Biography and History

George Segal was born on November 26, 1924, in the Bronx, New York, the second son of two Jewish immigrants established as kosher butchers. Segal spent his youth in New York City and developed a keen interest in the pursuit of art while attending local schools and colleges. He studied the subject until 1942 when his older brother was drafted as a result of the United States entering World War II. Segal joined his family in South Brunswick, New Jersey where they had re-located in 1940, dividing his time between learning the trade of a chicken farmer and supplementing his education part-time.

After his marriage in 1946 to Helen Segal (nee Steinberg), he returned to school in New York City in order to continue his already established interest in the fine arts. New York was a milieu of influence for the young artist as the heady environment of Abstract Expressionism began to give rise to a younger generation of artists. Segal joined his fellows both in New York and at nearby Rutgers University in developing, expanding and participating in what became the Pop, Fluxus, and Op movements of the late 1950s and 1960s.

Having begun his artistic life as a painter, Segal was frustrated by the medium and his inability to express concepts of space and reality in daily life through heavy and often dogmatic abstraction. He began to experiment with armature sculpture in the summer of 1958, between posts as an educator. It was not until 1961 and a much-storied experience with plaster-impregnated bandages that Segal found his medium in live-cast plaster sculptures.

Segal's success in exhibiting at the Hansa, Reuben, Green, and Sidney Janis Galleries allowed him to support his family entirely on his own art by 1964. After completing his Masters of Fine Arts at Rutgers University in 1963, he began to exhibit and produce sculpture full-time. He had purchased property in 1949 in order to establish his own farm near that of his father's and built a 300-foot long chicken coop divided into ten rooms, with space for a few thousand hens. These coops would become his studio and gallery spaces for the duration of his career which, coupled with the environment of his family farm, became not only a hallmark of Segal's artistic activity but of the intimate and friendly atmosphere intrinsic to the man.

Segal continued to sculpt through the 1970s, experimenting with new materials and forms such as bas-reliefs, fragments, and an internal casting method using hydrostone that came to define his later work. In 1976, Segal created his first public commission of a work in bronze, a turning point in his career that would bring much attention and publicity to his bronzes, both public and privately commissioned, from that point on. Segal became famous both for those public works that engendered great controversy, such as Abraham and Isaac – In Memory of May 4, 1970 located at Princeton University, as well as those works so significant that they became known on a national level, as in the case of the sculptures created for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Segal returned to drawing and sketching in the 1980s and 1990s, also taking time to experiment with small projects and becoming active in certain organizations. In the early 1980s Segal began a serious pursuit of fine photography, documenting those environments in New York and New Jersey that had influenced the creation of many of his sculptural environments. These pursuits, old and new, continued along with his sculpting until 1999. George Segal died on June 9, 2000 at the age of 75. He was survived by his wife Helen and their two children, Jeffrey and Rena.

Education

Fall 1941 - Spring 1942

Cooper Union School of Art

Fall 1942 - 1946

Rutgers University (part-time)

Fall 1947 - Spring 1948

Pratt Institute of Design

Fall 1948 - Spring 1949

New York University

Fall 1961 - Spring 1963

Rutgers University (Master of Fine Arts)

Awards and Honors

1970

Doctor of Fine Arts, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ

1979

Award of Excellence, Cheltenham (PA) Art Center

1984

Doctor of Humane Letters, Kean College of New Jersey, Union, NJ

1985

Visual Arts Award, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, NY

1986

The Mayer Sultzberger Award, The Jewish Museum, New York, NY

Israel Cultural Award from the State of Israel Bonds, New York, NY

Israel Achievement Award from World Zionist Organization/American Zionist Organization, New York, NY

1987

Hall of Fame/Rutgers Achievement Award, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ

The Governor's Walt Whitman Creative Arts Award, State of New Jersey, Trenton, NJ

1988

Alumni Achievement Award from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY

National Arts Club Artist Award, New York, NY

1991

Distinguished Alumnus Award from New York University, New York, NY

Order of Andres Bello, First Class from The Republic of Venezuela, Caracas, Venezuela

1992

Visual Arts Award from New Jersey Center for Visual Arts, Summit, NJ

Doctor of Fine Arts from the State University of New York at Purchase, Purchase, NY

International Lifetime Achievement Award for Sculpture from the International Sculpture Center, Washington D.C.

New Jersey Pride Award for Outstanding Contribution to the State of New Jersey

1994

Doctor of Fine Arts, Massachusetts College of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

1997

Praemium Imperiale Award, Tokyo, Japan

1999

National Medal of Arts. Washington D.C.

Awards and Honors Chronology adapted from information provided courtesy of The George and Helen Segal Foundation.

Source: From the finding aid for C1303

  • George Segal Papers. 1970-1999 (bulk), 1936-2010 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C1303

    Business files, correspondence, photographs, artwork, writings, and clippings of George Segal (1924-2000), 20th-century American sculptor, artist, and photographer active from the late 1950s until 1999. The papers contain photographs taken by and of the artist, correspondence and all business files relating to exhibitions, records of the production of public commissions, writings by and about Segal, audio and visual media, and exhibition catalogs.

  • George Segal Papers. 1970-1999 (bulk), 1936-2010 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C1303

    Business files, correspondence, photographs, artwork, writings, and clippings of George Segal (1924-2000), 20th-century American sculptor, artist, and photographer active from the late 1950s until 1999. The papers contain photographs taken by and of the artist, correspondence and all business files relating to exhibitions, records of the production of public commissions, writings by and about Segal, audio and visual media, and exhibition catalogs.