Tribute: Robert Goodnough – Charmed by Dinosaurs

Artist Robert Goodnough with Janet Langsam

When I heard that Bob Goodnough passed away, I headed to our conference room to make sure his painting, donated to ArtsWestchester some years ago, was still hanging in its place.  Like the New York Times noted, “He never received the recognition commensurate with his talent.” I wondered why.  Surely his abstract expressionist images were every bit as moving as those of his colleagues in the New York School.  Bob Goodnough was a dinosaur.  He was bold, formidable in life and art, fiery in his passion and charmed by dinosaurs.

I first met Bob when Westchester Arts Council awarded him its Arts Award in 1998 at its annual black tie gala.   He arrived in rare form wearing his trademark baseball hat. His nature was self-effacing as in “what you see is what you get.” The award was a well deserved honor recognizing both his talent and his commitment to the Westchester community. It was also the beginning of a friendship.  I was invited to visit his studio.

Goodnough’s home and studio in Pleasantville consisted of several structures, all of which were filled with canvasses – some complete, others in various stages.  It appeared that he worked on several projects at a time, alternating between paintings and sculptures of dinosaurs, which filled every conceivable space on the grounds and premises.  He was prolific.  Most of the dinosaurs were made of scraps of material, old construction parts, found objects and occasional traces of leftover art supplies.  It was through the dinosaur fixation that his irony and humor came through.  From this moment forward, it was not unusual for me to receive handwritten letters, FedExed packages and phone calls on a regular basis.  His fondest dream was to see Dini, the dinosaur as a piece of public sculpture and a teaching character in schools throughout the county. This too eluded him.

One day, he called to say he was designing a dinosaur sculpture for the Northern Westchester Center for the Arts.  It was a monumental abstract work made of steel, painted in bright red and handsomely sited as a welcome to the arts center.  It was to be the first of many.  Alas, some years later, the art center closed and the sculpture needed a home.  He persuaded a friend to rescue the sculpture and work with ArtsWestchester to site it in a prominent public space.  Officials at the county airport loved the piece, but alas the “powers that be” would not approve the location.  Still in limbo, the artist’s wishes remain unfulfilled.

Why should we care? As is the case with many artists, the prominence he deserved eluded him throughout his lifetime. Bob Goodnough was an incredible talent whose place in arts history has not yet been determined and sadly won’t be in his lifetime as he died recently at the age of 92.   His death came just too soon to see the stained glass windows he designed installed in the Metro North Station in Ossining.

Bob is survived by his wife Miko and daughter Kathleen, both artists.  His many friends and admirers will surely build his legacy.