Marshall Segall art show at West Tisbury Library


He is a retired academic, a smiling scholar with the warmth and pleasant manner of the nicest neighbor on the road.

Marshall Segall is a former associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, professor emeritus of Social and Political Psychology at Syracuse University, former president for the Interdisciplinary Society for Cross-Cultural Research, and a lecturer and author of more than 10 books including “Cross-Cultural Psychology: Human Behavior in Global Perspective.”

Since 2002, when he and his wife Sally moved to their West Tisbury home as year-round residents, Mr. Segall has served as chairman of the Up-Island Regional School Committee, and became a fisherman (he goes out in best friend Richard Cascarino’s boat). Most recently, Marshall Segall has become a watercolor artist.

“I can’t imagine anywhere else providing the range of possible activities,” he says of the Island life he clearly enjoys.

This Friday, January 7, at 4 pm, his month-long show, Vineyard Signs and Then Some, opens at the West Tisbury Library, featuring about a dozen of his watercolor paintings — Vineyard and Saratoga, New York signs along with some still lifes.

In 2009, he joined Nancy Cabot’s Friday afternoon watercolor painting group at Howes House, where he laughingly notes, he is the only male among about 10 women, “which makes it kind of fun because I feel like I’m in the ladies’ locker room…I’m sure I’m learning things I’m not supposed to know.”

He wants it understood that it is a painting group, not a class. “Nancy doesn’t teach; she guides,” he says. “She is non-directive, and very non-intrusive. When asked for advice, she is soft and gently helpful.”

Ms. Cabot sets up still lifes, “but every so often I wander off on my own,” Mr. Segall says. He began painting Island signs he felt were whimsical: The posted signs on the side of the Howes House (on display at Howes House), Alley’s General Store (in a private collection), the gallery sign outside Dragonfly on Dukes County Avenue, a sign by a State Road paint store welcoming President Obama, signs outside Middletown Nursery, the M.V. Public Charter School, Field Gallery, and a banner announcing a summer Ice Cream Festival.

All have Mr. Segall’s innate design sense, an eye for detail, and a sense of color that dots across the watercolor paper canvas like confetti.

Although he is a frequent international lecturer, he is not at all nonchalant about his art show at the library. “It’s very exciting just to know that people are going to see it,” he admits.

“It’s just like when you write a book. It isn’t real until somebody tells you they’ve read it, and the fact that they have a reaction,” he says.

He sits at the dining room table in his cozy, multi-level home surrounded by eclectic art, much of it obtained during his travels. He lived and taught at Makerere University in Uganda, helping create its psychology department, and writing “Human Behavior in Global Perspective.” In the 1960s, he helped the late John and Beatrice Whiting find the site in Kenya where they established a child development research center.

He is relaxed and speaks with candor about this weekend’s show of his artwork: “You’re exposing yourself, putting yourself out there and taking the risk of being laughed at. You’re never sure if what you’ve done is going to mean anything to anybody else. Painting is such a new form of expression for me… What if in fact, it’s silly and doesn’t deserve even to be put in a frame and hung up? You don’t know. So I find it kind of risk-taking behavior.”

He continues, “I’ve been a writer for 50 years, and I’m very confident when I write. I don’t worry that people will disagree with me — I know that people will disagree with me because I am often and usually deliberately provocative. I write about things that are very important and I take the position that I believe is right, but that I know is not popular. So I’m confident that people will disagree. But I’m also confident that I’ve said what I sincerely believe needs to be said.” He has recently published a Kindle book: “What ARE We Talking About When We Talk About ‘Race?'”

And he asks, “Why do you write? Why do you paint? Why do you do anything if not hoping to connect, to communicate to another human being?”

Artist’s Reception with Marshall Segall, Friday, Jan. 7, 4 pm, West Tisbury Library. Vineyard Signs and Then Some runs through January. 508-693-3366.