He was born in the village of Kobiaantkari in the Dusheti District, Mtskheta-Mtianeti region of eastern Georgia. According to his autobiography, he apprenticed as a swordmaker and ornamental leatherworker. After service as a sniper in the Russian army in World War I, he immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1920s, and thereafter lived and worked in the U.S. Papashvily succeeded both as a sculptor and as an author; he was also a gifted engineer and inventor.
He married an American, Helen Waite (1906-1996). Together they wrote several books, often based on his life experiences. Their first book was Anything Can Happen (1945), which recounted Papashvily's experiences as a penniless immigrant. Originally published in a serialized format in Common Ground and Direction magazines, this book was co-selected for the Book of the Month Club and was a best-seller, selling more than 600,000 copies in the U.S. and 1.5 million worldwide. It was translated into 15 foreign languages, including Georgian (in 1966). It was made into a movie in 1952, starring Jose Ferrer as George and Kim Hunter as Helen.
Some other books by the Papashvilys were
- Yes and No Stories - A Book of Georgian Folk Tales (1946)
- Dogs and People (1954)
- Thanks to Noah (1956)
- Home and Home Again (1973, recounting a trip they made back to the village in the 1960s)
- Russian Cooking (1969)
Thanks to Noah was also published in Georgian (in 1971).
With no formal training, Papashvily began carving in 1940. He soon developed a signature style that was a combination of naive and modern. He carved directly in wood and stone, sculpting free-standing figures and bas relief. His favorite subjects came from nature: animals, flowers, and an occasional human figure. Among his most famous works are:
- War's End (1946)
- Pigeons (1948, Hazleton Art League)
- Ram (1951)
- Butterfly (1952, Woodmere Art Gallery)
- Horse (1955, National Art Gallery of the Republic of Georgia)
- Animal (1957, Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery)
- Apple (1959)
- Bear Cub with Frog (1966, Oak Lane Branch Free Library of Philadelphia)
Papashvily exhibited widely in solo exhibitions and with painters who were his friends. He died in 1978, in Cambria, California.
- Papashvily, George (1940, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945). Anything Can Happen. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers. p. viii.
Literature about George Papashvily
- American Artist magazine, October, 1955
- George Papashvily: Sculptor, a retrospective catalogue with an introduction by Charles H. Muhlenberg, Pennsylvania, 1979, 62 pp.
- George and Helen Papashvily Archives. Special Collections, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Call number: SC MS 090