Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Part I: Artist in Many Mediums

Central Docents, Central Library,
Richard J. Riordan Central Library
Richard J. Riordan Central Library. Designed by New York architect Bertram Goodhue, the original Central Library was built during the mid 1920s.

Architect Bertram G. Goodhue (1869-1924) was a gifted and multi-faceted artist. He began drawing as a young child, first with pen and pencil and later with watercolors. He decorated school papers with plants and landscapes, and was soon designing programs and playbills for childhood theatrical productions. Throughout his life, he sang and played the guitar.

Goodhue's mother Helen was an artist in her own right and encouraged her children to express themselves creatively. Goodhue had access to a family library, and loved stories of King Arthur and other medieval heroes. His passion for all things medieval is evident in his lifelong work as a designer and architect. 

 Typanum of esteemed printers and bookmakers over the Hope Street tunnel entrance,  designed by Lee Lawrie, featuring Goodhue at far right.

Typanum of esteemed printers and bookmakers over the Central Library Hope Street tunnel entrance, designed by Lee Lawrie, featuring Goodhue at far right.

As a young man, Goodhue traveled extensively in search of experience and inspiration. He visited the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America, filling his notebooks with drawings of gardens and plants and exotic buildings. After one particularly fertile trip, he produced a short memoir in 1892 called “Mexican Memories,” in which he sketched and painted the Spanish Colonial architecture and the Churrigueresque cathedrals and domes. It's likely that these travel impressions influenced Goodhue's ornate design for the California Building in San Diego's Balboa Park, with its soaring tower and a tiled dome, which was the centerpiece for the Panama-California Exposition in in 1915.   

Goodhue’s spent his early twenties in Boston, where he was drawn to the Bohemian life. He belonged to a number of artistic groups, including the BASA (Boston Art Students Association,) the Visionists, the Cambridge Comedy Club, Tavern Club, and the Association of Pewter Mugs, socializing with fellow painters, writers and poets, bookmakers, printers, actors there. Goodhue's brother Harry, a stained-glass artist, also belonged to the BASA.

Goodhue co-founded a quarterly magazine of the liberal arts, The Knight Errant, along with Ralph Adams Cram in 1892. The Knight Errant, “being a magazine of appreciation,” was homage to William Morris’s UK publication, Hobby Horse, and aimed to be as “medieval as possible.” As Romy Wyllie noted in her book, Bertram Goodhue, his life and residential architecture, Goodhue, Morris, and fellow Arts & Crafts artists sought to restore a respect for the aesthetics of the past, sharing a belief that the Industrial Age was “destroying beauty.”

The Knight Errant featured articles by Cram and Goodhue, along with poems from their Bohemian poet friends like Bliss Carman, Richard Hovey, and Louise Imogen Guiney.   

black and white illustrated front cover of The final issue of The Knight Errant

The final issue of The Knight Errant

The Knight Errant was short-lived, publishing only four issues between 1892-1893. The same year that Goodhue and Cram established The Knight Errant, Goodhue joined Cram's fledgling architectural firm, and soon became a named partner in Cram, Wentworth and Goodhue. Fittingly, the architects specialized in gothic churches and buildings. Despite the demands of the job, Goodhue continued to pursue his artistic passions. He participated in the Council of the Grolier Club for writers and printers, and designed books and type fonts for numerous printers.

an example printed of the merrymount type press that Goodhue designed.

The Merrymount Type font designed by Goodhue

One of the seminal books that Goodhue designed was The Book of Common Prayer for Merrymount Press, a printing company in Boston considered the finest representative of the Arts and Crafts movement in American book arts. As founder Daniel Berkeley Updike described it, Merrymount was a printing company that pursued the scholarly with craftsman-like style “to do common work uncommonly well.” The long-running press (1893-1941) was located in Boston and was well known to Goodhue and his artistic friends. Updike commissioned Goodhue to design the proprietary Merrymount typeface in 1896 for The Altar Book for the Episcopal Church. The Altar Book was one of several religious texts to which Goodhue contributed graphics. The Merrymount type font was inspired by Golden, a typeface designed by fellow Arts and Crafts Movement pioneer, William Morris, who was influenced by the 15th century type font, Jensen. This linear inspiration of one typeface designer to another is a constant in the typography field, as each new design attempts to improve on older, more established ones. 

Heavily illustrated double truck from the Altar Book for the Episcopal Church

A double truck from the Altar Book for the Episcopal Church, it demonstrates the elaborate borders and initials designed by Goodhue and produced by D.B. Updike. De Vinne Press printed it in 1896. Theodore De Vinne was a well-regarded artist and innovator of American printing.
Goodhue studied medieval book decoration and was particularly skilled in designing ornamental Gothic decorations. “He would design a font of type or a sumptuous set of initials as quickly as he would clothe an architectural form with the splendid vesture of intricate Gothic ornament,” Cram wrote. It is no wonder, then, that on his tomb are the words, “He touched nothing which he did not adorn.”

Cram believed, as many of his architect colleagues, that Goodhue’s “pen and ink renderings were the wonder and the admiration of the whole profession, while he had a creative imagination, exquisite in the beauty of its manifestations, sometimes elflike in its fantasy, that actually left one breathless.”

James F. O’ Gorman, in a Harvard Library Bulletin, wrote, “Cram wrote both prose and poetry with zest and imagination, and Goodhue created the decorations, whether they were covers, elaborate borders, full pages, frontispieces, beautifully executed initials and colophons, tailpieces, endpapers, printer’s marks and seals, or bookplates.”  

Left: Goodhue's sketch for the spine and cover of "Along the Trail," one of many book covers he designed. Right: The final book cover. This design is simpler and more modern than his earlier ornate work, foreshadowing his artistic evolution to a more minimal, early deco style.
Cram wrote in his biography, My Life, that “I remember him best in two aspects: sitting hunched up over a drawing-board, his lips writing nervously around innumerable dropping cigarettes, shifting his pen from one hand to another (he was ambidextrous) as he wrought out some inimitable study in dazzling black and white …He was Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, and in saying that you have said all.”

Written by Docent Diana Rosen. Most unncredited photos courtesy of Diana Rosen.

To learn more about the historic 1926 Goodhue Building which Bertram Goodhue designed, we invite you to take a docent led tour.