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Exhibit sheds light on teachers legacy
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Italy. Known for its scenic villages, decadent architecture and iconic religious overtones, it has for centuries been a Mecca for artists seeking inspiration.

But for artist Jim Chapman, he brought inspiration with him — his wife Marta. In fact, it was because of Marta that the couple ventured to Italy in the first place. The resulting burst of creativity was purely secondary.

So when the Quinlan Visual Arts Center approached Chapman about displaying the body of work compiled during his trip, he was rather caught off guard.

"I called Jim and I figured he would probably say no, but he said he would love to exhibit the paintings," said Maureen Files, executive director of the Quinlan. Chapman said he was worried because his pieces weren’t even in frames, but Files worked with Frames You-Nique to have the pieces ready for showing.

"There was no thought of any show, we were just having a great time together," Chapman said.

Marta Chapman was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006, and less than a year later the couple decided — with the help of some donated frequent flyer miles — to set off for a villa in Cortona, Italy.

With his wife by his side, Chapman set about sketching the Tuscan-esque countryside. Surrounded by religious sculptures and centuries-old cathedrals, the artist soon found himself immersed in a spiritual flood. And faith was at the front of Chapman’s mind.

"The religious icon theme, that was really the right time and the right place for me. I was asking a lot of those questions; questioning faith, the meaning of life. There was resonance there," Chapman said. Many of Chapman’s watercolors capture the range of emotions the artist was grappling with as his wife’s health declined. The energetic strokes combined with reverent imagery reflects "triumph, pain, loss, love and redemption," said the artist.

But Marta’s inspiration was two-fold.

Chapman’s wife meant a lot to her community. As a teacher at East Hall Middle and Riverbend Elementary schools, Marta was a mentor to some and a mother to others.

"She was such a gifted teacher; she gave her kids tough love. To some, she was more of a mama," said Jim. "If a kid needed clothes, if that’s what was holding them back, she’d get them clothes. That’s just what she did."

In November, not long after the couple’s return from Italy, Marta died.

But her love for her students still continues even though her battle with cancer has ended. Not wanting to see Marta’s legacy fade, several of her friends and colleagues got together with the community and with help from Will and Joy Schofield to start the Marta Chapman Memorial Foundation.

A few of Marta’s fellow teachers are the eyes and ears to recommend students who may need a little extra help.

Through the foundation, these kids will get the opportunity to attend activities designed to keep them out of trouble and off of drugs. Funds raised through the sale of Jim Chapman’s artwork will help send a chosen child to summer camp, art classes or simply furnish the child with needed school supplies.

"When you work with kids you see a lot of things and a lot of needs," said Gwenn Gunter, committee chair for the foundation. "Marta loved her kids and wanted to make a difference in their lives. We would like to honor her by continuing to reach out to kids like she did."

The exhibition will also include a new avenue of exploration for the artist — sculpture. Many of the sketches became three-dimensional wire pieces made from colored electrical wire.

Many of the sculptures were done at the foot of his wife’s bed. "I would just sit down and bend away. Every once in a while I would hold one up and if she responded well, I knew I had a good piece. She really was my biggest supporter."

Thinking back about the trip now, Chapman describes the two weeks spent with his wife in Italy as "sort of like Adam and Eve leaving the garden and taking that last look back at the gate knowing things will never be the same."

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