I initially connected with Browne Goodwin to help him acquire two charcoal drawings by Dozier Bell. Before visiting Bell’s studio together, Goodwin invited me to tour his art collection. It was an honor to walk through his home, receiving anecdotes and insight on the pieces hung salon-style on every wall.
What struck me about Browne was his openness. He wanted to meet with me, to talk about artwork, to share his story and his collection, and to learn more about the work I’m doing, both as a dealer and as an artist. There is a rare personability about Browne, and behind it an intelligent, passionate, and lifelong love for art and artists.
When Browne and I met for this conversation, he welcomed me into his home, again. On the dining room table, he had a stack of materials prepared, including a binder with full page printouts (some spilling over onto a second page) for each of the pieces currently in his collection. Each included a color image of the artwork, the provenance, when it was created, how he acquired it, and additional information on each artist and the relationship Browne has developed with the artist and the work. He notes visits to artists’ studios, connections made between artists, and efforts to seek out works from Marfa to Maine.
S.B. Where are you from?
B.G. I was born and raised in Brewer, graduated from the University of Maine (BS in Math), and moved to California after graduation. My wife was born and raised in the Chicago area, and graduated from Kalamazoo College (BA in Math).
S.B. What was your occupation? What did your wife do?
B.G. I started as an aerospace systems analyst, then shifted to traffic planning, and spent most of my working life as a project administrator and vice president of an architecture and engineering firm (24 years on the design team for the Los Angeles subway). My wife was a traffic systems analyst when we met, but eventually moved into long-range planning (for Mattel Toys). After our child was born, she got a Master’s in Education, and taught in private elementary schools and then in seniors’ programs at a community college.
S.B. When did you first start appreciating art?
B.G. I was introduced to fine arts and inspired to learn more about it in an Art Appreciation and History class at the University of Maine, taught by Vincent Hartgen—long-time head of the Art Department there and a distinguished painter, particularly of Maine nature. During the eight years after I left Maine until I met and married my wife, I had opportunities to visit many art museums throughout North America. My wife had also been interested in art after her college years, and we shared our interest as soon as we met. We started visiting art galleries and were inspired to acquire artworks early in our marriage. We continued our interest and involvement in art throughout the 44 years of our marriage, and I have continued it for the seven years since she died.
S.B. How did you arrive at being such an organized collector?
B.G. It was a long trail to get to the documentation that I have now. My wife and I started collecting about 1970, shortly after we got married. We started without any great organization. We just collected the things that we liked. In some cases, we collected for example, a bunch of early 20th-century American prints, but then we decided we didn’t really want to go any further with that. We kept them for years and years until we finally donated them to the Art Institute of Chicago.
After my wife died, I had to figure out what happens next. It got to the point, particularly when planning to move here, that I couldn’t keep everything. I felt that the thing I wanted to do was perhaps donate to art schools. Students could learn from the artworks, the teachers could use them as examples, and they could show them, too. That’s what started the thorough documentation.
We always bought the art. We never bought it for investment. We bought it because we wanted to enjoy it. When I couldn’t keep it all, and I knew my son wouldn’t want it, I decided to donate it.
S.B. Why did you choose schools instead of museums?
B.G. Most of my pieces are fairly small, and I felt that if I donated them to museums, they’d just go into a storage room somewhere. Schools are going to be able to use them. My sense all along is that I am a steward of all of this work. I am a temporary holder, while I enjoy it, but the art is going to continue, and the schools are a great place for that. Particularly good art schools. I donated to the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Texas State, The Art Institute of Chicago. I knew the schools. I knew the people and felt it was a responsible place to let them go because I knew they weren’t just going to bury them. I’m finding that, already, Texas State is putting up a show right now from my collection. For them, it was a pretty good-sized number of works. Others will probably mix them in with other things. They can go into shows whenever they want, or they can just use them for the students. A lot of them are putting them up in the corridors and their offices and I felt that was a really good use of the work: to be appreciated.
S.B. You just moved to Maine, in March, right before the pandemic hit. It must be super surreal for you to have arrived when everything is shut down! Your intention is to build a collection of Maine artists to gift to Maine art schools or institutions?
B.G. Yes. But, a lot of the works are not Maine artists, they are national artists and so forth, too.
S.B. So, you’re thinking you’d gift selections from your current collection and Maine artists?
B.G. Yes. It’s probably going to be over a period of time. I’ll offer them. I haven’t been able to make any real outreach in Maine yet, because everything was closed by the time I got here. I had some preliminary conversations last year when I was contemplating moving, so at least I have some contacts, but I’m still looking for more to help decide where the best place might be, who would appreciate the work, who can take care of it. In the meantime, I’ve got probably another half of my collection in storage. I just don’t have room for it, but I wanted to keep it safe.
There are some things that are just too big to go into my home that I miss. But certainly, I have enough here that I can appreciate and enjoy. Every once in a while, I pick a piece out and spend time with it. I’m still learning. Some of the stuff I’ve had for years and years and years and I still find something new in it as I go forward.
