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 met and 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. Papashvily died in 1978 in Cambria, California.
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)
- Library Bears (1966, Fox Chase Branch, Free Library of Philadelphia)
- Bear Cub with Frog (1966, West Oak Lane Branch, Free Library of Philadelphia)
- Otter (1975, Children's Literature Research Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia)
Papashvily exhibited widely in solo exhibitions and with painters who were his friends.
- Papashvily, George (1945). Anything Can Happen. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers. p. viii.
- Finding Aid for the George and Helen Papashvily Archives, Special Collections, Linderman Library, Lehigh University
- Dictionary of Georgian National Biography
Literature about George Papashvily
- American Artist magazine, October, 1955.
- George Papashvily: Sculptor, a retrospective catalogue with an introduction by Charles H. Muhlenberg, Pennsylvania, 1979.