In love with art, Marin man never at a loss for new ideas

Retired from his career in engineering, Enrique Goldenberg now devotes himself to the arts. His home in verdant Lucas Valley is a testament to his talent, versatility and passion.

The front entrance offers just a hint of what’s to come: the abstract metal sculptures by the walkway, the stained-glass double doors, the fused-glass mezuzah.

Inside the open-beamed home (which, incidentally, he designed himself) is a profusion of artwork: paintings, curly metal mobiles, decorative platters and chanukiahs, whimsical figurines and sculptures, standing lamps, more mezuzahs, and a broad expanse of stained-glass windows.

Enrique Goldenberg at work in his studio

Goldenberg, who grew up in a tiny but tight-knit Jewish community in his native Chile, also collects and displays art, including several pieces from Israel, where he has visited eight times. Several brightly patterned throws — all knit by his wife, Jovi, a retired biochemist — adorn couches and cover beds.

Downstairs, Goldenberg’s 1,100-square-foot workshop is jammed with woodworking equipment, a kiln, stretched canvasses in various stages of completion, cut glass, and miscellaneous works in progress. A small room upstairs holds finished pieces ready for sale.

Yes, occasionally Goldenberg, who turns 76 in May, sells a piece or two — if nothing else, just to cover the cost of materials, he says.

He also does commissioned works and is a longtime participant in Marin Open Studios, during which area artists open their homes and studios to visitors. Goldenberg will display some pieces May 5 and 6 in San Rafael.

The artist, who taught college-level physics and electrical engineering in Chile, got his first taste of American life when he and his wife studied from 1966 to 1968 at U.C. Berkeley on scholarships. Though they returned to Chile, they found the pace too slow after living here, he says. They moved to the Bay Area in 1970, their 9- and 10-year-old children in tow.

A chemical, mechanical and civil engineer with an MBA, Goldenberg worked for Bechtel, mostly sidelining his lifelong interest in art until he retired in 1999. He began taking arts and crafts classes in one medium after another, focusing not so much on the “how to” but rather on the why. “I wanted to understand the process,” he explains.

Glass, for example, has a number of physical properties that he wanted to explore in order to create fused-glass pieces. Working with metal also fascinates him, so he studied cutting and welding.

“I wanted to learn and I wanted to do,” he says.

He creates at his own pace, fashioning designs in his head. “I can take a month thinking about a piece,” he says, “but the execution can go really fast.” He seldom sketches things out, only putting pencil to paper when he needs to create full-size drawings for, say, a stained-glass window or screen.

His pieces range from the practical — such as dishwasher-safe glass dinnerware or a “matzah plate” that exactly fits one cracker sheet — to his “canival” figures made of discarded cans.

As a child, Goldenberg helped pay for his education selling wooden plates he painted and sold door-to-door in the small village in which he grew up.

Goldenberg stands next to the mezuzah he made for his home.

His father, a Russian émigré, was a “peddler” who also sold things door-to-door.

“We were a very close community back in Chile,” Goldenberg remembers, his accent still strong. “There were maybe 20 Jewish families. Most of my friends were Jewish.” There was no synagogue, but the cluster of Jews would celebrate the holidays and hold services in people’s homes. His father read the Torah, taught his son Hebrew and helped him prepare for his bar mitzvah

When the Goldenberg family moved to San Rafael, he and his wife became active at Congregation Rodef Sholom, where he served on the board and religious committee, and she joined efforts on behalf of Soviet Jews. They no longer belong to the synagogue but still frequent the Osher Marin JCC and often travel across the bay, where his daughter and her Israeli American husband live, for religious holidays. His two local grandchildren attended El Cerrito’s Tehiyah Day School, and Goldenberg still opens his studio to Tehiyah students to teach them art. Those preparing for their b’nai mitzvah create their own mezuzahs.

Goldenberg first started making mezuzahs for doorways after failing to find one he liked for his own home in area Judaica shops. “I thought, I can do better myself,” he recalls.

Ditto for the chanukiah.

Guests to his home take notice of his work, and sometimes purchase Judaica for themselves and as gifts, he says. Goldenberg also crafts seder plates, challah plates and Rosh Hashanah dipping platters with removable honey cups.

He never runs out of ideas for new projects. “I have tried almost everything, just to see if I can do it,” he says.

As for his favorite media, he thinks for a moment, then says, “It depends on my mood. Sometimes I really like stained glass, sometimes paint. … I cycle, I’m not tied to one thing.

“I’m not afraid of doing anything,” he adds. “That’s something I used to teach my kids. Don’t be afraid of anything.”

Marin Open Studios
takes place May 5, 6, 12 and 13, Sculpture and fused glass by Enrique Goldenberg will be on display 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 5 and 6 at Crome Architecture, 905 Fourth St., San Rafael. Goldenberg will display a Rosh Hashanah plate and honey cup at the Corte Madera Town Center, space 325, where one work by each participating artist will be exhibited April 28-May 13.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.