For Marcella Chapman, art is more than just attractive colors and nice silhouettes. It has been the life jacket that rescued her from drowning in a sea of darkness.
The 59-year-old self-taught artist grew up in what she calls “little of nowhere Indiana.” Chapman went on to attend the University of Notre Dame, where she double majored in psychology and philosophy and was on the fencing team.
“I was in the tenth graduating class for women,” Chapman says. “I also was the first class of women who were monogram winners in fencing.”
Monogram winners are athletes who earn a varsity letter or monogram in their sport for not only their athletic ability but also meeting academic standards.
Chapman’s life took a dark turn many years later when she found herself fleeing an abusive partner.
“I realized he was dangerous when he was intoxicated, which was often because he was an alcoholic,” Chapman says.
Chapman ended up living in a shelter and sending her children to other states to hide.
She came to Akron about four years ago after reconnecting with a friend from high school who now lives in Cuyahoga Falls.
“I came to Akron because there were jobs to be had, and I could still be close to my kids,” Chapman explains. She also appreciates the natural beauty of Northeast Ohio.
“I love the Metro Parks,” Chapman says. “Akron is a beautiful place to live. I’m so glad I ended up here.”
Chapman first got acquainted with the art community after attending an Artwalk event at Summit Artspace.
“I met an artist there who worked in alcohol ink and was immediately entranced with the colors and vibrancy,” Chapman says.
Chapman explains that alcohol ink has the same base as rubbing alcohol. One of the most common examples of alcohol ink is in Sharpie markers, which explains their harsh smell. Chapman also says that there’s a vibrancy to alcohol inks that you can’t get with other mediums.
“They are dyes so the colors can be very translucent,” Chapman says. “Pigments are opaque, the light hits them and stops.” Chapman says the translucency and vibrancy of the colors are the reason why she loves working with alcohol inks.
Chapman says she has had no formal art training. “My last art class was in junior high school, and I used it for study hall,” she laughs.
After attending Artwalk and seeing the work of an alcohol artist, Chapman decided to have some fun and give alcohol ink a try.
“I started experimenting with the inks and it was an instant addiction. It was hopeless. I was addicted for life,” Chapman laughs.
Chapman says that she initially gave her paintings as gifts but after a while, people started to ask her why she didn’t sell her art, which led to the creation of her business, Art to the Rescue.
Chapman’s work is mainly done at her home and consists of pet portraits, landscapes and still life paintings.
Chapman doesn’t just paint the physical characteristics of someone’s pet. She asks them to tell her stories about their pet and to describe their pet’s favorite traits. She also asks customers to send her more than one picture of their pet.
“I want to get a feeling of the relationship you have with that animal, and I want to understand what they bring to your life,” Chapman says. “So that when I’m painting, I can be very present with that feeling and try to express it and give it to you as a momento to a very important relationship.”
Chapman also hopes to draw attention to the beauty of everyday objects and images through her work. For example, she has a series of paintings of the Cuyahoga River. Chapman says the painting may just look like water, grass and trees, but they are more than that.
“It’s not just water, grass and trees; it’s beauty in its form and it’s alive,” Chapman says. “Being present in those experiences really lends something important to your quality of life.”
Chapman also advocates for a better quality of life for rescue animals. The name of her business, Art to the Rescue, has two meanings: A portion of the proceeds go to rescue animals. Chapman says she goes to local shelters such as One of A Kind Pets and takes photos of the animals. She then goes home and paints them. Chapman then donates her art to the shelter so they can sell the paintings and raise money to find homes for the animals.
“They are such innocent, loving creatures and through no fault of their own, they find themselves in a situation where they have no voice,” Chapman says.
Chapman believes that rescue animals need people to advocate for them and find them loving homes. Her motto is ‘adopt, don’t shop.’
“Go to the shelter. There are wonderful animals just waiting to love you,” Chapman says. “There’s nothing like the unconditional love of a pet.”
Art to the Rescue has also rescued Chapman from hard times in her life.
“My art gives voices to parts of me that I may not necessarily be aware of until it comes out,” Chapman says.
Chapman says that one day she felt compelled to do a painting of a mother tiger and her cub.
“I realized when I was finished with it that I was expressing how I was feeling about my daughter having to go into surgery hundreds of miles away, and I couldn’t be with her,” Chapman says.
Since moving to Akron, Chapman says her artistic skills have come a long way.
“This art journey has taken me to places I’ve never expected,” Chapman says. “I started painting in November 2018 and couldn’t draw my way out of a paper bag.”
Chapman hopes that her art work will transform viewers’ lives, like it has hers.
“People can be stagnant, which is really sad,” Chapman says. “I’m hoping to draw people out of themselves and into that transformative experience.”
Jillian Holness is a graduate of Kent State University.