Artist, religious leader mixes media, meditation on canvas

Together, Natan and Joseph Segal founded Shabbos Shul of Marin 18 years ago, enjoying a large following as they sang and led monthly Shabbat services.

Then, after Joseph's paralyzing, near-fatal accident seven years ago, Natan became his brother's principal caregiver, supervising his rehabilitation.

And when his brother moved to Jerusalem, to live near the rest of the family, Natan shut himself away for hours at a time to communicate with God and perfect his brush strokes.

Late last month he opened the doors to Natan's Gallery and Studio at 128-1/2 Greenfield Ave., San Anselmo, to show the results of his time spent in contemplative painting.

He's crafted pictures in oils, ink, chalk, pastels, fluorescent. One of his favorites titled "God is in Charge" is a rainbow of acrylic, enamel, phosphorescent, glitter and other mixed media.

"It's very bright, it sparkles," he said. "Painting for me is an adventure in color and form."

It's also a way to meditate and pray. "My mind stills and I'm just in a whole other place of being, co-creator with my Creator."

Segal, a cantor and healer who was ordained as a rabbi at P'nai Or in Philadelphia, will host Thursday evening receptions from 6 to 9 p.m. through July 27 at the gallery.

The receptions, he hopes, will encourage "ideas for being alive in this world, and how we can be more humane, kind and have fun together, how we can build on those things that don't seem to work and how we can work on changing them or letting them go."

Segal himself has been grappling with change. In 1988, Cantor Joseph Segal, then 42, suffered severe head trauma and paralysis on the right side of his body after a car collision in Jamaica. He was in a coma for nearly six months and had to learn how to speak again.

Natan Segal, a trained therapist, worked full-time rehabilitating him till he left for Jerusalem.

"He's still in a wheelchair," said Segal. "His singing voice has not come back to his full capacity, but he's made tremendous progress. He's back with us. His reasoning capacity and intelligence are back. His short- and long-term memory are functioning."

In some ways, Segal was professionally prepared for his brother's crisis. He is a certified massage therapist and studied acupuncture, physical and occupational therapy before his sibling was hurt.

Yet, he added, sometimes care-providing means knowing more than "which bones to press, which tissues to stretch. Often when people are in pain, what [they] want is to be held. Sometimes the awesomeness of life itself leaves us speechless."

Until shortly before the accident, Natan Segal conducted monthly services with his brother at Tiburon's Community Congregation Church. Today, he conducts services alone on Pesach, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at Strawberry Recreation Center in Mill Valley.

He hopes his brother will join him this year for High Holy Days. Afterward, in October, the gallery owner plans to begin a performance art event to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).

In the piece titled "The Psalmist," Segal will "treat prayer and praise as a job. I'm going to be singing, playing music, celebrating and offering prayers to God from 9 to 5." Segal said he will begin in Marin, then in February take the project to King David's Tomb in Jerusalem.

"Being the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam," he said, Jerusalem "has seeds of Western civilization. It's an amazing place for discovery and awareness."

Until then, he'll teach b'nai mitzvah classes to his five students on Sundays and continue working in his gallery.

For gallery information, call (415) 457-7800.