2016 was a busy year of homecomings for Jared Cowan, owner of Asymmetrick Arts in downtown Rockland. He and his wife, Cristina Fowlie, adjusted to life with their first child; he began teaching sculpture at the city’s high school; and he was asked to present his work at his other alma mater, the University of Maine.

The University of Maine Museum of Art show opened Jan. 13 in Bangor and will run through May 6. Cowan’s “The Life of David” runs concurrently with an exhibition by fellow Midcoast artist and educator Brenton Hamilton and a show of paintings by Massachusetts artist Siobhan McBride — see the story linked below for the full UMMA scoop.

The oldest work in “The Life of David” has been a familiar sight in Cowan’s gallery for many years. “Untitled” from 2001 presents cast bronze hip and leg bones topped with a video monitor. As such, it combines the sculpture, video and installation media Cowan is known for and that comprise the UMMA show. It was the first in a body of work exploring the life and legend of the late Emilio David Mazzeo Sr.

The Rockland native son of Italian immigrants was, with his brother Bruno, a star cross-country athlete at Rockland High School who went on to run road races and marathons; both were inducted into the Maine Running Hall of Fame in 1994. David, or Dave, as he was known — “Neighbor” was a nickname later in life — was the fourth American to cross the Boston Marathon finish line in 1948, placing ninth overall and, therefore, earning a spot as first alternate on the team for that summer’s Olympic Games in London.

“He was a runner all his life … even when he’d lost his legs and had prosthetics, he still walked miles a day,” Cowan said a few days before the show opened.

The artist never met Mazzeo, who died in 1997 at age 77. But the runner, veteran, pipefitter, one-time restaurateur and local personality was Fowlie’s grandfather, and so the family stories became part of Cowan’s life when Fowlie did.

“He died just shortly before we were getting to know each other as students at the high school,” said Cowan.

Mazzeo was the focus of many a family and friend's story, with good reason.

“The way he lived his life, people just don’t do that anymore,” Cowan said.

The work in “The Life of David” began as very personal; the aforementioned prosthetics, for example, are cast in bronze and appear as sculptural elements in the show, as do the artist’s wife’s feet. But as the years went on, the power of oral history itself became a theme for Cowan. And there are some fascinating stories surrounding the life of this particular David.

“There’s all this folkloric retelling! He had 10 brothers and sisters; they say his father died in the quarry. He and his brother Bruno were Army Rangers and were MIA for a year. Then they traveled around, running races,” Cowan said.

David Mazzeo Sr. worked as a pipefitter, everywhere from Disney World to Maine Yankee; for several years, he and his wife ran Mazzeo’s Spaghetti House in Rockland. Captain of the high school’s hockey, football and track teams as a student, he also coached the hockey team for a short time. And he was well known in the stands in later years.

“He used to razz the refs, so much that someone gave him his own megaphone,” Cowan said.

“The Life of David,” which has interactive elements, comprises 14 years of work that Cowan had not expected to be shown as a body. He remembers the museum’s exhibition space from his UMaine days, when the building was Norumbega Hall.

“I’m really excited to be a part of it. When George called, I thought he just needed help hanging something,” Cowan said, referring to museum Director and Curator George Kinghorn.

In their discussions about this winter’s exhibition, Cowan brought up Hamilton, chairman of the Professional Certificate Program in Photography at the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport.

“He’s really talented, a friend and someone who’s shown in my gallery. This show is a major exhibition for him,” Cowan said.

Casting the prosthetics meant working again with Chris Gamage, who has a forge in the Rockland bog. Cowan credits Gamage with convincing him to go to UMaine; he had been set on another college, but Gamage was helping build the foundry in Orono and touted the school’s sculpture program.

“It’s rare in Maine to do casting, so to be able to do it in my hometown is amazing,” said Cowan.

He never thought he’d be teaching in his hometown, either, but last year proved to be filled with new directions. This winter, he is teaching Sculpture II at Oceanside High School, a well-filled class of students all working on individual projects in a variety of media.

“Nineteen is a lot! It’s crazy, but I love it. I’m from here, and it’s great to be teaching here as part of a wonderful art team,” he said.

So he had his hands full when Kinghorn called, but the opportunity to work with the well-regarded curator and to show the Mazzeo-inspired work in toto was too good to pass up. And that inspiration goes beyond artistic expression. Those long-distance running and walking legs were lost to illness late in life, a tragic turn some artists might have played up.

“I don’t like to celebrate irony … I think this speaks to his character and perseverance,” said Cowan. “He became, for me, the embodiment of that generation that didn’t see themselves as extraordinary but survived such difficulties.”

The University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St., is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.