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Childhood

Artist Akiva Segan was born in Manhattan, New York, 1950.

He was raised in Queens, attending public (state) schools, graduating high school in 1968.

His parents were American, N.Y. born; their parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland, Russia and Lithuania.

He was raised in a non-Orthodox home. He was Bar Mitzvah in a Reform Temple, 1963; this was ten months before President Kennedy was assassinated.

Teens

Not immune to the social upheaval of the mid-to-late 1960’s including massive anti-war protests during the Johnson-Humphrey White House and Vietnam war years, in early June 1968 Segan was a “legal runaway,” age 18, and hitchhiked from Manhattan, N.Y, heading west to N.J., wearing the clothes on his back and with just a few dollars. His last ride, probably a week or so later, from the Grand Canyon, dropped him off, by chance, in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco.

In June 1969, a high school classmate & friend of Segan’s committed suicide. Between late autumn ’68 and early winter ‘69 they’d gotten together several times. That winter, when Segan went to visit the friend, Segan learned the friend, who was not there, had gotten into heroin. A downward spiral ending with the friend taking his life. The tragedy of this young man’s death was one among several reasons why Segan has devoted many years to art making and educational outreach on victims of the Holocaust, of Fascism and of human rights atrocities worldwide.

Years later he wrote of running away and the Haight in an op-ed: My Drug Lessons, pub. May 21, 2001, in The Christian Science Monitor, Boston.

College

At age 22 I moved to Illinois and began college studies as a self-declared art major at Parkland College, then a 2-year junior college, in Champaign, Illinois. I made my first social justice / human rights themed artwork as an original greeting card (inserted in manila envelopes) that I mailed relatives, Dec. 1972, during my first month at college. [see Other Human rights art, 1970’s: Vietnam]

I majored in fine art, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (B.A., Printmaking major, Drawing minor, 1977).

While I was a student in Carbondale I had my first introduction to Poland, beyond the Broadway musical of eastern European Jewish shtetl life of “Fiddler on the Roof.” When I was a teen I’d twice gone with family, including grandparents, to see the musical. Being immersed in being a teenager, the show made no impact on me at the time. Later I saw the wonderful 1971 movie that starred Topol.

Book cover
Book cover: Polish Jewry – The Final ChapterText by Earl Vinecour; Photos by Chuck Fishman

In Carbondale I’d had a few conversations with the SIU-C Hillel (Jewish student center) rabbi Earl Vinecour, of blessed memory. He and an SIU-C Photography major, Chuck Fishman, who I knew from Hillel events, had visited Poland in 1975 and ’76. Their landmark book: Polish Jews – the Final Chapter, was pub. by McGraw Hill, NY, 1977.

Pre-publication photo excerpts of the book were published in the Hillel newspaper at the campus, which was edited by Vinecour.

Photo essay
Photo essay: The Last Chapter of Polish Jewry, published in Kol Shalom, the Hillel newspaper, SIU-Carbondale, 1976. Special thanks to SIU-C alumnus and photographer Chuck Fishman

During my last summer in Carbondale a Cinema & Photography dept major, Yoram Joshua, of Israel, made my sculpting a wood carving the subject of his senior thesis film. His documentary, The Eternal Jew, is not to be confused with the Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda hate film of the same name: Der Ewige Jude in German.

A shortened, edited 10 min. version of the film is on Youtube: The Eternal Jew – Making of A Sculpture © (short version) ’77 Yoram Joshua film with artist A.K.Segan

A 2 min. 9 sec. video of an SIU-C architecture professor talking, in 2014, about an etching Segan made when he was a junior at SIU, 1976. The etching is in the collection of Morris Library at SIU-C: “SIU-Carbondale architec. prof. Jon Davey: SIU-C art alum A.K. Segan’s ’76 Morris Library etching

Graduate Studies

Book cover of Night, by Elie WieselI attended my first year of grad school at Washington University, St. Louis, then transferred to the University of Missouri, Columbia campus. A recollection: “In 1978 I made my first major artistic response to the Holocaust, fueled by the foolishness of youth: coffee and cigarettes (otherwise known as “a soldier’s breakfast”). I drew and painted all night long and had a completed artwork at sunrise. The artwork: Auschwitz – The Dead Will be Avenged – Halt! Stój! (see Other Segan art), was inspired by my having read “Night” by Elie Wiesel.”

The Columbia Missourian, Sep. 7, 1979, article by M.L. Caprino, photo by Nick Lammers © The Columbia Missourian

A ceramics major and I were the first M.F.A. graduates at the University of Missouri, Columbia campus, School of Art, summer 1980.

Travels

A Seattle resident since 1980, like most artists worldwide I worked another job to support m art career. I am now job retired from 29 years as a public library clerk.

I spent six weeks in Poland, 1984, with the summer Art course (Landscape as a Source of Artistic Inspiration) for foreigners. There were about 15 people in the course, mainly Americans, a Canadian and two Britons. The summer courses for foreigners, which included academic subjects at the Jagiellonian, were the first since the Solidarity movement was crushed a few years prior.

That summer in Poland, the country which Segan describes as the world’s largest Jewish graveyard, unconsecrated, per the gas chambers at Nazi death camps, e.g. Auschwitz, Sobibor, Majdanek, et al, led to a major change in the direction of his art. He began doing artistic responses that autumn, including 2 major artworks, Homage to Pawiak Prison, Warsaw, 1984 (dismantled 2010), and Elie’s Sin. [See Other Holocaust art, 1980’s]

A 5 min. video Segan made in 2012 of his talking about a landscape drawing he drew on a hillside in Poland, August 1984.

He returned to Poland, summer ’85, for a month long Polish Jewish Relations course at the Jagiellonian University.

In 1987 Segan spent five months as International Artist-in-Residence, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Scotland. He drew; and tried his best to comprehend the local Aberdonian dialect.

A 3 min. video (footage from 2014, 2015) of a drawing he had drawn, outdoors, of seaside castle ruins south of Aberdeen, 1987.

Under the Wings

In late 1991 Segan made the first drawing of what became the Under the Wings art series. In early 1992 he did the second drawing and the series was borne. Called Under the Wings of G-d for years, in 2013 or ’14 Segan he shortened the title to Under the Wings.

Inspired by Israel Bernbaum (1921-1993) a Polish Jewish survivor and immigrant who took up art in middle age (My Brother’s Keeper: The Holocaust through the Eyes of an Artist, pub. 1985 by Putnam, NY) in spring 1994 Segan assembled slides of Bernbaum’s art and his own art and presented his first slide class. The class interwove art from My Brother’s Keeper and Under the Wings of G-d. Bernbaum, who lived in Queens, N.Y., and Segan exchanged letters in 1992.

Since 1994 Segan has guest taught in five U.S. states, England, Scotland, Wales and Israel. Presentation sites have included numerous schools and colleges/universities; art museums/galleries; houses of worship; 2 prisons in Wash. state; worksites; libraries; social service agencies; and Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust learning center.

Akiva holding the drawing "Jerusalem Mosaic"
Akiva, Jerusalem, 2007, with the drawing Jerusalem Mosaic. [see Other Human Rights Art for background text on the drawing]. Photo by Gwen Thompson, Scottish Guesthouse (Jerusalem) manager at the time.

A 6 min. 21 sec video of bits of his Drawing-for-Healing workshop with 3 primary school classes, pupils ages 10 – 11, Scotland, 2015.

Writing

In addition to the Christian Science Monitor column (see above), Segan’s op-eds on a variety of topics have been published in five Seattle newspapers and in The Columbia Missourian.

Two Segan-penned op-eds published in 2017:

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