New From Eric Busch:
Melvin Goldfield, 60, noted artist and community worker, died suddenly in his home on Sunday July 16, 2000.
Goldfield was buried by a field of friends and relatives in the brilliance of the following Tuesday's sun. As a rabbi intoned the ancient Hebrew prayer for the dead, a distant railroad train whistled a chord sadly, like a solitary bag piper.
It was eerily right that a train would wail as Mel Goldfield was laid to rest. Those who knew Goldfield through his silkscreen prints, or his wood carvings, or his teaching, or his community work in senior centers, or his innovative geodesic dome buildings are perhaps unaware that Mel Goldfield grew up with the railroad. He was raised in the swamps of Southwest Philadelphia in the Eastwick section. He fished in its streams, and played and went to school with its residents of diverse backgrounds and cultures.
His father, Louis, was an engineer for the railroad, starting out in the steam era, having begun his apprenticeship as a fireman. Mel Goldfield learned railroading from his Dad and put himself through the Tyler School of Art, both undergraduate and graduate levels, by working on the railroad at night.
The Goldfield boys also learned their love of reading from their father. Working hard and making a living for the family was central, but so was the word. While his father worked on the railroad, Mel Goldfield's mother, Sarah, in addition to raising the four boys (Sidney, Lawrence, Peter and Melvin) operated a small neighborhood grocery store, her industriousness and neighborliness making an indelible impression on her son Mel. He would sometimes recall to his friends how mothers in the neighborhood would bring their babies in to be weighed on his Mom's grocery store scale.
After receiving his master's degree in printmaking, Goldfield began a working life of devotion to art and to the community, demonstrating a love of form and a love of people. In the late sixties, he worked as a guest artist at Boston College for several years, commuting from his Philadelphia home and studio, later serving as a case worker and pre-school teacher.
The seventies brought more recognition of Goldfield's very personal style of making silkscreen prints. This is a Japanese way of making multiples of the same image. It is a process that is fresh, colorful and immediate. At Tyler, Goldfield had studied lithography, a very methodical European technique for making multiples. It became critical to Goldfield to adapt the printmaking process to suit his personal kind of form. Goldfield sought a fusion of nature and magic, his imagery taking shape as a brightly colored, inspired interaction, a kind of incantory domesticity that Goldfield sought more and more, as time went on, in the country. For in the seventies, he found himself moving to Chester County, and constructing and living in a geodesic dome, built according to the design of Buckminster Fuller, the futurist theoretician.
Fuller was then a professor at Penn, and at the height of his popularity. Fuller sought solutions to social design problems through questioning our very premises in thinking about them. Assume plenty, Fuller wrote, instead of scarcity, and then world economics can proceed to simply move the food and goods, of which we have enough, to the right places on time.
Likewise (Fuller said) if you don't make the assumption that a house has to be a box, whose shape requires extensive custom cutting and layering of materials, a house can be build by repeating a single, modular unit to make a strong, self-supporting skin for a house in the form of a dome. Mel Goldfield built such a Fuller; domed house. He built it out of wood, by a stream, and he lived with his family in it, raising Shima Goldfield there. Shima is now 26, and working successfully as a computer programmer and living in Media.
Neighbors, relatives and friends recall
going to Mel Goldfield's dome, on the French Creek, in Birchrunville, near Chester Springs. They remember seeing carvings in the making outside Mel's dome, totems and fantastic creatures that seemed to emerge from the lush landscape. A rope simply tied around a tree in order to repair a gash in its bark led to a series of large paintings and woodcut prints based on the image of wrapped rope. An owl from the real surroundings was carved as perched on the shoulder of a gorilla projected or imagined into the surroundings.
This gorilla-and-owl and other wood carvings represent the mastery of another relatively scarce skill Goldfield achieved, namely the knack of carving large pieces of wood, from a big hunk of the tree to the finished sculpture. This difficult, oldfashioned process requires that the artist look at a tree and see his desired sculpture in it. The artist separates the form from the material. In Goldfield's case, the forms he saw in great parts of trees were fantastic combinations of animals, fanciful people, snakes and feathers, all imbued with the inspiration of nature and magic.
Goldfield's reading of Whitman and other, nature poetry, love of living in nature, and love of art-making found expression during the seventies and eighties in works which, due to his service as a frequent artist-inresidence and commissioned public artist in Chester County, reside in numerous buildings in Chester County. Many government and civic structures contain Goldfield's prints and paintings. A Mennonite Church in the county (in Spring City, near the Schuylkill River) was turned into a law office by Hy Mayerson, who then purchased a large collection of Goldfield prints and a cycle of his drawings of Whitman and of other famous artists like Picasso and Braque.
The nineties brought Goldfield back to his origin in South Philadelphia, and, along with his artwork, back to community work, finding him teaching art to seniors and coordinating programs at senior centers. For a time Goldfield worked at the Lutheran Social Center in Fishtown, and he was employed by the Southwest Senior Center in Eastwick at the time of his death.
Recently, Goldfield exhibited his carvings at the Da Vinci Art Alliance and at the Painted Bride Gallery. Goldfield had been the subject of the Bride's first one-person show of paintings, back when it was a converted bridal store on South Street. Goldfield had numerous other group and solo exhibitions, and his work is represented in the Smithsonian Institute, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Chester County government buildings described above, the Mayerson Collection, and numerous private collections in the Philadelphia area.
Members of the Philadelphia art community are planning a retrospective exhibition of
Mel Goldfields prints, paintings and sculpture to take place in the next several months. At the time of his sudden passing, Goldfield, in his capacity as program coordinator for the Southwest Senior Center, was planning a concert to be given to seniors by an 88 year old New York pianist Goldfield heard perform in New York City recently. That concert will be held on March 30th at 11 AM at the senior center as a memorial to Mel Goldfield.
Friends and family held a memorial to celebrate Mel Goldfield's life, with the reading of poems and spontaneous remarks by all at the Painted Bride Art Center, 2nd and Vine, on Monday, July 24th at 4 PM. All present found the voiceless but perfect coordination of all involved in this improvised occasion to be quite fitting.
Friends and family met to share recollections of being touched by Mel Goldfield, that beloved artist with the infectious smile and the heart as big as all outdoors.