By Danielle Lipiec
Fire Island celebrated a half-century of art from staple community member Kenny Goodman, at an exhibition of his work on Saturday, Aug. 11. Attendees gathered at the Ocean Beach Historical Society – many clad in their own Kenny’s – to enjoy food, wine, and camaraderie among a display of Goodman’s iconic sculptures, jewelry, and carvings.
Goodman began his life on Fire Island 50 years ago, when he and his friends rented a house in Fair Harbor despite his passionate aversion to all things sand and sun. While his friends hit the beach, he found solace in a piece of wood, which he whittled away at to pass time. From this came the first of many of the trademark designs that every local knows as a “Kenny,” and his jewelry has remained popular on Fire Island as locals, renters and day-trippers alike continue to rave about and collect his pieces.
Since that week with his friends, Kenny would in time migrate his headquarters to Ocean Beach, where he set up his shop studio. Goodman has evolved from his most primal materials of dental tools and crayons, to items of silver and fine wood. His work ranges from jewelry, to knives and canes, to intricate wooden sculptures – all diligently crafted in the same style he adopted years ago.
“My work all looks similar because this is what I know how to do,” said Goodman. “What you know is easy and what you don’t know is hard. What you learn becomes easy, and what you forget becomes hard.”
While Goodman makes a multitude of designs ranging from flowers, to marine life, to surfboards and more, his most identifiable may be his totem-like faces – which is the design he began with.
“I am very happy making my bearded men. The reason they have beards is because I am no good at lips, so I stick a mustache over where they should be.”
Goodman’s exhibition at the Ocean Beach Historical Society showcased not only the various angles of his creations, but how his work has impacted the Fire Island community. He welcomed each and every friend, family member and fan with equally open arms, as attendees greeted him with praise and gratitude, which he returned in a speech.
“You have all given me the opportunity to be who I wanted to be,” he said. “You were looking for someone to like, and I was looking for someone to like me.”
Over his many years crafting designs unique to the aesthetic of Fire Island, Goodman’s silverwork has become less of simply a piece of jewelry, and more of an island souvenir, as well as a piece of its history. Despite Fire Islanders growing fonder and fonder of Goodman and his designs over his 50 years on the island, he himself has not grown any fonder of the sun and sand. “What brought me out here, really, was you could be barefoot,” he said. “I don’t like the beach, I don’t like the sun, but I like this way of life.”
Goodman’s work will be on display at the Ocean Beach Historical Society through Labor Day, Thursday-Monday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m.
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