The Toulouse-Lautrec of Line Avenue

by Chris Jay

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If you have ever dined in an upscale restaurant on Line Avenue in Shreveport—a South Highlands neighborhood place like Bella Fresca or Chianti, for example—chances are good that you’re familiar with the paintings of Henry Goodrich. If you’ve eaten lunch at Fairfield Market and Cafe or had a martini at the Superior’s Steakhouse bar, you’ve been surrounded by his bright, folksy portrayals of servers, chefs and diners.

It is the holiday season now, when organizations and businesses host Christmas parties in the fancier homes of Southern Trace and South Highlands. As I’ve worked on this story for the past few weeks, I’ve occasionally found myself standing in a two-story foyer or an LSU-themed “man cave,” inspecting one of Goodrich’s colorful canvases.

Once I learned to identify his art, I began to notice more and more of it around town. I began to wonder: Who was Henry Goodrich, anyway, and how did his weird, wonderful paintings wind up in so many Shreveport restaurants?

Photo by Gretchen Kirwan for The Times, June 20, 1993.

Goodrich was born in Shreveport on Sept. 10, 1930, to Henry Goodrich (He is one of seven Henry Goodriches, none with middle names, in his family.) and Grace Flournoy. By the time Henry was 17 years old, both of his parents and his sister had died of various illnesses.

Despite what must have been a difficult young adulthood, he matriculated from C.E. Byrd to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he earned a degree in geology. He became a leading figure in Shreveport’s mid-century oil and gas industry, opening Goodrich Oil Company in 1975. During his tenure as president of the Louisiana Association of Independent Producers and Royalty Owners, he was called to Capitol Hill to address the Senate Finance Committee on behalf of independent oil and gas companies in Louisiana.

Goodrich’s daughter, Laura Watts, told me that Goodrich wasn’t an artist for the majority of his life. 

“When I was a child, I would watch him doodle and sketch while he was on business calls, but he didn’t consider himself an ‘artist’ by any stretch,” Watts said. “I recall him taking an art class once, but he didn’t turn out to be that great at it, and that art went into the closet.”

Everything changed during a family vacation to Pensacola in 1990, when Goodrich was seized by sudden chest pain while waiting in line at a Baskin Robbins with his five grandchildren. A medical Leer jet rushed him back to Shreveport, where he underwent quadruple bypass surgery. A lengthy recovery, more heart problems, and years of rehabilitation followed.

According to a 1993 Times profile by Margaret Martin, art “helped (Goodrich) through a difficult time with the blues” during his lengthy recovery. His pencil doodles evolved to include acrylics, pastels and charcoal. In 1985, Henry and his wife, Tonia, had opened Riverside Galleries in the Pierremont Common shopping center on Line Avenue with the intention of showcasing local and international artists. By 1993, the gallery regularly featured many of Henry’s own paintings. The gallery donated all proceeds from sales of Henry’s paintings to the American Heart Association.   

One of the most striking of Henry Goodrich’s many paintings that hang at Bella Fresca in Shreveport.

Sometime in the early 1990s, local restaurants near Goodrich’s home in South Highlands began to display his paintings. Watts recalls Fairfield Market and Cafe as being “one of the first” to hang paintings by her father, followed by Chianti, Bella Fresca, and others.

Zoran Tomic, owner of Bella Fresca, met the Goodriches while he was waiting tables at Superior’s Bar and Grill and Eldorado Resort Casino. Years later, when Tomic purchased Bella Fresca, the Goodriches were his first customers.

“The first day we opened, nobody was here, and Mr. Goodrich came in with his wife,” Tomic said.

“‘Zoran,’ he said. ‘What are you doing here?’

“I said, ‘You’re not gonna believe this, but I bought this place, man.’ He asked what he could do to help us. There was nothing on the walls, and he offered to give us some art. He said ‘come over to my house, pick what you want, and we’ll frame it and put it in the restaurant.’”

The next morning, a Tuesday, Tomic walked to the Goodrich home from his restaurant and selected eight canvases that would be perfect for Bella Fresca. They still hang in the restaurant 20 years later. 

“He framed them for me, and he brought them here. He said: ‘How about I charge you one dollar per picture? That way, I’ve officially sold them to you,’” Tomic said. “Nobody’s gonna move them, ever. Many people have came here and tried to buy these paintings, but they don’t have no price.” 

Joe Fertitta, a longtime restaurateur who began to collect Goodrich canvases in the early 1990s, served as an honorary pallbearer at his funeral. 

A detail of a painting by Henry Goodrich.

“The man was a true gourmand,” Fertitta said. “He loved the life of a restaurant, he loved to paint waiters moving through the dining room and women chatting over wine. I would call him the Toulouse-Lautrec of Shreveport.”

The final years of Goodrich’s life were incredibly eventful. He rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in 2011. His art was the subject of a major career retrospective, The Pleasure of Life, at Artspace in 2012. He passed away on March 26, 2014.

Alice Byington, one of Goodrich’s grandchildren, enjoys seeing reminders of the grandfather who she called “Biggie” around town.

“Every time we go to Chianti’s, we always take the time to go around and check out Biggie’s paintings,” Byington said. 

I asked Watts what she thinks of her father’s artwork being displayed around town. Is it odd being surrounded by your loved one’s art every time you’re in the mood for a good filet?

“I love it,” Watts said. “I’ll see photos on Instagram of people dining out, and I’ll look in the background, and there’s my daddy’s painting.”

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