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Mission Hill artist Marilyn Jan Casey follows her passion through a shooting injury

Kassmin Williams | 7/31/2013, 11:17 a.m.
Mission Hill artist Marilyn Jan Casey came close to losing the use of her right hand, but that wouldn’t have ...
The work of Mission Hill artist Marilyn Jan Casey is on display at the Parker Hill Library until Sept. 2. Jan Casey

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Jan Casey

Mission Hill artist Marilyn Jan Casey’s oil painting “African Americans Introduced to Christianity” is one of the paintings in her exhibit, Modern Spiritual Expressions: Past Present Future, on display at the Parker Hill Library through Sept. 2.

Mission Hill artist Marilyn Jan Casey came close to losing the use of her right hand, but that wouldn’t have stopped her from drawing and painting. The 57-year-old artist said she would’ve learned to draw and paint with her teeth if she had to.

After being shot in the back at 34 by a former boyfriend, Casey has been forced to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury.

But the disability didn’t stop Casey from earning a degree at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2008 and it didn’t stop her from working to have her art displayed in multiple solo exhibitions in Boston.

“I valued life more after I got hurt because I could’ve been gone,” Casey said. “I was grateful for God saving my life so I decided to share my gift that he gave me.”

Casey’s most recent exhibit is on display at the Parker Hill Library in Mission Hill, where a crowd gathered last month for her artist’s reception.

Casey was able to display her work through her membership in the Mission Hill Artists Collective (MHAC). MHAC focuses on providing opportunities for artists to display their work in the community.

The exhibit, Modern Spiritual Expressions: Past Present Future, will run until Sept. 2 and features 24 colorful paintings and black, white and gray drawings inspired by Casey’s family and black history.

“I don’t think we have enough [artwork covering black history]. When I was going to college, they would send me to the museum, but I never [saw] black art, so I decided to do black art,” Casey said.

Casey described her work as “filled with love,” and said she hoped the crowd could feel that love as they viewed her work at the Parker Hill Library.

Eleven pieces, including one divided into two images showing two females as children and then adults, hang in the front desk area. These images represent the theme of past, present and future and tell individual stories, Casey said.

The 13 drawings in the adult room take viewers through a history lesson from pre-slavery to post-slavery.

The story starts with two images of members of an African tribe and ends with a painting of Casey’s family, including her parents, twin brothers and twin sister.

MHAC member Luanne Witkowski liked the idea of having paintings and drawings that tell stories hang in a space filled with books.

“It’s perfect,” Witkowski said.

For Cecilia Mendez, director of Massart’s Center for Art and Community Partnerships (CACP), Casey’s use of color to offset tense moments in black history was impressive.

Some of Casey’s images seem lighthearted, like the one that depicts three giggling girls at a sleepover. Others present heavy topics, like the image of three women picking cotton.

The image of the women picking cotton is one of Casey’s favorites. It’s on display in her bedroom and is usually the first thing she sees in the morning.

“Every morning I look at it and it brightens my day,” Casey said. “It gets me motivated and wanting to do more art.”

The exhibit covers more than a decade of work from Casey, who said she was satisfied with the turnout at the reception and excited to have another opportunity to share her work with the public.

MHAC partnered with number of community organizations to execute the exhibition, including the CACP, which curated the exhibit.

CACP program coordinator Elena White echoed Casey’s enthusiasm about the exhibit.

“This is by far one of the biggest and extensive solo shows we’ve ever been a part of,” White said.