Arts » Visual Arts

The Art of Goodwill

The intersection of art and work in thrift retail


Dan Grossman and Mr. Goodwill
  • Dan Grossman and Mr. Goodwill

[EDITOR'S NOTE] Dan Grossman is a longtime NUVO freelancer who covers (predominantly) visual art around Indy. He is also an employee of Goodwill Industries. This article has not resulted in any kind of financial gain for Dan from Goodwill Industries — it's just a great story about some hidden artwork gems and a freelancer we love.

"It's not the end of the world," the store manager told me when I told him that I didn't have my bank info on hand. This was my first day on the job, at Nora Goodwill, in March, 2012, on the northeast side of Indianapolis.The manager's name was Jeff. He was 28 years old, 15 years my junior, and he'd been with Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana since high school.

Goodwill retail stores can be found all over the United States, of course, but it's not a monolithic organization. Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana is just one of 164 independent Goodwill organizations located in the United States and Canada. Its affiliates share essentially the same mission: helping people prepare for, find — and keep — employment through its thrift stores, administrations, educational centers, and schools.

Jeff had no evident concerns about my checkered history of employment. In fact, I had actually just been through a 3-month period of unemployment. I was, however, working as a freelance writer, mostly for NUVO, covering the visual arts.

Stories Unknown, the contemporary art installation at Goodwill headquarters created by local artist Danielle Riede.
  • Stories Unknown, the contemporary art installation at Goodwill headquarters created by local artist Danielle Riede.

It should be noted that not all Goodwill donations are sold in-store — on the clothing racks or in the wares aisles or in the locked case. A portion of the most valuable stuff — designer clothes, jewelry, original paintings, etc. — is culled and sent to, Goodwill's online auction site.

One of those culled items—something I saw on that first day — was a print of Grant Wood's 1936 painting "Spring Turning," set aside for auction. I suddenly felt like I was back in my NUVO beat: the world of visual arts.

"Spring Turning" portrays a patchwork of square, symmetrical farm fields on rolling hills—evocative of landscapes that no longer exist. It's likely that the rural landscapes that inspired Wood's painting have been long ago paved over to make shopping malls and superhighways or turned into mega-farms.


Wood is classified as one of the "American Regionalists" along with Thomas Hart Benton among others. Benton and Wood both came to renown during the Great Depression. Benton, who was the most famous of that group, captured the dynamism and relentless, churning activity of American life in his Indiana murals and other works.

In the postwar era, however, Benton abandoned the rhythmic and contorted styles of his great murals altogether. He wasn't inspired by post-WWII America — the America of sprawl and indoor shopping malls — and probably felt that America had abandoned him. But what if he had continued painting after the war, depicting interstate highways, suburban tract homes, and moon launches in his signature style?

A mural by Christian Quintin, "The Lovers of Indianapolis," reminds me of "Spring Turning" — every time I pass 870 Virginia Avenue, on my way to Fountain Square to cover arts for NUVO. It's evocative of Wood's painting in its stylized depiction of rolling hills under a blue sky. Considering the mural's location: the exterior wall of a commercial building on Indy's southeast side, adjacent to the I-65 overpass, there's something nostalgic — even elegiac — about the contrast between the mural and the city.

Fountain Square is where I end up every First Friday of the month around midnight. And then, the next day — without fail, comes the hectic first Saturday of the month sale at Goodwill. And on these sale days, while trying to maintain order in the store, I sometimes wonder about my life. Will it always be 50 percent freelance writer, 50 percent Goodwill Guy? I'm not complaining, mind you, because Goodwill has given me a perspective that other writers might not have.

Still, it's hard to keep that perspective in mind 24/7. And on those difficult, hectic sale days when it's not so easy to see the light, I often find myself saying — whether to myself or a fellow Goodwill employee — "It's not the end of the world."


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