SIOUX CITY | Outside, like a lion, March roared into Siouxland last Saturday, bringing more than four inches of snow and frigid temperatures with it. But as evening drew nigh, the wintry landscape turned still and silent in the wake of the storm.
It was just the kind of scene that would have stirred James F. Goff from the comforts of home to travel the back roads of Woodbury County with his wife, Florence, by his side. She said he didn’t like shoveling the snow, but he sure liked looking at it.
The late artist, known by his signature as J.F. Goff, found beauty in rural landscapes, dotted by leafless trees and decrepit old barns that looked like they might just cave in at any moment. Using watercolor paints, he captured the scenes on paper with such dimension and detail – down to a single shingle and the finest of twigs.
Every area needs someone like J.F. Goff to see and feel the special quality of that place, curator Todd Behrens told the crowd at the Sioux City Art Center. These people had braved Saturday’s snowy roads to attend the opening reception for Still and Silent Places.
On view through June 1, the exhibition celebrates the work of J.F. Goff with 35 of his watercolor paintings. More than 20 local collectors contributed to the display.
Organizing the exhibit, Behrens had access to hundreds of images, thanks to the painter’s son Jim Goff. Since his father’s passing in 2007, he has catalogued more than 650 paintings.
At first, Behrens sought the greatest diversity and highest quality, which helped narrow the works down to about 70. Of those, the curator noticed a trend. Many were from Siouxland collections.
With the exception of one lender from Yankton, S.D., and one from Sioux Falls, S.D., all of the paintings come from homes no more than five miles away from the Sioux City Art Center.
“I’ve never worked with so many different collectors of an artist’s work to pull together a collection like this,” Behrens said. “It’s a great opportunity to not only showcase a great local artist but a group of great local collectors.”
Dr. David and Joan Paulsrud, of Sioux City, have collected about a dozen of J.F. Goff’s paintings since the 1970s, plus some smaller ones.
“They’re very charming … like a branch full of chickadees,” he said. “Jim was such a wonderful man, so likeable, a great teacher.”
As an art teacher at East High School for nearly three decades, Goff knew how to handle most mediums, but watercolors were his favorite.
Two paintings from the Paulsruds’ collection are on display at the art center – “Bacon Creek” and “The Storm.”
“He didn’t like to do commissions, but we did ask him to do ‘The Storm,’ and he reluctantly painted that for us,” David Paulsrud said.
The painting from 1982 depicts dark rain clouds billowing over the barren, rolling hills of Iowa, save for a white farmhouse with a barn and other outbuildings in the background. With skillful hands, Goff created a stark contrast between the overcast sky and one bright spot – the brightest spot on the canvas – a humble abode, exuding simplicity and providing shelter from the storm.
“I had an uncle who was a professional artist and his favorite medium was watercolor,” David Paulsrud said. “I’ve always been so attracted to watercolor because it is so difficult and unforgiving.”
“All of the white you see in the painting is the canvas,” Joan Paulsrud said. “I just marvel at his work.”
While the reception attracted admirers of the late Sioux City painter’s work, it also prompted a Goff family reunion.
Without hesitation, Kate Goff, who lives in Brussels, Belgium, returned stateside for the opening night of the exhibition and gathered in the third level gallery with six of her siblings and more members of the extended family.
“It’s my dad,” she said. “He was a wonderful man, the most important man in the world.”
Before this exhibition came to life, Florence Goff had only gotten a glimpse at some of her husband’s paintings.
“He’d paint them and take them to the gallery,” she said, adding that they’d soon be gone. “Some of them are kind of new to me too … It’s nice that he’s being recognized after all these years. You get this many in one place, it’s kind of amazing.”