It is very often one teacher who makes a difference in a person’s life direction. This happened to artist and educator Howard Goldstein as a young man at Albright Art School in Buffalo, whom Goldstein credits with teaching him how to see differently.

“Robert Bruce was my first drawing teacher at the Albright,” Goldstein says. “He sat with me and showed me, in one day, how to see composition in everyday life and that opened my eyes to go beyond literal interpretations of nature. He changed my way of seeing forever. From that day on, I looked at everything compositionally, seeing objects.”

Bruce was just one of many great teachers Goldstein has had in his life, mentors who inspired him to become an educator as well as an artist. A native of the Bronx, Goldstein settled in central New Jersey almost 50 years ago to launch a lengthy career at the College of New Jersey. In 1960, he took a position as professor of art at what was then Trenton State College. Years later, he became chair of the college’s art department. Even well after retirement in 1994, he continues to share his knowledge with young artists, as an emeritus adjunct professor.

“Teaching was and is a passion; it’s exciting, especially when students listened and produced quality work,” Goldstein says. “Being chair was important to me because I could personally move the department in the direction I knew it should go.”

A celebration of Goldstein’s painterly life will be on view at the Rider University Art Gallery opening on Thursday, September 24. Titled “Howard Goldstein: A Painter’s Journey,” the show marks the various stages of his work, different permutations of abstractions and exercises in texture and color. Goldstein will give a gallery talk on Thursday, October 1.

“I have so many stories to tell,” he says. Some of those tales include his time spent as executive director of a special commission to study the arts in the Garden State. Appointed by former New Jersey governor Richard J. Hughes, Goldstein led the commission, which eventually resulted in the creation of the N.J. State Council on the Arts. “We studied not only visual arts, but performing arts, music and literature, to discuss what the committee members thought the arts should be in New Jersey,” Goldstein says. “Some of the people on those committees were very famous. I was in my 30s, driving folks like Ben Shahn to meetings. It was a wonderful learning experience, very exciting to be riding with Ben Shahn, arguing with him — and of course I was right!

“One of the committees was for music, and the composer Roger Sessions was a member,” he continues. “He was in his 80s then, and I would drive him to meetings at Rutgers. Roger would be working on something and he would tell me how he composed. I’d say, ‘that’s how I do paintings.’ What a great experience to find that we were speaking in the same language.”

Now 76, Goldstein never seemed too young or too shy to befriend grand talents, artists, and teachers who were older than he. He started college just past the age of 17 at State University of New York at Buffalo, where Howard Conant, who later chaired the art department at New York University, was a mentor.

“Conant was an excellent role model for me,” Goldstein says. “He always highlighted that we should be both producing artists and art educators. He also evaluated my teaching style, and that became my style of evaluating my own student teachers. Another mentor was Letterio Calapai at the Albright. He was a printmaker, and at the time he was developing a series to enter in a national exhibition. He invited me to join a printmaking society, and we’d be in the studio where he’d ask me, in his Boston accent, to critique his work. I was just 19 and he was asking me for my opinion.

“But he also encouraged me to put in for scholarships and enter exhibitions,” he adds. “Even after I graduated, he would send me notes about exhibitions to go for, which I did. I won a number of national awards thanks to the shows he put me on to.”

Another distinguished artist who touched Goldstein’s young life was photographer John Szarkowski, who would eventually become director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art.

Goldstein’s artistic side was sparked by these men, but they also instilled a love for teaching. “They were my mentors and my role models,” Goldstein says. “Their style of teaching carried over to my style, and that’s why I wanted to do what they did, teach and produce art at the same time, and not just as a hobby. I was encouraged to take it seriously, to enter competitions and show my work. I did the same with my students; when I found a student I thought was talented, I would encourage (him or her) to exhibit and get involved in shows.”

Other major influences in Goldstein’s life and work include Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, and the Impressionists. He also acknowledges more modern masters such as Ad Reinhardt, Willem deKooning, Hans Hofmann and Josef Albers. “Reinhardt for the Zen-like black paintings, Hofmann for the push and pull of form and color, deKooning for paint manipulation, and Albers for color interaction and grids,” Goldstein says in the exhibit’s catalog interview, conducted by curator Harry Naar.

Always an abstract artist, Goldstein felt that was the best way to express himself. “A camera can do a better job of visualizing,” he says.

Perhaps some of the artist’s energy and chutzpah comes from brushing up against theatrical types as a child. His father was first an agent in Yiddish theater, then a theater owner. Goldstein’s mother was a homemaker who encouraged her son’s creativity. He recalls hopping on the downtown subway to go to Manhattan’s great museums. “Plus, I was literally at the theater every night, around actors and stage people,” he says. “You get that creative attitude, and that was what sparked my visual sense. I’ve always been involved in theater, in fact I’ve been in (Mercer County’s) Shakespeare ’70 for 20 years. I like to combine both visual and performing arts.”

Goldstein met his wife, Marilyn, at SUNY Buffalo, and jokes that 1954 was an auspicious year. “I graduated, got married, and then went into the Army,” he says. “I was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska. My wife came with me and taught in the public schools there. We met some of the local artists, who invited me to teach an evening adult school class, which led to my first one-man show, which got favorable reviews.”

When he left the Army in 1956, the G.I. Bill put Goldstein through graduate school at NYU, where he earned a master’s degree in 1957. He also earned a doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1973. Marilyn Goldstein taught for many years at Lawrenceville Elementary School. The couple, who live in Ewing, have two grown children.

Goldstein has exhibited near and far, including five one-man shows at West Broadway Gallery in New York. He was in a group show in the New Jersey Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair in 1964, as well as a group show at the Rundstern Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. Of course, he has exhibited frequently at area and regional venues, such as the State Museum and Ellarslie Museum in Trenton and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

He still has the acting bug as well, and recently performed scenes from “Romeo and Juliet” with Shakespeare ’70, to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary. “My favorite role was as a Scottish nobleman in ‘Macbeth,’ because I got to carry a sword,” Goldstein says. “You give a guy a sword and you can’t lose.”

“A Painter’s Journey: Paintings by Howard Goldstein,” Rider University Art Gallery, the Bart Luedeke Center, top floor, Rider University, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville, Sept. 24-Oct. 25. Reception, Sept. 24, 5 p.m. Artist talk on Thursday, October 1, 7 p.m. Gallery hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. On view through October 25. 609-895-5588 or www.rider.edu.

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