Richard Segalman loved his mother. Deeply. She owned a millinery shop on 57th St. between 5th and 6th Avenue in New York City. There she sold women’s hats, often of her own design. Today, at the age of 82, Richard still puts hats on many of the women he paints, hardly a coincidence. The bond between mother and son was strong.
Two young Segalman boys and their big-screen beautiful mother lived together in a cramped Coney Island apartment after their father’s early death. 1940s Coney Island was family friendly and Richard only had half a normal family.
He remembers walking along the beach, alone, observing and always drawing. “I wanted to be an artist ever since I can remember. I loved drawing. It’s the only thing that ever felt right.” To a kid who didn’t quite fit in, the world became a theatre. The subways, beaches and city streets were stages to be watched, enjoyed, observed. Standing apart, he came to know people through their gestures and that’s how he painted them.
He fell in love with the black and white movies of the day. Judy Garland. Katherine Hepburn. Clark Gable. Vivien Leigh. Especially Vivien Leigh. Looking back at pictures of his mother, he now understands the attraction.
Then one day he was drawing and listening to the radio. Suddenly his mother came flying from the bedroom, like Scarlett O’Hara theatrically throwing open the door to welcome Rhett Butler home. “That was your father and my favorite song,” She said. “People fall in love differently. Some only fall in love one special time. That’s how I felt about your father.” Richard actually felt the melancholy pass from her to him, as much a gift as her love of beauty. Thanks for everything, mom.
And so, this solitary artist now walks alone along beaches; through the trees near his Woodstock home; and along 11th Ave. past his apartment in the city. He paints, often using only black and white because a friend once told him, “If you add color, you take away from the black and white, not add to it.” Or perhaps he’s still influenced by those old films.
Now, a mature artist, Segalman works in a studio with hats strewn everywhere. Nearby there’s a box of photos he once took from his family’s apartment window showing Vivien Leigh and her husband walking through the streets of New York, on their way to the theatre, again. She was wearing a hat.