In Memoriam: Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman, one of Canada’s premier glass artists, passed away last Thursday, March 22, at the Toronto East General Hospital. With him went a wealth of technical expertise and a unique creative sensibility that would be impossible to duplicate.

Goodman was born April 2, 1961, in Vancouver, B.C. His early ambition to become a boat builder led him to apply, years later, to the fine woodworking program at Ontario’s  Sheridan College. Signing up for his first semester, Goodman was surprised by the requirement to study a secondary medium. On a whim, he chose glass.

In a recent interview with Canadian Interiors magazine, Goodman credited the late David Chrichton, head of Sheridan’s glass program, for inspiring him to switch his major, saying simply: “He had great reverence for the vessel, which he conveyed to his students.”

Goodman’s own bio went further, claiming he was “seduced” by both the creative and physical challenge of making art glass. A gifted athlete, Goodman brought the spirit of intense competition to the crafting of his pieces, frequently pushing himself to his physical limit in the extreme heat and hazardous conditions of the kiln ovens. A philosopher at heart, he loved the way his very breath could be captured, frozen in time, in his blown works. As an artist, he was drawn to the curvature through space of elliptical shapes, the way every vase or sand-cast panel was unique unto itself, as well as the corollary between expert glass-blowing and a deftly rendered gesture drawing.

Goodman studied glass craftsmanship at Sheridan College and the renowned Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y., and went on to receive his BFA from the University of Illinois. He spent three years working as a resident glass-blower at Toronto’s Harbourfront studio, and maintained his connection with that studio for the rest of his life, acting as its technical advisor. He was a member of the board for both the Ontario Craft Council and the Glass Art Association of Canada, and also taught at Sheridan College for six years.

The artist’s prodigious output of chandeliers, art glass and sandcast panels punctuates North America’s upper-crust landscape, from Montreal to Los Angeles. In his home base of Toronto, Goodman’s work forms the focal point of the Royal Ontario Museum’s Crystal 5 Restaurant, the porte-cochère of the luxurious Hazelton Residence and Hotel (his personal favourite of all his works), and the spa and bar-room of Toronto’s Ritz-Carleton Hotel. George Bush, Sr. owns one of his pieces.

 Six years ago, Siamak Hariri, a principal and co-partner at Toronto’s renowned Hariri & Pontarini Architects, commissioned Goodman to research and develop the world’s strongest glass structural material, to be used as cladding for his firm’s Bahá’í Temple project in Santiago, Chile. After testing every raw material available and going through over 200 samples, Goodman came up with a superior formulation employing Boro silicate glass. From there, “it took one guy with one axe two years to cut glass rods for the kilning.” Nine custom-built kilns burned daily for over three years to produce 9,000 separate glass panels, a total of 32,000 square feet, nearly a quarter of which had to be curved to exacting specifications. Two, huge 2,600-square-foot storage areas were used to house seemingly endless metal skids, all filled with panels awaiting their final shipment. Reportedly, Goodman was able to complete this, by far his largest and most complex commission, shortly before his death.

Married to graphic designer Mercedes Rothwell, Goodman was the father of Zoë and Dylan, and lived in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood. A memorial will be held in honour of Jeff Goodman’s life at the Harbourfront Centre’s lakeside terrace on April 17, from 6 to 9 p.m.