Martha Wood Belcher

Hilda and Martha (right) Wood Belcher
Hilda and Martha (right) Wood Belcher

Time Period

1860-1910

Subject Categories

Arts

Notable Facts

Born in England, emigrated with her family to Schenectady, NY, and studied art at the Cooper Institute in NYC, and in Europe. Taught at Ripley College in Poultney, and settled in Pittsford, Vermont. Close relationship with her daughter, Hilda, resulted in their traveling and painting together extensively.

Personal Information

Date of Birth

1844

Date of Death

1930

Primary Residence

Pittsford

Ethnicity

Caucasian

Historical Significance

Martha Wood Belcher was born in 1844 in Birmingham, England. At age 12, she emigrated with her parents and siblings to Schenectady, New York. Life in the United States was not easy for the Wood family. Within nine years, her brother had died in the Civil War, and her father died after a long illness. Martha's mother and sisters took in laundry and sewing, and Martha sold her paintings to support the family.

At age 19, Martha met her lifelong patron, Major Thomas B. Brooks, who took her to New York City for a month long class at the Peter Cooper Institute. Eventually, Brooks arranged for Martha to teach art to the children of friends and he supported her full time study at the Cooper Institute. Martha thrived as an artist under Brooks' patronage, taking commissions for portraits and landscapes from a wide circle of his friends and associates. When she graduated from the Cooper Institute, she was awarded the coveted Low Prize by her teachers.

In 1867, Martha was offered a teaching position at Ripley College in Poultney, VT, which provided the beginning of what was to be her lifelong affection for the state of Vermont, and her first meeting with Stephen Belcher, who became a good friend long before they married in 1880. Major Brooks took Martha along with his family on a two year tour of Europe in 1872, where she studied art in Dresden and Munich, as well as traveling extensively in England, Switzerland, France and Italy.

When she returned to Vermont, she set up a studio in Pittsford, and eventually designed and built a home for herself, her mother and her two sisters. Shortly, thereafter, she married Stephen Belcher. Her daughter, Hilda, was born in 1881 and her son, Stephen, was born in 1882.

The Belcher Family had a loving home life although they never achieved financial security. The home in Pittsford was maintained with Martha's family in residence although Stephen Belcher's manufacturing businesses required that he move his immediate family to St. Louis, Newark and Pennsylvania. During that time, the sale of Martha's paintings provided as much income as the manufacturing businesses.

By 1910, Martha's mother, her two sisters and her beloved husband, Stephen, had died. Ironically, a year later, she received an unexpected but sizable inheritance from a relative in England, which allowed her to live in the Pittsford home with apparent ease for the rest of her life, to travel and to paint extensively.

Martha's relationship to her daughter, Hilda, also a painter, developed beyond the framework of a traditional mother - daughter relationship. The two artists influenced each other greatly, particularly as they traveled to many foreign destinations together. Martha gave Hilda basic art instruction, and provided her with financial support and encouragement. They lived together in New York City for a number of years, always returning to the Family Home in Pittsford, VT. They frequently painted the same subjects, exhibited in the same shows, and Hilda is said to have influenced Martha's style and receptivity to the aesthetic influences of the Impressionists.

Martha died in 1930.

Occupations

  • Artist

Education

  • Cooper Institute in New York City.
  • Independent art study in Europe.

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • Michael Sherman, ed. "Martha Wood Belcher and Hilda Belcher Paintings at VHS." Vermont History News 44 (1993): 28-29.

  • Michon, Heather K. A Beautiful Legacy of Art by Our Vermont Masters. Vermont Woman Newspaper. May 2007. Link