First published: Fall 2008
Ronald and Jessie Cooper became artists by chance in their mid-fifties. Prior to that, their lives had followed a path common for their generation: early marriage, leaving their home-town for better opportunities, raising four children, working in a variety of jobs, financial challenges, health problems, and so on. With no relevant background, their journey into the world of art was taken with no expectations.
The youngest of eleven children, Ronald Cooper was born in 1931 in Plummers Mill, a tiny farming community in north-east Kentucky. He grew up attending the local Christian Holiness Church, and this religious grounding was later to have a defining influence on his work as an artist. In 1949 he married Jessie Dunaway, a local girl, who was sixteen at the time.
After a number of years of working in grocery stores and supermarkets in Kentucky and Ohio, the Coopers ran a country store, but when this failed after eight years Ronald took a job in quality control on the assembly line at Frigidaire and Jessie found employment on the production line at a ‘peanut factory’.
While he was employed at Frigidaire, Ronald suffered the first of two heart attacks. In 1984 he was seriously injured in a motoring accident. His recovery was painful and slow, and he suffered from clinical depression. With Ronald unable to work, the Coopers moved into a mobile home.
To occupy Ronald’s mind, their children bought him some electric-powered woodworking tools, and he began to make simple wooden toys cut out of flat pieces of timber, which were then painted by Jessie and sold in local craft shops. In 1987, Tom Sternal, an art professor at Morehead State University, Kentucky came across their work and encouraged them to try their hand at personal expression.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #64