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Drawn to Teaching

Professor has taken ‘natural’ path to profession

September 27, 2009
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

JOHNSTOWN - For Joel Chapin, it is rewarding to see his former students go on to careers that involve art. The professor of fine arts at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Chapin is especially pleased a former student will be curating an upcoming exhibition at FM's Perella Gallery.

"You remember when [the students] first came here, and they had no idea what they would end up in," he said.

Of course, neither did he.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Rodney?Minor

Joel Chapin, the professor of fine arts at Fulton-Montgomery?Community College, is shown moving a piece of his own artwork through the Perella Gallery on Thursday at the college in Johnstown.

While Chapin has been teaching at the college for about the last 20 years, he did not arrive at the college with the intention of becoming an art teacher.

Chapin grew up on a dairy farm in Malone, Franklin?County. When he began attending classes at FMCC in 1976, he was more interested in doing something with biology or wildlife.

"I just wound up taking more and more art classes," he said.

Chapin said it might seem like a stretch to some people to go from an interest in one to the other. However, both interests were grounded in the sense of wonder he found in nature and his appreciation for its complexity.

The 51-year-old Glen resident still is involved in agriculture. Along with his wife, Linda, and four children, he has a "hobby farm" that overlooks the Schoharie Valley.

"It does remind me of Malone," he said. "It is a very beautiful town."

Chapin said he tells his students having the farm keeps him real. He may not go to a gym, but he has farm chores at home that need to be taken care of.

"It's almost like meditation for me," he said.

Chapin eventually earned a bachelor of science degree in fine arts from Skidmore College and a master of fine arts from SUNY Albany.

Chapin pursued various jobs in the art world before coming back to FMCC as a teacher in 1989.

He noted the college will have 18 different sections of art classes this semester. When he started, it had five.

"I never would have dreamed the program would have grown to the extent that it has," Chapin said.

He laughs while describing what the situation was like when he was a student. The art room was basically a basement with six folding tables in it. What is now a mens' room used to be the ceramics studio.

Chapin said the reason for the expansion of the art program is a simple matter of economics. More places across upstate N.Y. started looking to the arts to help fill the void left by many industrial jobs moving out of state.

Greg Truckenmiller, the provost and vice-president of academic affairs at FMCC, said Chapin has had a lot to do with the expansion of the program.

"[Chapin] has maintained a high-quality program," Truckenmiller said. "He's helped bring in gifted adjunct faculty members as well."

Going along with the expansion in arts is the Perella Gallery.

Before the gallery started 10 years ago, the college did not have a formal exhibition space. Chapin said items would be put up wherever they could go.

Chapin, the director of the gallery, said in addition to being a boon for students, the space also is an asset to the public. He noted that compared to some areas with larger cities - Albany, Utica, for example - the Glove Cities area has very little space for public art.

"We are kind of a central place for people to see things," he said.

An exhibit - "The Powers of Ten" - coordinated by a former student who is now working in the art world is scheduled to open Oct. 16.

In addition to teaching and making sure exhibitions are running, Chapin also tries to find time for his own artwork. His work has been exhibited nationally and in nearby areas including Albany, Cooperstown and Gloversville.

While he does work in a number of mediums, the one that he always comes back to is drawing.

However, he admits he finds it hard to limit himself.

"I like to tackle art as a whole," he said. "I find myself invigorated by my students."

Olof Jansson, an adjunct instructor at FMCC who teaches art history, has known Chapin for years. Jansson said Chapin's artwork and teaching reflect how diligent and dedicated he is.

"[Chapin] is a wonderful, genuine person," Jansson said.

When he has a chance, Chapin also likes to head to the Southwestern U.S.

"It's just a whole different environment, and a different way to se the world," he said.

The influence environment can have on art is something that comes up while he discusses planned trips for students to New York City. Some of these students have never been to the Big Apple, he said, and as artists seeing different environments is important.

"That is a big part of their education," he said.



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