Longtime Reinhardt art professor Curtis Allen Chapman II died on August 7 in Asheville, North Carolina (obituary). History professor Ken Wheeler has penned a moving reflection on his life and career:
The recent death of Curtis Chapman has me thinking about who he was and what he meant to Reinhardt during almost four decades of full-time work. I know that others at Reinhardt knew him far longer than I, but his friendship was important to me and I wanted to pass along a few impressions.
Reinhardt Junior College was a small school when Curtis Chapman, who had just graduated from LaGrange College, was hired onto the faculty in January 1966. Lacking a car, Chapman took the bus to Cartersville, where he was picked up by President Burgess and driven to Waleska along roads that made Chapman think his new job must be at the ends of the earth. The college housed him in an old sharecropper’s cabin located where the post office stands today.
Waleska may have seemed isolated, but Curtis introduced students to a world of art in his classes. And almost as soon as he arrived, he began taking students on international trips where they could view up close some of the art and architecture available on the slides in his projector. In fact, the way I knew Curtis best was because as soon as I came to campus in 1999 he immediately recruited me to join a trip to Italy for the following summer. That led to a trip to Paris and the south of France, followed by a return trip to Italy.
Curtis was exuberant on these trips. His gleeful, spirited eagerness to learn rubbed off on his students, and he made sure that everyone saw and did everything they could. He encouraged people to try things, to visit museums they did not expect to enjoy, to sleep after the trip had finished. I remember being in Paris late at night after a full day of visiting churches, museums, and the Eiffel Tower. Curtis was proposing walking a few miles to see something more. I felt embarrassed at being run into the ground by a man my father’s age, but I finally had to say I’d had enough, it was time for bed.
Not all of the trips were international. After the deregulation of the airlines in the late 1970s, cheap airfares were available, and Curtis and his students would catch a Saturday red-eye flight from Atlanta, spend a full day in the world-class art museums of New York, see Central Park, and then take a late flight back to Atlanta that night.
These experiences were profound for so many of his Reinhardt students. Even in my few trips, I saw first-hand the changes—students who changed their major, and the trajectory of their lives, after visiting the ruins at Paestum or the art of the Uffizi in Florence. One student who went to Italy with us had not only never flown in an airplane, he had never been inside an airport. These were experiences that students remember all the rest of their lives, and no wonder—they were educational in so many ways. Many people have worked hard to internationalize Reinhardt’s curriculum; Curtis Chapman pioneered those efforts again and again and again.
Whether in Waleska or abroad, Curtis was an encourager, and he helped make art accessible to everyone. He was not elitist, never snobby or forbidding. And it was clear that art could be made by anyone, anywhere. Routinely Curtis would lunch in the cafeteria with a large plate piled high with a salad—and every time the salad was beautiful, just arranged with such… well… artistry.
In conversation with Curtis he would sometimes say “Teach me something,” and then ask me about what I thought about some incident or issue. It was so striking to me that this senior colleague of mine, instead of setting me straight, was asking me what I thought. “Teach me something.” I want to make that spirit, of inquiry, of respect for and interest in others, part of my own intellectual posture.
I’m thankful for what Curtis meant to me, to other people he worked with, and to thousands of Reinhardt students as he dedicated his working life to educating them during decades of great changes. He had a great love for Reinhardt, and for life. I miss him.
I second Dr. Wheeler’s thoughts. My career at Reinhardt overlapped only briefly with Curtis’s, but even in that time I found him to be a warm and generous colleague.