The word “legacy” carries a large connotation. Usually reserved for people famous in their field, those who spend their lives committed to excellence in their craft, and those instrumental in efforts to ensure the continuation of their expertise after they’re gone.
Most people have no idea who Walter Chapman was. He isn’t famous by any definition, and only seasoned veterans of the art community in my hometown of Toledo, OH would be familiar with the name.
In my family, Walter Chapman is revered.
You see, my paternal grandfather was an artist in Toledo. And a damn good one. Jim Harris left our family a collection of paintings, sketches, and drawings that continues to comfort and inspire us all 35 years after his death. My sister even wrote a book about his life, documenting his entire body of work. You can check it out here:
Walter Chapman was my grandfather’s mentor and friend, and I am so very sad to hear of his passing yesterday. He was 102. He spent his entire career painting, teaching, and passing on his knowledge about the subject and discipline that he loved so much.
Mr. Chapman helped to guide and shape my grandfather’s style and approach to painting, as he did with so many artists that he worked with. He encouraged him to try out watercolor, specifically his own “realistic impressionism” style, which became Grandpa’s preference and eventual specialty. He was intrinsically influential, not just in the works that my grandfather painted, but in his life as well.
My sister had the opportunity to interview Mr. Chapman at his Toledo home in the summer of 2011 while researching her book, and my dad and I were fortunate enough to tag along. At nearly 98 years old, he could not have been more kind and gracious with his time and precious energy. His stories were richly detailed, enthusiastically entertaining, and wonderfully candid. He spoke about my grandfather with respect, admiration, and honesty, and their friendship and mutual passion for their craft reverberated throughout his anecdotes.
Painting was an escape for my grandfather in an otherwise often tumultuous life, but Mr. Chapman saw potential in him and chose to encourage and pour into his talent, unleashing a fierce creativity that my family cherishes to this day.
I think often about how grateful I am for the creative gene that was passed down from my grandfather. Reflecting on my own career, I get most excited when I have the opportunity to write, arrange, or orchestrate … essentially “painting” with different sonic colors. My sister is an accomplished architect, gifted designer, painter, and sought-after professor, where she is molding the next generation of creatives in her field. And my 9-year-old son has an undeniable bent toward so many things creative: music, writing, and it comes as no surprise that he especially enjoys drawing.
In a way, I can trace all of that back to Grandpa Harris’ friend, Mr. Walter Chapman, whose influence has gone far beyond paint, technique, or the canvas.
That is a true legacy.
May 2012 Toledo Blade feature: