The dawn of a new day or its exit gives Marc Burnett pause - and he thinks we should do the same, soaking in life’s gentle routines.
This 1977 graduate of Alcoa High School and now vice president of student affairs for Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, once lived his life like many of us, at a harried pace that failed to take in even the things going on right under our noses.
But a chance encounter with a young Alcoa teen, Hannah Tate, would change that.
As Burnett explained, he was walking through his building at Tennessee Tech a few years ago when he noticed a squad of Alcoa High basketball team members who were there for a sports camp. Burnett went up to them and introduced himself, claiming a kinship with their school. Then his glimpse caught one of the girls, someone he surely knew because she favored relatives he knew.
“I looked at Hannah and said ‘I know you are a Tate,’” he said. “I could tell by looking at her. She just giggled and said ‘yes, I am Hannah.’”
Burnett then watched a few of their games while they completed the camp and then they were gone. “They left and I didn’t think anything more of it,” he said.
It wasn’t long after, however, that Burnett learned of Tate’s illness, her treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and then later, her death.
He was painting one day and the Alcoa basketball player crossed his mind again.
“I had just started painting some sunrises and sunsets,” he said. “The idea just hit me. What a way to honor a young lady.”
So with brush in hand, Burnett began his series of sunrises and sunsets in earnest. He created them in oils and watercolors of all sizes. They now number at least 70, taking over his office and home.
But what to do with them all? He could give them away to family and friends, hang some and sell some. Burnett chose to make this a project he is calling “Hannah’s Horizons.”
Sharing his vision
From 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26, Burnett will take over the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Alcoa.
There, he will exhibit his paintings and also prints. They all will be for sale, with proceeds going to St. Jude and other organizations that help cancer patients.
He has plenty of reasons to come back to his hometown. Burnett’s mom, Betty Jean Burnett, and mother-in-law still reside in Alcoa. He is in his 35th year at Tennessee Tech.
Burnett played basketball at both AHS and TTU. He is a member of the Blount County Sports Hall of Fame and also the TTU Sports Hall.
Tate was a member of the AHS Class of 2015, and was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer in 2014.
She died in January 2016 at the age of 19. Burnett said he spoke with her mother about his project. She gave it her blessing.
His interest in painting goes back to art classes he took at AHS. Eighteen years ago, he was injured in a car wreck and sidelined for a month at home.
“Two of my friends here at the university got me a little watercolor paint set from Walmart, the ones with six colors and a brush you can barely hold. And I started painting.”
He hasn’t stopped. Over the years, Burnett has had his work displayed at the Blount County Public Library, the Appalachian Center for Crafts, at Case Western University in Ohio and Walters State Community College in Morristown.
At a time when this artist was about to stop creating his sunsets and sunrises, he learned it was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. That was his signal to carry on.
For him, it’s personal. He takes photos of sunsets and sunrises everywhere he goes, from the Virgin Islands to the Smokies. Photographer friends also send him theirs.
In addition to his work at Tennessee Tech, Burnett is also pastor of Colonial View Baptist Church in Cookeville.
“There seems to be a peace that comes over you when you truly appreciate God’s handiwork,” he said, like sunsets and sunrises. As a pastor, he’s seen families struck down by unthinkable tragedies and prayed alongside them.
He said it is the people who have gone through tragedies like the loss of a loved one who know the value in the message of slowing down and taking in the small things. This art project, he hopes, will send that message to everyone.
The families have suffered bad days but there are good days sprinkled in, too. The difference in them and us is we take ours for granted, Burnett said. They don’t. Sunsets and sunrises to them are nothing short of precious. His paintings, Burnett hopes, will bring solace and a little peace.
“All of us have a certain number of sunrises and sunsets,” Burnett said. “We just don’t know that number. This project makes us mindful that every one of them is important. We don’t know when our last one will be.”
Marc Burnett, Alcoa High School graduate, artist and vice-president of student affairs at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, will hold an exhibit of his project, "Hannah's Horizons," from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, located at 209 E. Franklin St., Alcoa. He has painted 70 sunrises and sunsets over the course of years.
Burnett will also hold an art demonstration for children from 3 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25.
The public is invited. Originals and prints will be available for purchase. Proceeds will go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and others doing cancer research. The project is in honor of the late Hannah Tate.
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