VALLEJO - A commemorative plaque will be installed in Vallejo this weekend to commemorate arts icons Cleven “Goodie” Goudeau, a pioneering Black cartoonist, and Jeanette McCree-Goudeau, his wife and business partner, who were fixtures of the Vallejo community for over a decade.
The plaque will be installed outside of Ethnic Notions Gallery at 930 Marin St. during a ceremony Sunday at 2 p.m. A QR code on the plaque will link to information about the couple on the Vallejo Art and Architecture website and include a brief video about Goudeau’s life.
Goudeau grew up in Oakland. His cartooning career began when he was caught drawing on boxes where he worked at the Naval Supply Center and was recruited to draw cartoons for U.S. Navy publications. He went on to have work published in the Oakleaf newspaper and Playboy magazine.
Goudeau broke ground with his “Goodie Cards” line of African American-themed greeting cards in 1962. McCree-Goudeau made the business viable as bookkeeper, business manager and sales representative.
It didn’t occur to Goudeau to draw African-American characters until he met Oakland cartoonist Morrie Turner, creator of the multi-ethnic comic strip “Wee Pals.” Goudeau secured funding from banker Herman Miller and purchased Onyx Publishing in New Jersey in 1963. Goodie Cards were produced from there until 1974.
The couple’s eldest daughter Brendalynn Goodall recalls that they were “hit with tons of racism, but it was through their resilience and determination that they became successful.”
Goudeau had difficulty getting his cards printed. He was denied bank loans. Drugstores refused to carry the cards because they thought nobody would buy cards that said “Black is Beautiful” or “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
But before Goodie Cards were available Black people bought cards with white characters and colored them in with a brown crayon. Hallmark didn’t catch up to Goudeau until they launched the “Mahogany” greeting card line in 1987.
The couple moved to New York City, where McCree-Goudeau worked as bookkeeper and business manager for the Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art, a theater company founded by actress Hazel Bryant in the “spirit of the Harlem Renaissance.” Goudeau excelled as art director at the McCann-Erickson advertising agency, where he won an award for directing Coca Cola’s “Thirst Busters” ad.
Goudeau and McCree-Goudeau were founding members of The Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship in Harlem. The institute launched in 1994 and taught youth ages 13-21 about business and finance, computers, publishing and graphic design.
In the early 2000s, they moved to Vallejo to care for McCree-Goudeau’s ailing aunt. There, they became pivotal members of the arts community. McCree-Goudeau was on the Board of Directors of the Vallejo Artists’ Guild, which operated out of the same suite as her husband’s studio. She opened the McCree-Goudeau Gallery at the site when the guild moved out in 2008.
The gallery was a hub of artistic activity where art shows and community gatherings were held. Goudeau taught children's art classes and mentored individual artists both young and old.
Artist, director and filmmaker TJ Walkup, who is fundraising to make a full-length documentary about Goudeau, says meeting him “was like uncovering a diamond in your yard.” The two became friends when Goudeau rented an art studio next to Walkup’s studio in the early 2000s.
Goudeau was cataloging his work saying, “My sun is setting.” Walkup looked at the catalog and told Goudeau, “I think you might be a historic artist.” Walkup says he learned about filmmaking in part because of Goudeau. “My first camera was purchased with the thought in mind ‘I'm gonna make a documentary about this guy.’”
Goudeau died in 2015 at 83, leaving his wife, four daughters and a grandson. McCree-Goudeau died unexpectedly in 2018 at 81.
Goudeau’s work is archived at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland. The collection includes documents like Goudeau’s report cards and personnel evaluations as well as his greeting cards and artwork.
The McCree-Goudeau Gallery in Vallejo is now the site of Ethnic Notions, a multicultural bookstore and fine art gallery. Proprietor Rozalind Sinnamon-Johnson remembers fondly the day she found Goudeau waiting for her at her store.
She first opened Ethnic Notions in Benicia in 1996 “because there was nothing in Solano County that was having any kind of culture at all.” Tired of driving to Oakland and Berkeley to buy culturally relevant books for her children, she opened her own combination fine art gallery and bookstore that specializes in children’s books.
The Vallejo Times-Herald featured Ethnic Notions in an article that attracted a lot of people, “most of them trying to sell me stuff,” Sinnamon-Johnson said. Goudeau was one of the few who bought something, a book for his grandson. He introduced himself and invited her to his studio to see his work, and a friendship was born. “I recognized the cards because his cards were the first cards that I bought as a very young teenager,” Sinnamon-Johnson said. “I was impressed.”
Sinnamon-Johnson remembers McCree-Goudeau as “a very elegant, beautiful woman who had the same taste in art and jewelry as I.”
Sinnamon-Johnson invites anyone who owns a piece of Goudeau’s artwork to bring it to display in the gallery during Sunday’s ceremony. “We would love to have a representation of some of the artwork that he created.”
Goodall says she learned determination, resilience and progressivism from her parents, as well as the importance of giving back to the community. “One of the things I've learned was how important it is to be represented,” she said. “If you're not going to be at the table, they don't hear you.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jeanette McCree-Goudeau.
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Cleven "Goodie" Goudeau
- Jeanette McGree-Goudeau
- Vallejo Art and Architecture
- Brendalynn Goodall
- Goodie Cards
- TJ Walkup
- African American Museum and Library at Oakland
- Ethnic Notions
- Rozalind Sinnamon-Johnson
- Vallejo Times-Herald
Gretchen Zimmermann started volunteering with Vallejo Open Studios in 2010, launched the Vallejo Arts and Entertainment website in 2014 and creates mixed media sculpture at Mare Island Art Studios.
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