Born: November 26, 1924, in New York City
Died: June 9, 2000, in South Brunswick, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2023: Arts & Letters
George Segal didn’t just invent a new art form, he perfected it. He worked in a converted chicken coop on a Middlesex County poultry farm.
The son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Segal spent his early years in The Bronx, where his parents ran a butcher shop. The family later moved to New Jersey, where they started a poultry farm. Segal helped out on the farm, and returned to New York to study art at Pratt University , Cooper Union, and New York University, where he earned a teaching degree in 1949. During this period he began to paint and develop influential contacts in the New York art world.
While still a student, Segal met his future wife, Helen. They married and bought their own poultry farm in New Jersey, where they would live the rest of their lives. To supplement their modest income from the farm, Segal taught art and English at a local high school and at Rutgers University. He continued to paint, and in 1957 his work was included in a major exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York: “ Artists of the New York School: Second Generation”.
Segal was developing a reputation in New York and the art world came to his farm. In 1957, the term “ happenings” was coined to describe the art performances that happened there.
In 1961 , Segal began experimenting with the use of plaster bandages applied directly to a human body. With the help of his wife, he made body casts and assembled them into full figures set in real environments. “ Man Sitting at Table” was a turning point in the artist’s career.
He converted his chicken coop in to an art studio. Segal cast human models – friends, family, and sometimes famous individuals like Israeli diplomat Abba Eban and Norris Mailer, wife of novelist Norman Mailer. In a 2014 interview the New Jersey Monthly, Segal’s daughter , Rena Segal, describes her father’s artistic process . “Dad dipped surgical plaster bandages in warm water, placed on models .
The hardened , rough textured Segal molds became life sized figures , left in their original white. Figures were set in real life poses : waiting for a bus or seated in a diner The environments were created using found objects, a park bench or an old chair, He cast some works in bronze or added color.
He became known as part of the pop -art movement along with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Segal’s work is warm and personal. Many of his best-known pieces are installed in public places, notably “Street Crossin”, seven standing figures outside the Alexander Kasser Theatre at Montclair University, which also is home to The George Segal gallery.