Filmmaker Ken Burns opens exhibit on William Segal in Macon

It was a heroic effort by the hero of public television.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns had just watched his latest effort come to fruition. The six segments of “The National Parks: America’s Greatest Idea” aired Sunday through Friday on PBS.

On Saturday, Burns flew to Macon.

“I’m exhausted, I’ve been on the road for 200 days this year,” Burns told an audience of about 250 people Saturday afternoon at the Museum of Arts and Sciences. “Last night, was the last night of the show and I deserved to sleep in, and I got up at four and came here.”

The 56-year-old Burns, who lives in New Hampshire, was anything but cranky about the situation. That’s because his trip to Macon was a labor of love. He had come for the opening of an exhibit on the art and life of the late William Segal, his spiritual mentor.

Segal was born in Macon in 1904 but moved away at age 8 or 9, first to Pennsylvania and then to New York. He made a fortune as a magazine publisher and devoted the latter portion of his life to Asian religions, mysticism and painting. Segal died in 2000. His widow, French-born Marielle Bancou-Segal, was the driving force behind the creation of a Segal museum exhibition in his hometown.

In the 1990s Burns made three short films about Segal, which the museum showed Saturday at an event called An Afternoon With Ken Burns. Tickets to the event cost $10-$20. In introducing the films Burns talked about their origins.

“I first met William Segal in the early 1970s in the church basement of a church either in Dorchester or Boston, Massachusetts, I don’t remember which,” Burns said. “There was some workshop going on. ... At some point this man with an eye patch and nearly bald head, very short, 5-foot-2 or three, walked by and sort of engaged with me for a moment and it was such a transformative moment I can’t describe it. Those of you who have faith know that there are moments in your life when that faith has been exponentially multiplied by sometimes the smallest event.”

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