Theodore Good: A Tradition of Art

by Jo Rector, City Editor

In Etna Green there is a drawing room fit for the footsteps of Marie Antoinette. Nestled under the southeastern overhang of a pale yellow two-story home, the drawing room is a dazzling reflection of the tastes and life of Theodore Good.

An artist in his own right, Good has devoted a great portion of his life to buying, selling and collecting antique treasures in furniture, painting, porcelain and crystal.

Many pieces of the Good collection originated in France and ring around the room atop a copy of a pale, patterned carpet in the Louvre today. A Flemish tapestry one of two Good owns, blankets the north wall with its subtle green background and textured figures.

In a narrow niche beside a draped archway, Good's gathering of miniature paintings on porcelain and peeled ivory snuggle into the east wall where an Italian Renaissance original of Madonna and Child hangs in a gilded frame.

A Ruby Dillman LaRue portrait of Good's wife Gladys, seated in one of the room's chairs is one of the newer additions to the drawing room, where Good twinkles with the crystal chandeliers casting a softly sparkling glow on rosy brocade draperies and lace-like glass curtains at the sun-washed windows.

He is the drawing room master curator, cherishing every precious object for its own beauty and its legacy for the future.

Miniature Armoire
Dainty ladies calling card cases, encased with mother of pearl designs and cast silver, crowd a glass-topped, tabled case. Arranged in a curved-front, miniature armoire, legends in glasswork peek around each other for viewing attention.

Wedgwood and Limoges are among the more famous producers represented in Good's extensive collection of fine porcelain figurines, bowls, cups and saucers and vases. A serpentine and rippled Lalique vase is the pride of his crystal possessions along with a magnificent chandelier hanging shimmery and cloud like over the drawing room.

In the dining room an early American chest with rich paneling and a corner hutch contrast with the drawing room's splendid formality, accented by a floral and fruit still-life painted by the master of it all, Good himself.

Some of the flowers in the gilded frame around an oval canvas came from Good's formal backyard garden. Others, he confesses, were figments of his imagination. But all were painstakingly brought to life as Good placed first one flower in a vase, exchanging it for another until the bouquet on canvas was complete.

Russian Candlesticks
A pair of Tsarist Russian candlesticks corner the dropleaf maple dining table, emphasizing Good's ability for somewhat incongruous but pleasing mixtures.

Oriental lamps in the drawing room, needlepoint originated by his wife throughout the house, a Greek mirror and the second Flemish tapestry in a room used for music, an office and chair repairs combine with Good's own creations.

They are all complimentary. Two of Good's French Trumeaux mirrors, each unique in construction, design and ornamentation, grace the drawing room-a room that is Theodore Good as much as any room can be a man.

A deep green frame and gilded carving surround the oil on canvas of a Frenchman in a pastoral setting in the first Trumeaux mirror Good created in 1931. The mirror is bracketed by double crystal wall sconces and miniature paintings, and nearby is a Baroque plant stand, intricately carved and nearly ebony in color.

In the mirror construction Good starts with a sheet of plywood, intact except for openings for the mirror itself and the canvas he will paint above the mirror and within the wood border. Pre-formed molding, which he orders from suppliers, are attached to the frame before the wooden portions are covered with a clay gesso Good makes especially for the mirror assembly.

Ready For Mirror
Sprayed with a fixative coating, the mirror frames are then subjected to a number of coats of paint and fixative along with an application of gold sizing. A day later, Good lays on 23-carat gold, burnishing it, and the frame is read to accept the mirror.

Canvas in the frame is painted from Good's memory and imagination or from Old Master artists, which he has studied extensively in his life as an artist.

In the 43 years that Good has been originating the French Trumeaux mirrors on orders from throughout the nation, he has never made a duplication. Each is distinctive, unique and a true collector's treasure.

The mirrors and his impressive collections are part of his larger plan to assure that today's artistic jewels will remain in the future, retaining or increasing in their value of man's appreciation for fine arts.

A painter of realism, working mostly with landscapes and floral stilllifes, Good began his art study at age 13 with a private tutor in Etna Green, Mrs. H. L. Thomas. As he mastered the brush and colors, Mrs. Thomas said he surpassed her technique.

Good has an explanation: "All of the Good family is artistically talented. It was born in me. My father was a cabinet maker of great skill, and I have one cousin who designed all of Lillian Gish's costumes when she was on stage and another who authored several books."

