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A Long and Art-Filled Life

By David Yonke

With a twinkle in his bright blue eyes, Walter Chapman laughed off a question about his secret to longevity. “How the hell do I know?” he asked with a smile and a shrug.

An artist who has won numerous awards worldwide for his watercolor and oil paintings, Chapman turned 101 last year on Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7th).

He said he tries to eat well, including plenty of fresh fruit, and was active in sports most of his life. He played football at Scott High School—until he got knocked out and was told he couldn’t play any longer—and then took up tennis.

Chapman has been using a wheelchair since he took a fall in his Sylvania home several years ago, breaking a leg in three places. That’s when his wife, Jean, decided to close the Chapman Art Gallery in downtown Sylvania, which she had run for 30 years, and spend more time caring for her husband. While Chapman is not as mobile as he used to be, he stays active and still enjoys painting and sketching.


He reads three books a week, mostly mysteries by such authors as James Patterson and John Grisham, and loves watching sports on television.

Jean a spry 93, has a theory why her husband of 51 years (it was a second marriage for both) is such a vibrant and vital centenarian: his peaceful personality and positive outlook.“He is a very sweet, kind, thoughtful soul,” she said. “He doesn’t have any agitation or anger in him. He has good feelings. Now that doesn’t mean he can’t get angry…”

Walter interjects a story about when he was a student at the Cleveland School of Art and had a friend who was a professional boxer. “He taught me to fight and I got pretty good, even though I never really was a fighter.”

One day the two were walking past a fraternity house when the frat boys started hurling insults.

“We stopped and my friend said, ‘Walter, pick out anyone you want and I’ll handle the rest.’ We walked up to their yard and he said, ‘Come on.’ He knocked them out with one punch. I didn’t have any problem with my guy because he had taught me how to box. The rest of them retreated back to their porch, and we said goodbye.” That was an aberration, though an unforgettable one, for the peaceful painter. But it wasn’t the only time he experienced violence firsthand.Chapman was a sergeant in World War II and was stationed on the front lines during the Battle  of the Bulge.

Sketches of Army life

He brought his art equipment with him and captured many scenes of Army life while advancing through France and Germany. (“But my real job was to kill a few Germans,” he said.).

“He went out with a big sheet of white paper to do the painting,” Jean added, “and it was like a target. They started shooting at him while he was trying to paint!”

His WWII artworks have been featured in a number of books, in the Brown University Military Collection, and in the military newspaper Stars & Stripes. Chapman said all he ever wanted to be was an artist. “When I was just a kid I was doing drawings, from the very beginning. I used to do little portraits of people because I like to do faces.”

He also loves painting landscapes, and specialized in watercolors because they are easy to use while traveling. He has carried his easel and supplies literally around the world, painting scenes from the Maumee River to Notre Dame Cathedral to the Taj Mahal.

Chapman said he never tried to copy other artists’ styles, but followed his own creativity—developing a light and spirited touch that can crystallize a scene without getting lost in the details.

Do your own thing

“It’s always easier to do your own thing,” he said. “I don’t like to copy other people—but they can copy me if they want to!”

Chapman has taught scores of local students, holding classes in his Sylvania home for decades. Many have kept in touch with their kind and patient instructor. One even married him. Jean met Walter when she was his student.

Their relationship is so loving, Jean said, that she believes it contributes to living long and fruitful lives. “He’ll say, ‘I need a hug,’ or, ‘I need a kiss.’” Jean said. “It happens all the time.”

“Walter Chapman: People, Places, and Things,” an exhibit featuring 28 paintings, is on display through Aug. 16 in the Perrysburg Municipal Building, 201 Indiana Ave. Some artworks are for sale, priced from $800 to $2,500. Information: 419-324-4758 or info@mainart-ery.com.

Read the Toledo City Paper story on Chapman: http://bitly/1mEZWNZ

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