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"I went in the barn, took a piece of chestnut. I'll start with an animal, I thought a sheep, can't go wrong with a sheep. I started carving and so far, I never stopped."
-George Papashvily, on creating his first piece of sculpture
Georgian (former USSR) born sculptor George Papashvily succeeded both as a sculptor and as an author. Both careers came naturally to him. He co-wrote, with his wife Helen, humorous books often based on his life experiences. Their first book, Anything Can Happen, a tale of George's experiences as an immigrant in America (1922), was made into a movie in 1952, and translated into fifteen languages.
With no formal training, Papashvily began carving sculpture in his early forties. He first worked with literal representations but soon developed a signature style that was a combination of both naive and modern. He carved directly on wood and on stone, sculpting free standing figures and bas relief. His favorite subjects came from nature: animals, insects, flowers and, on occasion, a human figure. His sculpture commissions included many libraries in Pennsylvania and in California, where the Papashvily's lived in the winter, as well as for Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. He exhibited widely in solo exhibitions and with painters who were his friends.
Portrait of George Papashvily by Ben Solowey, 1962. James A. Michener Art Museum archives.
Education and Training
Apprentice to harness and sword maker in Russia, 1907
Teachers and Influences
In the summer of 1939, Papashvily was inspired to sculpt after a breakfast conversation with friends discussing all the training necessary to become a sculptor. He explains, "If you could see an animal why couldn't you make it?" He left the breakfast table and started carving.
In the 1940s, Papashvily assisted sculptor Aaron Ben-Shmuel in Uhlerstown, carrying stone for him. Papashvily became interested in sculpting and began carving in wood and stone.
George and his wife, Helen Waite Papashvily, bought Ertoba, a farm near Quakertown, in 1935. They bought it in George's words "with no money and less sense." The couple's experience in buying and settling at Ertoba farm is vividly accounted for in their book Anything Can Happen. George farmed the land himself for many years. The Papashvilys became friends with artists in the area including Ben Solowey, Arthur Meltzer and Paulette Van Roekens Meltzer. They were also part of the Bucks County writers colony from 1939 to 1978. George Papashvily executed sculpting commissions for local libraries. He exhibited his work at the Bucks County Courthouse, Phillips' Mill Community Association and at the Rodman House. He was also associated with the Lehigh Valley Art Alliance. The Papashvilys wintered in Cambria, California.
Colleagues and Affiliations
His wife and co-author, Helen Waite Papashvily; painters Arthur Meltzer, Ben Solowey (long time friend); Ferol and William A. Smith
In the 1940s, he assisted sculptor Aaron Ben-Shmuel by moving large stones for the sculptor.
Major Solo Exhibitions
Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1951, 1962
Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1953
Woodmere Art Gallery (now Woodmere Art Museum), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1964
Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1964-1965
Scripps College, California, 1966
Pomona Library, California, 1966
Rosemont College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1968
Reading Museum and Art Gallery, Reading, Pennsylvania, 1970
Retrospective Show, William Penn Memorial Museum, 1971
Kemerer Museum, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1979
Major Group Exhibitions
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1958, 1960, 1964
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
National Academy of Design, New York, New York
Detroit Institute of Fine Arts, Detroit, Michigan
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia
Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Public Library, Baltimore, Maryland
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Three Animals, commissioned by Bucks County Commissioners and the Bucks County Council of the Arts, 1975, displayed at Bucks County Courthouse, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, c. 1976-1989
Novels and Short Stories
All co-authored with Helen Waite Papashvily:
Anything Can Happen, 1945, made into a movie starring Jose Ferrer and Kim Hunter, 1952
Yes and No Stories: A Collection of Georgian Folktales, 1946
Thanks to Noah, 1951
Dogs and People, 1954
Russian Cooking, 1970
Home, and Home Again, 1973
Beauty in Stone, documentary film on his methods and his technique, made by Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan
Affiliations and Memberships
Lehigh Valley Art Alliance
Philadelphia Art Alliance
Philadelphia Chapter of Artists Equity