Noting that all of his close relatives are accomplished at sketching, Good reflects that the Good art penchant passed by his son, Donald, who is an electrical engineer in South Bend. "My son and his friends used to love to play in the drawing room with their shoes off because they liked the soft carpet. When he was young, they had a train track running around the floor under all that priceless antique furniture." the father shudders.

Near Disastrous Fire
A 1950 fire in the home nearly destroyed the artist's residence for the past 65 years, and 28 truckloads of charred furniture, melted crystal and cracked porcelain were carted away from the rubble along with all of Theodore and Gladys' clothing.

While reconstruction of the home was undertaken, Good's mother, the former Cora A Leffel, fell and broke her leg and later died, to return to the nearly completed house for her funeral.

After Good's father passed away,
Good and his mother had operated a funeral parlor in the house as assistants to a Bourbon undertaker, who was later to become Good's father-in-law.

"I worked for the father, finally met the daughter, married her and worked for free after that," Good says with a chuckle.

He later hired out as director of posh society weddings in the area north from Indianapolis, and he recalls a particularly large wedding in South Bend that tested his mettle for three days, required eight servants and blazed the church with 200 glowing candles.

"That was not the prettiest wedding I ever did," Good recalls, "but it was the largest. I've staged weddings with electrically wired cakes that light up, and I have directed the weddings of both mothers and daughters, but I gave it up after I broke my leg a few years ago."

Wedding Consultant
Good was sought after for wedding consultation and assistance for his theatrical flair and for something far more basic. "I knew enough to keep these grand events with good taste. My major point of advice to the wedding party simply was to start down the aisle when they were supposed to," Good explains.

A mixture of drama and propriety must course through enigmatic Theodore Good. His taastes are expressed in formality through his artistic creations, his furniture and his dinner parties, destined for fame in the small town of less than 1,000.

But his lifestyle, from childhood to age 66, has been a friendly, informal turn of jobs from undertaker to wedding designer to buyer for some of the nation's most reputable antique dealers to upholsterer, artist, teacher and stage dresser for all the theatrical productions at Warsaw Community High School.

Good is past stage master for the Wagon Wheel Playhouse in Warsaw, but he still hosts the annual opening night summer stock party in his Etna Green garden, a partially walled retreat into a fluff of blossoms, water-spouting cherubs, pools and brick paths.

In the summer water lilies laze on the ponds where Good and his wife once dyed the water a shimmering blue for one of their galas.

He is a patron of the Lakeland Community Concerts Association, hosting its officers in an annual dinner party that spreads from the drawing room into an adjoining living room decorated with more Renaissance art, his own Ruby Dillman LaRue portrait and displays of more porcelain and crystal.

Opens Studio
In a backyard adjoining the garden, Good has designed, constructed and opened a studio for his many projects in painting, mirrors, upholstering and furniture construction.

The two-room Victorian studio looks into the world from leaded glass windows and two ornate wood porches. For the studio opening last fall, Good lined the walls from floor to ceiling with his painting which were quickly purchased by the 400 invited guests at the show and reception.

"I have a show once every two years," Good explains, "and of course I am busy painting, completing a new mirror, building new furniture and reupholstering older pieces all the time."

With a studio packed with furniture frames, which he orders for the new French chairs he finishes, puffy rolled batts of cotton furniture padding, unfinished chests and side chairs for reupholstering, Good still finds time to complete the orders and teach adult education classes at area schools as well.

Interior decorating, oil painting and upholstery are courses Good conducts as part of Warsaw Community High School's adult education program. In addition, he teaches similar classes two evenings a week at Triton High School at nearby Bourbon. He holds art classes two hours each week at his studio, lectures to clubs and has recently been invited to lecture in the Fountain Park Chautauqua in Remington.

Strives for Realism
Striving always for realism in his art, Good still appreciates some modern art. "A lot of it is just plain junk," he says, "turned out by painters who aren't talented enough to paint things as they are and manage to make a living by just glopping some colors around.

"But I have no objection to modern or abstract art if there is a rhyme or reason to it. For instance, I happen to like the painting "Nude Descending a Staircase," which one art critic claimed looked like a cyclone in a shingle factory.

"Still, there is meaning in that painting even though it created quite a furor in the art world when it was first exhibited," Good says.

What does Good think of those who are not as enamored as he of realism, formality and the Renaissance influence? "I believe every man is entitled to his own tastes, and I would hesitate to try changing anyone's mind about that."

He is satisfied enough with his own artistic Renaissance in a small Midwest town to channel his realistic approach into his total philosophy.

Spotlight section March 31-April 6, 1975 Saturday Warsaw Times Union

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