Helen Goodwin: Renowned painter

Posted by on Aug 17, 2013 in Henry County Stories, Historically Speaking | 2 comments

Helen Goodwin: Renowned painter
A brush with fame
Frances Goodwin’s sister, Helen, was renowned artist
This 1895 photo shows the third floor of the Murphey building, where Helen Goodwin once had an art studio. Photo courtesy Henry County Historical Society.
This 1895 photo shows the third floor of the Murphey building, where Helen Goodwin once had an art studio. Photo courtesy Henry County Historical Society.

Historically Speaking

Frances Goodwin wanted to be a painter, but fate had other plans.

When she fell in love with sculpture while studying in Chicago, it was Frances’ younger sister, Helen, who began to have her own brush with artistic fame. Ironically, Helen had learned the fundamentals of painting from none other than Frances. The lessons came in the upstairs portion of what is now known as The Murphey Building at the corner of Main and Broad streets.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Together, the Goodwin girls became a dynamic duo of art and put New Castle on the artistic map in the early 1900s. In fact, the two were featured at the Richmond Art Museum in 2007. Appropriately, the exhibit was called “Sister Act.”

Their work is certainly worthy of remembering. Last week, this column featured Frances, who sculpted such memorable pieces as the bust of former U.S. Vice President Schuyler Colfax, still on display at the U.S. Capitol. A look at newspaper headlines created by the two over the years shows just how their handiwork created images that are still highly regarded today.

Here are just a few:

— “Local artist awarded prize; Miss Goodwin’s miniatures win at Hoosier Salon” (March 10, 1925 Courier)

— “Paintings on display here to be sent to gallery in New York” (May 12, 1924 Courier)

— “Joyousness and Good Cheer In Helen Goodwin Paintings” (March 25, 1923 Indianapolis Star)

New Castle resident Maurie Goodwin, who carries on the century-old auto dealership his family started, talked about his famous great aunt.

“Helen died when I was 5 years old,” Goodwin said. “She was my great aunt, a sister of John C. Goodwin, the one who started Goodwin Brothers Auto. He was one of six boys in the family in addition to the five girls.”

Helen Goodwin didn’t need one of her brother’s cars to go places. Her talented brush sent her to Paris with big sister Frances. It was there that Helen’s art stood the test of harsh Paris critics.

A centennial edition of The Courier-Times included the following about Helen Goodwin:

“At home she worked on a miniature of her sister, doing the work without her teachers even knowing about it,” the article read. “She entered it in the Paris salon, although she had been told that an American seldom found work accepted unless it was entered as being done in the classes of some well-known teacher. To her surprise, it was not only accepted but well hung. Some of her French friends were greatly surprised. This same miniature was exhibited in London at the Royal Academy.”

While Maurie Goodwin is justifiably proud of his great aunts, he said he had no plans to become an artist himself.

But there are others in the family for whom life may imitate family art.

“My daughter, Carrie, does pretty well with painting,” Goodwin said.

Interestingly, the Goodwin daughter is named after one of Helen and Frances Goodwin’s sisters. And there’s a granddaughter with an even more historic family name: Helen.

You can see Frances Goodwin’s bust of Benjamin Parker and paintings done by Helen Goodwin at the Henry County Historical Society. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday from 1 to 4:30 p.m.

Darrel Radford is a staff writer for The Courier-Times and a board member for the Henry County Historical Society.


  1. Friend is looking for a specific print

    • Will need more information please. 🙂

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