A prized sculpture by artist George Segal was in danger of being ruined when Hurricane Irene sent a foot and a half of water into the basement of its home, a Millburn art gallery on Essex Street.
But the sculpture, a contemplative still life of a pitcher, an orange, an apple, a bottle, and half of a human foot - all cast in fine white Limoges porcelain - came away unharmed.
"I lucked out big time," said Greg Smith, owner of Contemporary Art and Editions, the Millburn art gallery, located at 184 Essex Street, that houses the George Segal piece.
Smith said he overlooked the artwork because it was kept in a box that was supporting other pieces that were taken off the floor in anticipation of any flooding. When he came back after Irene bumrushed through downtown and sent a gushing river through the main streets, Smith said he was worried that any brown water would have ruined the delicate, white surface of the Segal work.
But when he cracked open the box, only clear water had brushed the piece, Smith said.
"It was very fortunate," he said.
George Segal, famous mostly for his plaster casts of human figures, has a special significance to New Jersey. For many years, he lived on a chicken farm in South Brunswick, where he made his iconic pieces.
After canceling a vacation, Smith spent many hours Friday night securing the art gallery, which also boasts works by Joan Mitchell, Takashi Murakami, and many modern Chinese artists.
He wrapped paintings in plastic and made sure artwork was not resting on the floor of the gallery, which had only opened about three months before. He also put sandbags at the front door.
The preparations paid off when downtown Millburn flooded. The gallery had some flooding in the first floor and a foot and a half in the basement, but it did not sustain heavy damage.
On Monday, Smith was cleaning up the gallery and already making preparations for his first show featuring Asian contemporary art scheduled for Sept. 22