Tuesday Fire Is Fatal To Artist Rex Goreleigh

Princeton Packet
29 October, 1986

Tuesday Fire Is Fatal to Artist Rex Goreleigh

Rex Goreleigh, 86, a longtime Princeton artist and teacher, died Tuesday morning, as a result of a fire in his apartment in the Spruce Circle housing for the elderly. Death was attributed by a Princeton Medical Center spokesman to smoke inhalation. It was the first fire fatality in Princeton this year.

Police and all three Princeton fire companies responded to the general alarm that was sounded when police received a call at 4:35 a.m. from a neighbor reporting the fire. When Sgt. Ronald Holiday and Ptl. Chris Boutote arrived. they were directed by a group of waiting people to the first-floor apartment at 183 Spruce Circle. The officers saw a great deal of smoke coming from the front door. Looking in, they saw flames and very heavy smoke in the living room. A couch appeared to be on fire.

The officers attempted to fight the blaze with a patrol car extinguisher but were beaten back by the smoke and the intensity of the flame.

Moments later, firemen arrived and first attempted to evacuate the building and adjacent apartments of occupants “We tried to take an individual headcount of each apartment,” said Princeton Fire Chief Peter R. Hodge. Some, he said. were disabled or walked with canes and had to be carried out, “so it took a little bit longer.”

Mr. Goreleigh was found lying on the floor and carried out by former Fire Chief Tom Hagadorn. He was rushed by the Princeton First Aid and Squad to the Princeton Medical Center where he was Pronounced dead in the emergency room at 5:36.

Chief Hodge reported that the fire was confined to the victim’s apartment and extinguished without a great deal of burndown. “There was some scarring of the walls but they wire not burned through.” The fire, Chief Hodge said, was brought under control in less than five minutes.

The cause of the fire in the two-story building is still under investigation. Chief Hodge said later in the day that he had not yet heard from the Borough Fire Inspector, the Prosecutor’s Office or the Mercer County Arson Squad. “To say anything now would just be speculation.” he said.

Came Here in 1947. Mr. Goreleigh had been active in community art programs in Chicago and the South before coming to Princeton almost 40 years ago as executive director of Princeton Group Arts. He’ taught classes for children and adults and ran the organization until it was abandoned in the early 1950s.

In 1955, he received the New Jersey Afro-American Newspaper Award for superior public service and a year later he opened his own studio which he named the Studio-on-the-Canal after its location along the Delaware-Raritan Canal, half-way between Route 1 and the Princeton Pike. He taught. classes in all art media.

For five years, Mr. Goreleigh taught in the art therapy program at the New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute in Skillman and also in the Afro-American program at Trenton State College. He was named TOWN TOPICS’ Man of the Week in its April 1, 1965 issue.

In September, 1974, at age 72, Mr. Goreleigh enrolled in the Livingston College of Rutgers University. He spurted ahead of many much younger than he in his class and graduated with honors two years later after he completed course requirements for his B.A. degree.

His “Migrant Series,” depicting farm workers in the Cranbury-Roosevelt-Hightstown area, was exhibited in Washington, Trenton and New Brunswick. Ten of his paintings were on exhibit in 1976 at the Princeton University Art Museum when he was one of seven black American artists chosen to display works in the Museum’s show, “Fragments American Life.”

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