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Born in 1924 in New York City, George Segal moved to New Jersey with his family in 1940. After graduating from Pratt Institute he taught high school art, then operated a chicken farm until 1958 when he began to paint. In 1960 Segal shifted to sculpture and developed an unusual casting method of wrapping a person in plaster-soaked bandages. After drying, the resulting cast was opened, removed, and reassembled as sculpture. Friends and family were the models for these early works. In 1971 Segal changed his method, using the plaster "shells" as molds to create sculpture that is more realistic, even employing color to establish mood and to heighten the viewer's awareness of the interplay between art and the appearance of reality.
Segal's dramatic sculptural settings and tableaux rely on both the figure and the commonplace object, such as a chair in Girl Putting on an Earring. Segal "environments" often incorporate elements associated with everyday life--a bus stop, a lunch counter, or a gas station--in an effort to capture a specific emotion, memory, or moment in time. His Depression Bread Line, created for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., depicts a line of people in hats and coats against a bleak brick wall, conveying the solemn mood of the 1930s. George Segal died in New Jersey in 2000.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art.]