Most Fire Islanders know just what a “Kenny” is.
Local artist Kenny Goodman’s unique charms and carvings have helped him make his mark on communities across Fire Island for decades.
In the 1990s, he launched his storefront in Ocean Beach on Evergreen Walk, which became a hidden treasure in the community. He closed up shop in 2017, but his ‘Kennys’ are now making a long-awaited comeback with his new gallery in Ocean Bay Park.
“When the store closed, I was pretty content to be done, but [the people] weren’t content to be done and the demand was still there,” said Goodman, 77, noting the impetus for opening the new store on Bay View Walk, between the fire department and the Ocean Bay Park ferry terminal.
A way to pass the time
The Brooklyn native first discovered his passion for jewelry-making, sculpting and woodwork through his loathing for the beach.
When he was 24, Goodman had just finished college and rented a house in Fair Harbor on Fire Island with a group of friends. He calls it the best time of his life.
The only issue was that he has never been much of a beach person; he found elastic swim shorts uncomfortable and hated getting sand everywhere.
So while his friends turned to the shore, he needed something to pass the time.
Goodman said he was by all means not an artist, but he began carving up large pieces of wood he found by the Fire Island Lighthouse and whittled them into head sculptures, all with different expressions and personalities.
“I would be outside my house pounding — and I always did it outside,” Goodman said. “So, I always had an audience and people going by saying ‘Wow, look at that.'”
Over time, his sculpture making evolved into crafting rings, pendants, necklaces, anklets, hand-carved walking sticks, plaques and much more.
A recurring theme in all his work is to simply “Love Life.”
Inspired by the book “The Little Prince,” Goodman believes in not stressing about numbers or earnings. Further, he emphasizes the value of being courteous, following one’s dreams and not comparing yourself to others.
More than a souvenir
Once introduced to Kenny’s creations, it is hard to not be intrigued, Goodman said.
Most locals, renters, workers, and even day-trippers know about Goodman’s miniature masterpieces on Fire Island.
For example, Goodman said families would often go to dinner at one of the local restaurants in Ocean Beach and notice the server wearing a “Kenny.”
Following their meal, they would mosey on over to Goodman’s gallery to see what it was all about.
Those who venture into Goodman’s shop typically head in to seek out a souvenir, but they end up leaving feeling like they just experienced something special, the artist said.
Visitors are confronted with an array of sterling silver surfboard and longboard charms, each with a different engraving. Smiley faces and peace signs are among the engravings.
Kids usually gravitate towards these types jewelry pieces, Goodman said, and he has been a first-hand witness to some core memories of self-expression for the young shoppers.
“They were mesmerized,” Goodman said, reflecting on these moments at the Ocean Beach shop. “Kids don’t get too much of an opportunity to make their own decisions. You have to learn to know what you like.”
Goodman would put the surfboard of their choice on a black cord or chain, place it around the child’s neck, and have them check themselves out in the mirror.
Parents would come into the store beaming that their child got their very own “Kenny” surfboard.
Past customers still cherish their very first “Kennys” to this day, Goodman said. His jewelry has become a piece of Fire Island history and kindness continues to be a driving force behind his business.
“I’m totally flattered,” Goodman said. “I made a business on being nice, it’s easy for me to be nice first. I don’t think nice guys finish last, it could take you right through.”
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Kenny’s Gallery in Ocean Bay Park
After closing his Ocean Beach gallery and going “nomadic” for a while, Meg Wallace of Wallace Real Estate approached Goodman with an opportunity.
Wallace purchased a building on Bay View Walk around March and she contacted Goodman about an extra space where he could make and sell his jewelry.
He took the offer, has a years long lease, and is just happily “rolling along,” the jeweler said.
“Originally, I was going to sell off what I had left, then I got excited,” he said. “It turned my head. Before you know it, I made 100 surfboards.”
Now comfortably moved into his new digs, Goodman said he would like his Ocean Bay Park location to become more of a gathering space.
“I’d like to involve more artists, just make it a place to hang out,” he said. “Artists have something to say … I am showing people’s work, I’m especially interested in young people and what they do.”
Goodman said he knows that he has earned the reputation of a great craftsman and person on Fire Island.
And his “Kennys” will last for generations to come.”I did enough to feel a great amount of self-respect,” Goodman said.
Top: Kenny Goodman inside his new gallery in Ocean Bay Park.