It was interesting, when you mentioned you were doing this article, I subscribed to the Maine Arts Journal and one of the pieces I saw was a long article about Abby Shahn. I have a piece by her, and it was interesting; reading that article, I have a lot more understanding of that particular piece and that series of pieces and how it fits into what she’s doing. That’s helpful.
Every time I look at that Abby Shahn, I see something different. I think there are images embedded in there that she didn’t make as images, but there’s a face in there somewhere. And other kinds of things. It’s fascinating how mysterious it is.
S.B. That’s so cool. Abby was one of the original founders of the Union of Maine Visual Artists, which supports the Maine Arts Journal.
B.G. I had no knowledge of her until I moved to Maine and saw her show at Speedwell Projects. I immediately took to it because there were fascinating works.
S.B. She is one of Maine’s most under-recognized artists.
B.G. I would say that, too. And that may be what she cares or doesn’t care about.
S.B. She’s very invested in making her work. She’s much less invested in any of the social or market dynamics surrounding it.
Do you consider yourself having a specific aesthetic that you’re going after? How would you describe how you collect?
B.G. I don’t have a specific aesthetic. I think that it’s more: do I enjoy it, do I appreciate it, do I like it? And it’s been that way most of the way. I say “I,” but again, my wife and I did this together for 44 years. We were partners all the way. I’m just continuing. I have had an appreciation most of my collecting years for fairly young artists—artists that are beginning. I don’t have any huge masterpieces, but I have pieces that I can live with that do deserve to be shown to the rest of the world, at some point. I’ve had a number of gallery people say that I have good taste. They see that there’s some consistency, but I don’t know what that means, exactly. I collect work that I enjoy, but I have also emphasized that I like to know the artist. I like to meet the artist, talk to the artist, and I have done that with a lot of the works I collected. Younger artists and more senior artists too. I appreciate having a person behind what I’ve collected and what I see, as part of it.
S.B. Are there any Maine artists that you already know of who you’re excited to meet, or whose work you’re excited to see?
B.G. I’ve met some of them already. The first Maine artist that I met some time ago was Lauren Fensterstock, who does wonderful sculptures. She did an installation in Austin, and that’s how I met her. I’ve followed her right along, and she’s doing beautiful, huge sculptures. She just did one at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC. I like Elizabeth Atterbury. She’s a sculptress who also does some wonderful prints. She moved up here several years ago from Florida. She’s had a show at Colby. I don’t know where else she shows in Maine. I’ve seen her exhibits in Chicago.
And I’m just continuing to find new ones that I like. I suspected that I would find a rich art community here, and I’m finding that it’s even better than I expected. There are a lot of very good artists. A little frustrating that a lot of them don’t get to show much, because there aren’t spaces for them to show.
S.B. There really are so many incredible artists living and working in Maine, but our galleries and institutions do tend to show the same ones over and over. We need more contemporary spaces willing to show experimental and young work.
B.G. Yes. There were so many spaces in Chicago. Austin, too.
I’m still learning about artists here and I want to continue doing that. I think this publication and group is a good place for me to learn more about people.
S.B. Definitely. The journal features working artists. They are not necessarily the ones who are the most shown, or the most visible, but they are the ones who are working every single day.
B.G. Yes. And I appreciate that. I find things with that kind of an artist that I don’t necessarily find in a gallery or a space.
S.B. What are you most excited about here, or where do you see energy happening that you are inspired by, in the arts?
B.G. I am inspired by a couple of things that I’ve seen at Speedwell. I’ve seen some good things at Cove Street. Not everything is good, but they do have some good things. I’ve been to Able Baker and I like what they’re doing. I like what the CMCA does. Every time I go, the show is interesting. It will be interesting to see what happens with the new director.
I think the Portland Museum is doing some interesting things. I like the approach they’re taking in that I think they are reaching out to more Maine artists and I think that some of their stuff is more innovative, more recently.
S.B. You do seem drawn toward innovation. One of the striking things about your collection is that you are an eclectic media collector—there are sculptures, baskets, assemblages, drawings, prints, ceramics, textiles, fabric work . . .
B.G. Yes. I have not wanted to specialize in any media. I started out with things on paper but that broadened very quickly.
S.B. It feels like there is an equality represented here that is not the norm. Your collection allows space and room for every form. Even in some museums, you don’t get that, but it does feel like a museum collection in the way that so many diverse voices are represented.
B.G. The quilts were actually by my wife’s ancestors: her great aunts and mothers in the 19th century in the Chicago area. They were all done by her family members. We finally got them a few years ago from her mother and her aunt and recognized that they fit. They worked with the stuff in our collection. In fact, we put some of them in a show we had at the Illinois State Museum.
S.B. How refreshing.
Image at top: A view of Browne Goodwin’s collection, with works by Rusty Shackleford, Jordan Martins, Anna Hepler, Jean St. Pierre, Noelle Allen, and Ed Ruscha.