Goodwin's Life: An Illustrated Adventure

by Erin Anderson



Despite Goodwin's subject matter, he had little opportunity to see the wild game in its natural habitat. Friend and fellow artist Carl Rungius invited Goodwin to accompany him in the Canadian Rockies, studying areas such as Banff, Lake Louise, and the Wilcox/Brazeau River Wilderness in the summer of 1911. Rungius told Goodwin to always carry a rifle when out sketching in the woods alone, and he did so almost religiously. Goodwin had never come across a single predator until the one time in which he forgot his rifle and found himself again the subject of a predicament painting. Absorbed in a sketch, Goodwin did not see a slowly approaching, curiously unaware grizzly. At about forty feet away, shocked at the sight of each other, both stood, afraid of who would become predator and who would become prey. Out of sheer luck, the bear suddenly backed away and leaped into the nearby river. Using the adage "You always see game when you don't have a gun" Rungius was relieved to see his friend unharmed. Goodwin learned a lot on that trip, not just in survival in the wilderness, but by following Rungius' instruction of painting detail and studying movement. This particular circumstance may have influenced the element of surprise in such studies as Sitting in Bear Country, Surprise, The Startled Moment, or The Unfortunate Hunters.

While Goodwin was never great at marketing himself well enough to gain national, public recognition as one of the finest painters of the time, his work was seen by more Americans than either Charlie Russell or Carl Rungius. He accomplished this by his lifelong relationship with magazines, and catalog and calendar companies who printed multiple copies of his work which are still used today. Thanks to these lasting relationships, already cemented from his early and consistent contributions, Goodwin was able to keep commissions coming, helping him survive the Great Depression in 1929. Interestingly enough, Goodwin was one of the few artists who signed most of his studies. During the Depression he was also able to sell many for extra money.

Because of the effects of the horrors of war in World War I, guns were perceived as war objects of cruelty and torture. Recognizing this controversial subject, the catalog companies opted to focus their marketing on conservation, fishing, fire prevention, and fun in the great outdoors. Goodwin's style adjusted nicely to harmonize those viewpoints, all of these factors already an important aspect of his work.

Rungius stated "Goodwin was a fine painter and would have gone forward fast had he not had an ailing mother that kept him tied close to his studio" Goodwin never married and was devoted to his mother.[6] After Ella's death in 1924, Goodwin was given some comfort in the words of his dear friend Charlie Russell who wrote, "Phil, death comes to all and is always a friend to those who suffer. If we believe as our mothers taught us the loved ones that have gone only wait for us. To people like your mother, there is nothing but the beautiful in the next world."[7]

Friend Charlie Russell passed away soon after the death of Ella, which also came as a great blow to the eastern artist. Goodwin and Russell's wife, Nancy, continued a correspondence until her death, but kept up a friendship for the sake of Russell's memory. Nancy published a book in 1929 filled with Russell's correspondences with various people. Goodwin contributed his own letters from Russell on the condition that they would be returned to him, as they remained to him a treasure.

In 1935, Goodwin decided to move out west to El Centro, California to live with his brother and his brother's family. However, just before the move, Goodwin was discovered on the floor of his studio, unconscious, with his dog standing watch over his body. He was rushed to the hospital, but died a few short days later at the age of 54, citing pneumonia as the cause of death. He was buried near his parents in Norwich, Connecticut.

Following his death, Goodwin's work continued to appear throughout the United States in countless catalogs and magazines. Goodwin is remembered for his enviable reputation as an advertising artist for exclusive companies such as Peter's Ammunition, Savage and Stevens Firearms, Brown & Bigelow, Marlin Firearms, Bristol Fishing Rods, The Saturday Evening Post, Harper's, Scribner's, Outing, and Everybody's.

While photography proved to be less expensive for catalog companies to reproduce than it would be to pay for top illustrators, there was a decline of the use of these talented artists which proved incredibly unfortunate. The art community eventually forgot what an impact these illustrators had on society. Not until pop art -- a style which used advertisements as a way to express Americans reacted to their environments -- became a phenomenon in the 1950s did the significance of the illustrators become recognized again as major contributors to American art. While all great artists have the ability to paint a scene, illustrators must relate directly to the story being told, to be understandable to the captivated audience; to engage them further into the narrative. Goodwin understood this need and was clearly a master at achieving this objective. It is also clearly evident in these charming studies.

This brilliant collection of Philip R. Goodwin studies helps to define the character of the artist. Goodwin painted some of the most important adventures of his own life, what was important to him as an explorer and story teller. He explored what he saw as the most beautiful aspects of life, which one could argue goes back to the stories his mother used to read to him of fantastical adventures, distant lands, and romantic tales. His subjects are timeless to us who have engaged on those same adventures in hunting, camping, or merely enjoying the wilderness. While conservation is still of utmost concern to historians and preservationists, Goodwin was ahead of his time in encouraging humanity to enjoy what nature has to offer and provide insight into the joy of keeping a balance between us and them.

Many great artists of the past have destroyed their collections of their field work studies. However in this remarkable case, we are given a wonderful variety of Goodwin's unique studies, thoughts that practically read as stories, as if he had written down in words what would become another great, work of genius.


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