On a recent, not-quite-scorching June afternoon, like a giant coming out from his cave, Brad Goldberg slowly emerges from the ramshackle tin workshop on the banks of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. Goldberg is a large man with meaty hands that are usually cut up and calloused from shaping rocks the size of Volkswagens. He sits in the shade of a cedar elm on a bench made of unpolished limestone, leans on a thick slab table made of the same, and talks about how he got here.
The waterfall at Sonny Bryan’s in the West End is the only thing that remains from Goldberg’s first major project in Dallas about 20 years ago. Richard Chase, a 1960s hippie-holdout film producer from California, wanted to open a restaurant called Oasis, and he wanted a garden that would remind people of the South of France. Goldberg, relatively new to Dallas and fresh out of school at the time, got the project because the other landscape architects Chase contacted were “too normal.” Oasis didn’t last, but the waterfall did.
Since then, Goldberg has become Dallas’ most famous artist you’ve never heard of, with large works scattered all over the city and even bigger projects worldwide. Recently, he put the finishing touches on Foundation, the courtyard of the new federal building in Oklahoma City. A group of artists and architects from the government’s Design Excellence Program handpicked Goldberg to build it. For his relative obscurity outside the local arts community, he’s partly to blame. He’s a self-described loner, too shy to draw attention to himself. “I’m the worst marketer there could ever be,” he says.
When he was little, Goldberg’s parents moved around a lot. He was born in Oklahoma City but grew up in Denver, Houston, and upstate New York. His interests were similarly rootless, until he sat at a potter’s wheel and discovered that he was a natural. While other high school students struggled with step one of throwing pots—centering the clay—Goldberg was shaping, molding, and making art. “It made me feel so good to create something,” he says, “for the first time in my life.”
Goldberg went on to graduate with degrees in sculpture and landscape architecture from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, not because he wanted to be a landscape architect but because he wanted the knowledge that landscape architects had. He’s always been comfortable in the gray areas between “artist” and “landscape architect.”
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One thing he knew he didn’t want to be was “employee.” “I didn’t want to work in an office. Let’s put it that way,” he says. In 1978 he loaded his tools, clothes, and books into his Subaru station wagon and headed to Marble Falls, where he worked at a granite company. A year later, after hearing news that Dallas was booming, he loaded up the car again. He’s been here ever since.
Word of mouth spread about the artist slash landscape architect slash sculptor who works on time, under budget, and has fun doing so. One project led to another, which led to another.
“To tell you the truth, I can’t remember half the stuff I’ve done,” Goldberg says. He guesses the number of major works is between 40 and 50.
Notable among them is Pegasus Plaza, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this October. But there’s also Mimi’s Garden at the Dallas Arboretum. The lobby of the Crescent. The floor of the Dallas Convention Center. The Prince of Peace Catholic Community in Plano. The Garden of Learning at Mountain View College in Oak Cliff. A handful of DART rail stations downtown. (Goldberg has curated the DART stations for nearly a decade.) He’s currently working on the centerpiece for the Civic Plaza in Allen as well as sculptural cisternae at Montgomery Farm in Allen and two terrazzo floors beneath the people movers at DFW Airport’s Terminal E.
Elsewhere, Goldberg has worked on an entire city block in Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Lowertown. A centerpiece at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. The entrance to the Memphis Public Library. The entrance to a high-tech think tank in Hamamatsu, Japan. He’s currently going back and forth from his home here in Dallas to Italy to work on a project for the Miami airport. He’s been helping acclaimed artist James Turrell with his “Roden Crater” project for five years, and there’s also his project in Scotland that’s at eight years and counting.
Soon, you may be able to keep track of Goldberg’s projects on his web site. The world’s worst marketer says he’s working on one. “To get everyone off my back.”