The Many Layers of Kimberly Goff
Perched atop the glacial moraine that serves as the spine of the South Fork, Kimberly Goff’s Bridgehampton house reveals through south-facing windows a breathtaking view of Sagg Pond in the distance, with the ocean undulating beyond it. On a sunny but bracing spring day, light reflected off the water and gave the seascape a diamond-dusted sheen.
Inside, the house was warmed by the earthy scents of cooking mushrooms, part of a lunch that also consisted of salad and a homemade vegetable calzone. The meal she prepared and the de facto greenhouse created by the windows, with pots and seed trays holding plants sprouting in preparation for their season outdoors, revealed just two of Ms. Goff’s lengthy list of interests. She was about to reveal more.
“I’m a painter, a person who curates, a person who serves on boards” — the Watermill Center, the South Fork Natural History Museum, and others — “a bilingual liaison to the Latino community here, a natural history guide for whale watching in Mexico,” she began, before pausing to discuss why she’s now a mostly vegan vegetarian. “I became very involved with Indian religion when I was young. I couldn’t eat a cow if you paid me. I could eat a person before I could eat a cow.”
While describing jackfruit, banana skins, and chicken of the woods mushrooms as possible substitutes for the chewy texture of chicken or fish, she revealed another interest — foraging — which she does on her property throughout the summer. “There’s great foraging here. . . . I harvested more mushrooms than we could eat last year.”
She and her husband, Owain Hughes, grow most of their own food from seed and have a living roof of grass and other plantings on their house. In late March, she said, she was already finding the beginnings of leeks, chives, and mustard greens on the property. “Gardening is a big part of our life.”
Gardening has spurred her interest in photography. On Facebook she keeps a summer daybook of sorts where she posts a daily photo of her harvest placed in some artful array. “Last week, I took a photo of a leek and put it on Facebook. Some 90 people responded.” She is considering making a book from them.
In fact, she is working on an exhibition of her photos — not of vegetables, but of the whales she sees in her winter home in a Mexican village on the Baja Peninsula. She hopes to put that together for the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, but it is still in the planning stage.
Given her varied pursuits and interests, how would she define herself? “I’m rarely introduced without the line ‘Elaine Benson’s daughter,’ which is fine with me. I am Elaine Benson’s daughter, and I carried on the gallery and her political and social things.”
Ms. Benson, who died in 1998, was Southampton Hospital’s public relations director for many years and ran a gallery in Bridgehampton beginning in 1965. It was a community center that brought together the artists and writers of the area, and even writers who wanted to be artists, like Kurt Vonnegut. She also served on several boards of institutions and nonprofits, and her openings were typically benefits for a local cause.
Having moved to the South Fork as a teen, surrounded by artists, Ms. Goff, too, wanted to pursue that life, but her mother discouraged her. She told her daughter there were too many artists already in the world, asking her, “What do you have to say that they didn’t say or don’t say?”
Dispirited, Ms. Goff chose to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology instead. At 19, she opened Kimberly’s East, a Bridgehampton boutique not far from the gallery. “People would go there and then come to me” — they included Truman Capote, Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein, and Syd and Annie Solomon. “It was such a rich community.”
The target audience was “women my mother’s age who went to art galleries and had eclectic tastes,” she said. She recycled scarves, kimonos, and other vintage fabrics into tops, tunics, and dresses. “But I also wanted to have something for everybody. So, if you couldn’t find a man’s bathing suit anywhere else, I would sell men’s bathing suits.”
She sold Chinese slippers and workers’ clothing, too, and paper wallets and fans so the local kids would have something to buy. The shop closed in 1986 after 12 years of operation.
Ultimately, Ms. Goff did win her mother’s approval of her art. “She was really tough on me, harder than she would have been on any other artist. Eventually, she saw this wall piece and she said, ‘Oh my god, it’s got your voice. Your voice is in whatever you do, like Picasso.’ I almost fell off my chair,” she recalled. “But I can understand why she was trying to protect me.”
When Ms. Goff took over the gallery, she was criticized for putting her own work in a show, and it stung her. “That kept me from showing for a few years.” Now that artist-owned galleries are more common, it has “changed the way people look at it. Back then, they thought I was compromising my mother’s gallery if I showed myself, so I didn’t, end of story.”
“I didn’t show for a number of years, and then I didn’t curate after I closed the gallery” in 2006. (She sold the property to the Farrell Building Company, which tore down the house and gallery to build its offices.) She organized some shows at the Southampton Inn and worked with Julie Keyes, a fellow gallerist who now has a space in Sag Harbor.
Most recently, she has put together shows at the Children’s Museum of the East End, to provide something for the parents to look at and as another showcase for less-familiar or unknown artists who live and work here.
For the summer, she is planning some exhibitions at the Ezra Gallery at the Center for Jewish Life in Sag Harbor. “It is a beautiful space, with lots of clean white walls and good lighting. The first show will be a landscape show, and it will open the week after Memorial Day. It’s exciting!” she said in a follow-up email last week.
And it will be one of the many things she’ll be involved with this summer.