'This town has my soul': Richard Segalman, who brought Naples beaches to America, dies at 87
Richard Segalman, whose luminous pastels of Naples beaches charmed collectors and museums around the U.S., has died at age 87.
No cause of death has been reported, but Segalman was suffering from pancreatic cancer and had suffered a massive stroke, according to William Meek, of Harmon-Meek Galleries, his dealer here and a personal friend.
Segalman was a Naples native, born Richard Freschel, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, under his adoptive name. He lived for much of his career in Woodstock, New York. But he began visiting Florida in 1955 and for a while tended bar at the Anchor Bar, a fixture at U.S. 41 and Third Avenue South before it was razed for a CVS Pharmacy.
Segalman, in fact, showed his early charcoal drawings in the bar, which was owned by his aunt and uncle. They sold for $5. (He reminisces about those years in a personal history narrated for the Jewish Historical Society of Southwest Florida; it is available on YouTube.)
Meek struck up a friendship with Segalman and has been carrying Segalman's art for more than 40 years. This week he had been expecting new pieces from the artist, who never stopped work, despite his illness.
Segalman works were carried in the Mary Ryan Gallery in Manhattan as well. A number of prominent museums have his works in their collections, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio.
Segalman, recalled Meek, was meticulous about what he offered.
"If you liked one piece over another it was personal taste, but there was no question about the quality. Everything he sent was high quality," Meek said.
He attracted customers quickly with his confident style, his meditative subject matter and generous strokes. Segalman's pastels and oils were painted in swaths of color. His beach figures were clothed with casual elegance, in flowing skirts or long wraps, invariably ruffled by a breeze.
Nearly all of his figures were of women, and nearly half his output was dedicated to scenes from Naples beaches that evoked a sense of serenity or contemplation. Segalman returned time and again to paint them, framed with buntings of white clouds and sandy shores infused with afternoon sun or hint of a sunset glow.
Segalman also painted scenes from Santa Fe and the Coney Island beach in New York. But he was drawn to the sunlight in Naples, said both Meek and Alice Hoffman, a lifelong friend who both served as a model for Segalman and carried his works in her Woodstock gallery.
"He loved Naples because of its beautiful light. People say he liked to paint women in white, but he was was really painting the light," said Hoffman. Both she and Meek called Segalman a contemporary impressionist.
"This town has my soul," Segalman told the historical society in his video biography. "Walking out on the beach in July .... I had never seen water that color in my life, and the sand.
"There is no place I've ever been that has the feeling of that Naples beach."
"Underneath every great painter is a good draftsman. Richard was an exquisite draftsman, and he loved to draw," Hoffman added. "That, and the light in them, really gave his paintings their structure."
Segalman, who was gay, never married and was not known to have a life partner. But Hoffman recalled Segalman as a man who made "innumerable" friends in every location he painted.
"He was a brilliant artist, and he had a wonderful, wry personality," she said. "He was interested in a lot of things and was a well-read person. He was a interesting person to talk to.
"And he had a wonderful sense of humor, with a little edge."
Despite his mastery of a number of styles, Segalman worried about their acceptance, Meek recalled.
"He was very happy in his life, but he was very nervous about his work," Meek said.
Meek remembered Segalman fretting about his first show of monoprints, technically challenging single prints made by rolling paper over a reverse image painted on a plate. He needn't have worried, Meek said of Segalman, who also worked in oils.
"He was amazing in that he could master four different media and be considered an extremely good artist at all four."
A memorial service is being planned, with no date set yet, at the Woodstock School of the Arts, where Segalman had taught. Hoffman suggested donations be made to the school: woodstockschoolofart.org
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.