DAN SCANLAN/StaffMarsha Hatcher lined up some of her paintings for her Art as a Mission show. The pictures depict scenes she saw in Malawi, Africa, in 2007 when she went on a mission trip with her church.
The children gazed with wide-open eyes at the artworks as Mandarin artist Marsha Hatcher arranged them on one wall at the Art Center Gallery at 31 W. Adams St. Monday afternoon.
Some gazed with questions in their eyes, others with curiosity, just as Hatcher saw them when she visited their Malawi villages in 2007 as part of a First Baptist Church of Mandarin mission trip to Africa.
The artist said painting these images wasn't what she originally planned when she did her church's volunteer work in Africa. But the photographs she returned with planted a seed for a series of works that show life in that poor country, and fund future church mission trips for her and others.
"I thought 'What can I do?' I didn't want to beg for all the contributions. I needed to contribute something, so I had to do what I knew how to do," Hatcher said. "It seems like I got the easiest part. I just create the art."
The church's pastor, the Rev. Gary Williams Sr., said Hatcher's artworks are creative, and so is her fundraising effort as they prepare for their next Malawi trip later this year.
"Wow, that's amazing. People have been quite creative in what they have done [to raise funds for mission trips]," Williams said. "She is going on the trip this year and that is what makes it so amazing. She is one who can capture the moment. She has a keen eye for painting the moment."
The church at 3990 Loretto Road began a mission outreach into the 45,000-square-mile country of Malawi in southeast Africa in 2001. Volunteers have since erected roofs on 40 churches, donated food, education, Bibles and financial support to residents, and begun building a Village of Hope to teach residents how to read, write and work.
Hatcher said she's loved art since she was a child in Georgia, and furthered that with a degree in art from Albany State University. A full-time staff member at an art gallery in Jacksonville's Lakewood area, she is a founding member of the Jacksonville Consortium of African American Artists.
It was a trip with a friend to do some mission work in Nigeria that sparked another desire, and she decided to go on her own church's 2007 mission to Malawi.
One job during the Malawi mission was ironic - painting directional signs to rural churches so people could find them. She also helped give out clothing to the needy. And like any visitor to a new country, she brought a camera and shot pictures she turned into art.
"I didn't go with the intention of creating a whole lot of art. The art just fell into place," she said. "Then after I looked at all the photographs I had taken, the recurring shots were children."
The idea to make and sell the paintings to raise money so she and others could go on the church's missions was a "no-brainer," she said. Using only white paint on black fabric, her works show wide-eyed children staring out from the frames, one clinging to a mother, others with older siblings baby-sitting younger siblings.
Hatcher spent Monday afternoon hanging her artwork, arranging them, then rearranging them.
"It matters what goes next to each other," she said, a hand on her chin as she stepped back to look. "Most people wouldn't even notice, but I do."
The works are on display through Saturday, May 30, with original paintings selling for $350 to $600 and prints available, some for $35 each.