Former boilermaker finds second career as artist (video)

Former boilermaker finds second career as artist (video)

North Providence retiree Ed Goodhart with his life-sized statue of Brother André Bessette, his distant relative and French-Canadian saint. Goodhart made the statue out of oak, stone and iron. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Just before he retired in 2007, Ed Goodhart decided to take some drawing classes to see if the ability of youth would carry over to life after his career as a boilermaker.

Goodhart, now 68, quickly learned that “drawing was no longer my niche,” but he was determined not to give up on his idea of being an artist in his retirement.

He began working in other mediums, using chisels, carvers, chainsaws and other tools to form art out of iron, wood and stone. Spending long hours in his garage on Twins Lane, he found the time just disappeared as he got lost in the work.

“When I start working on a project, my imagination starts running away from me,” Goodhart told The North Providence Breeze. The artistic process becomes “almost spiritual,” he said, as he forgets where he is for hours at a time.

Friends and neighbors started giving Goodhart positive feedback, encouraging him to keep pursuing art in various forms, so he refined his skills with some college courses in wood and stone carving. He said he knew he didn’t want to use his skill to mass produce items for sale, but to create unique pieces that are valued by people.

One of the pieces Goodhart is most proud of is a life-sized oak statue of Brother André Bessette, a famed French Canadian saint and his great-great-uncle. For Goodhart, a parishioner at St. Anthony Church in North Providence, Bessette is a constant source of inspiration for his Catholic faith.

Goodhart plans to donate the newly completed statue to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, a Catholic shrine founded by Bessette, who is still well known in New England.

Goodhart said he was originally planning to create a statue of an angel out of a large piece of oak tree taken down in his yard, but decided instead to create the statue of Saint Brother André. The project took him a year.

As a child, Bessette was very small and wasn’t expected to live, said Goodhart. To him, the sickly acorn that grew up into a mighty oak is a great illustration for Bessette’s life. The saint wasn’t expected to live past childhood, but instead lived 92 years.

Starting with a 200-pound block of oak, Goodhart eventually used a power carver to do the final detail work on the statue’s face, clothes, and hat. He carved a dove out of sandstone (representing peace) and shaped lilies out of iron (Jesus’ resurrection) to complete the piece.

When Bessette was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, Goodhart and thousands of others traveled to visit the oratory built as a monument to Bessette’s devotion to St. Joseph.

Goodhart said he loves creating pieces that will still be appreciated long after he’s gone. He was commissioned some years ago to create an intricate altar with a Celtic cross and candleholders for St. Patrick Church on Smith Street in Providence, pieces that took him a long time to make but were worth every minute in the garage woodshop.

Another personal favorite project, a life-sized iron and plaster statue of a neighborhood teen standing in his full hockey gear, was made based off a picture.

“Everything I do turns into a year-long adventure,” he said.

Goodhart said he’s never been paid for his work and has never tried to sell any of it. He often jokes that he had a good year last year because his art only cost him $50,000.

Though he doesn’t make enough pieces to have a gallery, Goodhart says he expects some of his work will still be around 400 years from now. Watching shows like Antiques Roadshow, he sees pieces that look like “junk” deemed “folk art” and selling for big bucks.

“I’d be interested to know how much some of this stuff is worth many years from now,” he said.