Goodhart delivers

Goodhart delivers

North Providence resident Ed Goodhart, a boilermaker-turned-artist, chisels on the frames he’s created for those who played a role in the travels of his statue of St. André Bessette to Canada. (Breeze photo by Diandra Markgraf)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Ed Goodhart was at the U.S.-Canada border in late August, hauling some 300 pounds of precious cargo. Countless hours and the sacrifice of tendons in his wrist brought the North Providence-based sculptor to this crossroads – and he almost didn’t make it.

The border guard asked, “What do you have in the truck?” And without thinking, Goodhart replied, “Oh, just some wood.”

The wood was in fact a 300-pound oak statue Goodhart had meticulously carved over a 10-month period, minus seven weeks due to a chainsaw injury. It came to represent the qualities of its likeness: his great-great uncle, St. André Bessette.

“I didn’t lie,” Goodhart recalled. “Maybe it was the saint talking through me.”

For the artist, he could see no other home for the life-sized work outside of St. Joseph Oratory at Mount-Royal, Canada’s largest church that “St. Brother André” petitioned to build at Montreal’s highest point during the peak of the Great Depression.

“If he wants it built, let him come up with the money,” St. André reportedly called to his patron saint as the building ran into a slew of financial setbacks – yet it found funding in the 11th hour.

So Goodhart implored the same. “That’s how I felt crossing the border: ‘Hey, it’s your statue. If you want it, get it there,’” he said.

Goodhart worried the guard would inspect the statue and remove a commemorative plaque installed at the sculpture’s base to check for contraband, flipping the quick checkpoint into a three-hour ordeal.

It was smooth sailing instead.

Goodhart, a boilermaker-turned-artist who lives near the Wenscott Reservoir in North Providence, still instructs apprentices in welding and blacksmithing, but he has enjoyed a brand new career as a sculptor of wood, plaster and forged iron. His work lines his home in three-tier planters, 6-foot birdhouses and a delicately repurposed grandmother clock.

The Catholic church has become a gallery for his work as well. The Rev. James Ruggieri of St. Patrick Church on Smith Street in Providence commissioned Goodhart’s Celtic cross design on the church’s new altar, plus two massive wooden and green glass candle holders.

Goodhart, a parishioner at St. Anthony Church in North Providence, found a fan in the Rev. Ed Cardente, who was going to give St. André’s likeness a home if the St. Joseph Oratory passed on the donation.

But the Goodhart family’s annual trips to Montreal to commemorate Bessette’s Aug. 9 birthday brought them to connect with Nathalie Dumas of the oratory’s newsletter and, later, museum curator Chantal Turbide.

They were shown pictures during last year’s visit, and became interested in the life-sized sculpture forged from oak, a sandstone dove and iron lilies – representative of the saint’s qualities as a healer who attributed his abilities to St. Joseph.

Goodhart said the oratory’s rector originally thought the sculpture would be suited for the garden, which the artist hoped wouldn’t happen due to the wood’s porous surface making it susceptible to cracking in the elements.

For now, the sculpture is in the museum’s warehouse until renovations to the oratory’s museum and famous dome are completed thanks to a $63 million grant from the Canadian government. Afterward, the sculpture will be housed inside the museum’s special exhibit on the saint who was formally canonized Oct. 17, 2010.

Goodhart said he hopes that, especially protected indoors, the statue lasts for hundreds of years, defying the odds just like his great-great uncle, once a sickly child, who died in 1937 at age 91.

When he left the oratory, Goodhart said, “I kissed the statue goodbye and said, ‘you’re home Uncle Andy.’”

Back in his North Providence garage-studio, the artist set to carving commemorative pinewood frames for all the people who had their photo taken with the statue, including his youngest daughter who traveled with him to the oratory, as well as Cardente and the museum staff.

After these frames, meticulously chiseled and decorated with 23-karat gold leaf and ceramic tile, are completed, Goodhart will take a break from this “tedious” work, and get back to carving life-sized wooden figures.

His next projects will see long-lasting results, too, he says, as he dedicates time to more commissioned pieces for St. Anthony’s Holy Family Home for Mothers and Children on Branch Avenue.

Goodhart envisions creating statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, which will guard the side of the home for at-risk mothers and children. He will soon present his initial sketches to Cardente.

The artist has only worked on donated pieces so far. But his use of materials, and where each piece comes to reside, speaks to his ultimate goal as an artist: to be remembered in a way that mirrors a high-quality life.

With a shrug and a smile, Goodhart adds, “It’s just something to leave behind.”

The Rev. Edward Cardente, of St. Anthony Church in North Providence, poses with Goodhart’s statue before it headed to St. Joseph Oratory in Montreal in August.