emotional femininity was through a flare for artistic expression. During and after the Civil War her work as an artist would expand as she served as an amateur art teacher in the Mount Hope/Middleton region of New York to a small number of pupils prior to 1870. Woodward would complete many landscape works of the Northeastern United States while establishing a strong association among the artists of the Hudson River School in New York City, without the support of a husband. In an attempt to organize and champion the collective progress of her fellow artists and their careers, in 1886 Woodward would lobby and fail to establish an artist colony housed and supported by a hotel on the Hudson River Valley known as the Mohonk River House, before making her way to the uncharted territory of Florida in the hopes of capturing a more tropical landscape within her artwork.
Starting in 1889 Woodward began spending her winters in Saint Augustine, Florida and was in search of a tropical landscape that could not be found in the North. On her second trip to Saint Augustine she would meet Henry Flagler and would take up residence in the artist studios of Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel where she was at liberty to paint her tropical scenery and showcase her work for the guests of the hotel. Beginning in the 1890s Woodward had begun to pursue tropical imagery farther into South Florida, having found that the scenery of Saint Augustine had not fully provided her with the adequate tropical setting she was looking to paint. Her work there proved crucial in influencing Flagler’s decision to expand into South Florida and opening of another Flagler hotel in Palm Beach, The Royal Poinciana.
Woodward’s work served as a source of personal feminine liberation and continued to evolve as she exposed herself to different environments, eventually attracting the attention of Henry Flagler whose entrepreneurial decisions of expansion were then unintentionally influenced by her later works of South Florida.
Author: Lorenzo Deagle, Flagler College
- Barghini, Sandra. Henry M. Flagler’s Painting Collection: The Taste of a Gilded Age Collector. Palm Beach: Flagler Museum, 2002.
- Pollack, Deborah C. Laura Woodward: The Artist Behind the Innovator Who Developed Palm Beach, Palm Beach: Blue Heron Press, 2009.