'Wakeup call' aids Alameda
By Suzanne Storar   suzannestorar@gmail.com

Oakland Tribune
Thursday, October 16, 2003

As a little girl, Magdalene Chan could draw a convincing
likeness of Scooby Doo while watching the cartoon dog on
TV. But art never figured into her grownup work at a bank and
a district attorney's office.

Six years ago, Chan was establishing child support orders
for the San Francisco District Attorney when her workplace
was assailed with toxic fumes. Chan, who is asthmatic,
developed chronic chest pains. Pain killers only made her

"I was in a lot of pain, just trying to survive every day," says
Chan. "I decided if I'm going to be in pain, I may as well go on
with my life."

She took art classes at College of Alameda and noticed that
working in watercolors distracted her from the pain. She
continued the classes, and a teacher suggested she attend
the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. Her husband,
Andrew, encouraged her as well.

Chan spent over two years in art school with a goal of
learning the basics, not getting a degree. Artworks created
there -- charcoal and color studies plus modern pieces
incorporating symbol and story -- fill her home. At first, she
thought she would pursue an illustration career.

"Then I realized I was not an illustrator because they are hired
to do what the client wants. I like to do what I want to do. I
wanted to be a fine artist," she says.

Chan was limited to working in watercolors because oil
paints irritated her chest pains. Yet, watercolor paintings
were typically freeform, and Chan wanted to emulate the
ultra-realistic paintings of artist John Arbuckle.

Out of Arbuckle's tutoring came two watercolors that combine
Chan's religious beliefs with her art. "Compassion" is an
almost photographic image of a lemon plucked from a tree,
leaves still attached. One damaged leaf among the other
leaves symbolizes God's compassion for everyone.
"Brokenness" shows a bowl of oranges partially peeled,
which Chan relates to the concept "sometimes you have to
be broken to be made whole."

She used her art in Christian outreach activities at Bay Area
churches, but soon realized she would need to show and sell
her work to reach more people.

"I'm not going to glorify God with all my artwork inside my
house," she says.

In 2002, Chan participated in Alameda's Art in the Park. The
exposure led to a one-artist show at the Alameda Museum
last August.

When she first toured the museum's gallery, she wondered
how she would fill the large space.

"I don't paint quickly and I don't want to compromise my art,
so I dedicated my year to just painting," she says.

In addition to new works, she included pieces from art
school, such as charcoal still life studies, to show that
learning art requires hard work and discipline.

Chan's work is hanging in Au Lait, a local cafe, plus a
Berkeley gallery and a restaurant soon to open on Park
Street. She is also teaching art to two young girls, using her
own curriculum, out of her home.

Teaching art, she says, gives children an opportunity she
didn't have.

Chan recognizes that she had lived on what is considered
the safe side of life before the workplace accident.

"The pain was a wakeup call. I wasn't doing what God
intended me to be doing. Now I can use art as a way to share
with people what God is doing in my life."

Call Suzanne T. Storar at 523-6641 or e-mail
STStorar@aol.com with information about Alameda's
interesting people, places or events.
Artist finds an art that
By Tricia Caspers    

Alameda Journal
Friday, July 25, 2003

Feel-good art-- Magdalene Chan loved art
as a child but never had time to pursue it. She
worked in banking, advertising and child
support services until a work injury forced her
to leave her job six years ago.

The injury left Chan with severe, chronic chest
pains, and there was no cure. When she
signed up for art classes at Alameda College,
she discovered that painting eased her pain

Her art teacher, David Hernandez,
encouraged her to apply to art school. She
won a summer grant to study illustration at the
Academy of Art in San Francisco.

Chan's artwork, including a painting titled,
"Alameda Sunset" which depicts a sunset
over the Island just before a rainstorm, will be
displayed at the Alameda Museum in an
exhibit titled "I Can't Believe It's Not a

The exhibit runs Aug. 2 through Aug. 30 with a
reception 1-4 p.m., Aug. 16. The museum is
at 2324 Alameda Ave. Details: 510-521-1233.