Quail Creek Editions

Uncommonly Good

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Uncommonly Good by Andrew L. Phelan

Review by Nancy Donnelly, Ph.D.

            America is blessed with regional and local artists, who focus in their work on environment and friends, who live by teaching or another career tangent to their art, and who follow, without initiating, contemporary artistic movements and styles.  Their lives and work are worthwhile as representatives of their place and time, and of trends in art outside the main centers. Leonard Phelps Good (1907-2000) was such an artist.

            Uncommonly Good, by Andrew L. Phelan (Quail Creek Editions, 2009), covers the long life of painter Leonard Good and presents more than 40 of his paintings. Much of the book is given to family comings and goings and important events in the lives of friends and family. The art of Leonard Good is described and illustrated.

The chronological account of Good’s life gives as much space to his background, formative years, training, and first job, as to his main career and later years, a period of artistic flowering and honors.   

Good was born and raised in Oklahoma and went to college there. He took some classes in New York City (studying under George Bridgeman at the Art Students League) and the University of Iowa (under Jean Charlot).  He married Nancye, an artist in her own right and a ceramics designer. They traveled in Europe, and presently had a son. Good became an instructor at his alma mater and curator of painting at the university museum, as the museum was notably purchasing works by O’Keefe, Beardon, Levine, Max Weber, and others from a State Department beset by McCarthyism. He wrote manuscripts about graphic composition and about color.

Good might have stayed at UOklahoma if not for an administrative imbroglio that propelled him to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then to Drake University in Iowa, where he spent the balance of his career teaching and chairing the art department. In later years he returned to Oklahoma, showed and sold his work, and was feted in retrospective exhibitions in Oklahoma and Iowa. His first wife passed on; with his second wife, Yoshie, he traveled widely. He had kept in touch with many old friends and was clearly well liked and admired as an artist. 

A selection is presented of Leonard Good’s paintings, drawings, and photographs, in about 60 pages of reproductions. He was interested in his immediate surroundings, in landscape, flowers and family, and also did professional portrait paintings (none appear in this book). He had a sharp wit in drawing. His style is charming and realistic without being trompe l’oeil. He continued basically in the same style throughout his life, developing an interest in traditional Japanese design elements (as in “An Okie-Gen Vacation”, 1996) in later life. One can find elements of other artists’ work in Good’s composition and style, but he remained his own man in his painting. 

The production qualities of this soft cover book are very good, with excellent paper and very good color reproduction. I wished that the author had done more to place Good’s work in a larger context of regional painting and trends in the larger world of art. Within the framework of its sources (principally family materials) this book becomes a personal narrative of a loved artist. Uncommonly Good is valuable as a narrative of a life spent in art, and worth reading and recommending. It will be particularly useful to American regional artists and teachers.