Jeffrey Cooper is often asked, “How long have you been doing this?” Now that it’s been more than four decades, this question makes him feel old. Starting out in the 70’s in a woodshop of a commune in Oregon, then taking classes at the League of NH Craftsmen, University of NH with DanValenza, and Peters Valley Craft Center in New Jersey. Then for years being largely self-taught, learning the hard way, developing his own personal style of furniture with carved decorations, sometimes carved fully in the round, taking a carving workshop with Chris Pye at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine. Then being accepted into the NH Furniture Masters Association where he rubbed shoulders with some of the best furniture makers in the world, having to rise to their extraordinary standards.
The better question would be, “What do you see yourself doing going forward?” Besides working at a more relaxed pace and enjoying all the pleasures in life, Cooper wants to focus on making things that truly enhance the quality of life for everyone. Working with furniture clients means getting to know them as friends and designing for their wish fulfillment. A perfect example of this is the Spider Bedroom set for the Schirrmeister family.
For several years now Jeffrey has been moving into the world of fine arts. He is a member of New England Sculpture Associates and has exhibited work with them, mostly crossover pieces between furniture and sculpture. Call it Art/Craft Fusion. You can browse these in the Sculpture and Garden page In the realm of public art, check out the recent installation of a relief carved wall art in nine panels, ‘Carstuff’ for the automotive school at the Lakes Region Community College in Laconia, NH. This project builds on the success of previous projects, without Ado 1 and 2 at two different hospitals, Hands at Work, at the League of NH Craftsmen headquarters, and at the Bridges House, the official guest house for the State of New Hampshire.
In all of these projects Cooper’s mission was to understand where the artwork will be seen, who will be seeing it, the goals and values of whoever is making the commission, and express that in his artwork.
Years ago Jeffrey was complaining to a friend about an injury to his hand that kept him from working. She said, sarcastically, “Stop whining and go take the train to Vancouver.” So he did. In Vancouver he happened upon a native arts museum at the University of Vancouver, and encountered the monumental sculpture Raven and First Men by Athabascan artist Bill Reid. It’s an illustration of the Athabascan creation myth. Jeffrey was fascinated. He walked around and around it for a long time, and set for himself four goals. To learn to carve. That it be fine art, not just furniture. That it would be narrative art, and he wanted to do public art.
Not long after, Jeffrey made his first public art commission, Old Porte Portico at the Jan K Platt Library in Tampa, FL.
When Jeffrey visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, Primitive Art exhibit, on display was Picasso’s Mademoiselles de Avignon. Alongside the painting were displayed the African masks Picasso had copied in doing the painting, and sure enough the male female, and profile/face view dualities were in the African masks, captured in the painting. His genius was not that he invented something brand new, but rather saw and grasped things he found magical. After seeing this Jeffrey went to his studio and created Man with a Staff, his first wood and stone piece.
Another inspiration for Cooper at that same gallery was the work of Constantin Brancusi. The sculptures found a beautiful and successful balance between reality and imaginative interpretation. Brancusi let just enough reference to realism that a viewer’s own imagination can fill in the details. It’s actually quite engaging. By focusing on line and surface, controlling shadow and texture Jeffrey has developed a unique style that isn’t realistic, but still comes alive.