Goodwin's Life: An Illustrated Adventure

by Erin Anderson



After much prodding from Charlie and Nancy Russell, that same summer Goodwin decided to trek down to Montana for a visit to the Russell's lakeside cabin at Lake McDonald, located at one of the most spectacular spots in what is now Glacier National Park. Called Kootenai Lodge or Bull Head Lodge, famous visitors were invited to this exclusive spot where artistic minds gathered and many fine pieces of artwork were created. Among some of those artists were O.C. Seltzer, Joe DeYoung, and Katherine Leighton. In a letter to his mother dated August 25, Goodwin described Lake McDonald as having "the most beautiful scenery here of any place I have ever been, the big back bone of the Rockies just towers at the foot of the lake..."[1] Canoeing with Russell was a favorite activity at the lodge as they explored the lake by boat. Caught up in the world of sailing, they even whittled miniature model sailboats for racing when they were forced onto dry land. It was a terribly rainy summer that year, bringing loads of unwanted insects. Nancy was horrified that Goodwin had to experience the lake with the weather at such a state, however, the conditions did not dampen the spirit of Goodwin or the wonderful time he had while there.

In the grand tradition of master artists, this group of creative minds often convened to compare and formulate ideas on executing works that evoked the beauty of their natural surroundings. Goodwin is credited with convincing Russell to use brighter, more vibrant colors into his palette. Russell was not formally trained, unlike Goodwin, and so Goodwin was able to provide insight into compositional strategies which would affect Russell's style for the rest of his career. Together they explored how light can radiate from the canvas and how to manipulate values of pigments to create these illusions. Russell in turn charmed Goodwin with his comical character scenes from his various postcards and letters. These were highly influential for Goodwin's development of the "predicament paintings" and soon became his signature pieces. Goodwin said "... [the trip was] the treat of a lifetime" and of Russell "... the man is more than a genius. His work is a great asset to the country and a monument to the Old West"[2]. Goodwin always remembered his first trip to Bull Head Lodge and continued to engage in the facets he learned while immersed in that secluded world. While he only returned once more to Lake McDonald, he and Russell continued a correspondence of letters until Russell's death in 1926. Each letter was illustrated with delightful little drawings of Indians, cowboys, model sailboats, and even a small portrait of the two friends sitting around a campfire, both wearing a Russell signature red sash. With Goodwin, Russell could keep himself abreast with the art community in New York, and discuss their passions of art and nature that the two shared of which he wasn't able to share with many of his friends in Montana. In a letter to Goodwin in the spring of 1920, Russell tried to tempt Goodwin to come to Montana for one last trip saying that "It would do my soul a world of good to spend a few days off in those timber clad hills around Lake McDonald with someone who appreciates nature such as yourself".[3]

Goodwin did however visit the Russell's lodge at Lake McDonald one more time in the summer of 1910. Goodwin did not have to endure the dreadful amounts of rainfall during his last visit, however this year the forest was plagued by fires. This still did not diminish Goodwin's pleasurable time in Montana. Again he filled his time with endless discussions with Russell, constantly working on their artistic developments.

After a few weeks at the lake, the Russells headed up to their northern Montana ranch, toting along Goodwin, who was anxious to experience some of Russell's other passions, namely the cowboy's ranch. A good friend of Russell, author Con Price, was also visiting when Goodwin sketched his account of a particular incident, one worthy of a predicament painting. After a few days of complaining about only being given Russell's boring, slow pack horses to ride, Goodwin insisted that he should be given a more exciting steed. After mounted, the frightened horse took off galloping wildly along the ranch's barbed wire fence. Goodwin had absolutely no control over the situation, which left his pants torn up and his legs bleeding. Nancy having seen the entire incident fainted and harshly scolded both Russell and Price saying that they shouldn't be allowed around civilized people. This story, taken from Price and Russell's accounts by Russell biographers, Adams and Britzman, contradicts how Goodwin chose to illustrate in his study of Never Been Broke. Goodwin, clearly the focus of the foreground, looks almost completely in control, having a great time with his hand waving in the air bronco-style while the other figures look calmly on. He is clearly this "eastern artist" riding in his plaid, tweed jacket; Russell is recognizable from his red scarf in the background looking on next to who is presumably Nancy. Humorous that the wounded pride of Goodwin was healed with his depicting the scene in an exciting, under control manner of which Goodwin looks to be the hero in this charming sketch. While this may be one exaggerated tale of Goodwin's ranch experience, he is considered one of the few artists who successfully depicted the ranch life of the cowboy.

While this proved to be Goodwin's last trip to Montana, he tried to make a point of taking a sketching trip every summer to explore the wilderness for his continued fascination with nature.

Goodwin was anxious to delve into the experiences of his trip through his artwork and reach into his inspiration from the Rockies. The "predicament paintings" opened up different angles of his constantly changing perspective on human life when mingling with nature. One such example can be seen in Goodwin's painting featuring a hunter who has rounded a hillside right into a mother bear with her two cubs Untitled .[4] It can be compared with two studies entitled Bears Came First and Preparedness, judging by the compositions and pickle these subjects have entered into. These charming examples explain how Goodwin studied his subject matter thoroughly and demonstrates his process in determining the best composition suited for the commission given.

Adventurers encounter another predicament in Goodwin's charming study, Bears in Camp. Two men have just returned to camp to find a mother bear and her two cubs playing around and trashing the site. Significant to these works is that the subject matter Goodwin chose to depict were bears, his favorite subject to paint. He loved the massive, menacing temperaments naturally attributed to bears, and enjoyed playing off that preconceived notion with amusing, sweet or endearing dispositions they also possess when not faced with the threat of self-defense. At this point in Goodwin's career, he was focused on wildlife conservation and chose to depict the lively, innocence of nature. He provides for us insight on how we, as humans, are granted a choice to conserve and respect such creatures when encountering them in their natural habitat.

Goodwin went on to create a series concerned with how the outdoors can completely control circumstances such as forest fires, flooding, or insect outbreaks. Losing the Canoe, similar to another study titled The Escaped Canoe[5] is a humorous situation in which men underestimated the unpredictable force of the river.

Rivers and An Even Break, both studies of which became larger paintings used for calendars and magazines, are examples in which Goodwin expressed the nature of humanity combined with the nature of the wilderness. Rivers holds the calming effect of floating softly down a beautifully lit river. Although anxiety is felt by the viewer who connects with the apprehensiveness of the two men who gaze into the dense forest they pass. An Even Break however, is filled with excitement as the front man, crouched in fear as the two men come across a snarling mountain lion. There is almost a resolution to the tension with a leaping elk in the distance able to escape both distracted predators (lion and man), proving Goodwin's expertise on an engaging and balanced composition.

President Theodore Roosevelt famously traveled to Africa in 1909 to explore that particular wilderness, returning to the United States with his own written accounts of the African wilds. An avid hunter, President Roosevelt was anxious to bring back kill from his safari to exhibit in the newly built Smithsonian Institutions in Washington, D.C. Roosevelt shared an interest with Goodwin in conservation of wildlife. In returning to the U.S., Roosevelt wrote a book titled African Game Trails, telling tales of his wild adventures, asking Goodwin to illustrate the publication. In January of 1910, Goodwin submitted drawings of the unruly, untamed animals Roosevelt came across, properly illustrating the stories Roosevelt wrote of his expedition. Goodwin studied African animals that were living at the Bronx Zoo at the time, so that he could draw most accurate. He was paid $800 total for the illustrations that were chosen to appear in the bestselling book, which would in turn be seen by folks throughout the United States.

1911 became a good year for fine artists of the west. Charlie Russell threw himself into the national and international limelight when intrigue of cowboys and Indians fascinated the world. He fast became the undisputed king of Western art (Remington having died in 1909), and Goodwin's influence is still undeniable in some of his most important works. Thanks to the public's enchantment with the romance of the wilderness and the untouched West, western artists had a very significant audience that provided for them fame and even fortune for some.


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