Jessie Cooper, Kentucky folk artist, 1932 — 2013

Kentucky folk artist Jessie Cooper passed away today after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband, Ronald Cooper, died in a hospital in Lexington on Saturday, August 18th, 2012.

“It’s a gift from God, it truly is.” That’s how Ronald Cooper describes the works created by his wife Jessie and himself. Jessie says that she’s always painted, although she had only used crayons until she and Ronald married (at 17 and 16), and he bought her first set of paints. (excerpted from Self Taught Folk Art)

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 a variety of jobs, financial calamity and major health problems. After a number of years of working in grocery stores and supermarkets in Kentucky and Ohio, the Coopers ran their own country store. When this failed after eight years Ronald was forced to take a job in quality control at a warehouse and Jessie found employment at a nut packaging plant. (excerpt taken from Raw Vision Magazine’s “The Art of Redemption” by Adrian Swain)

While employed in quality control at Frigidaire, Ronald suffered the first of two heart attacks. Then in 1984, he was critically injured in an automobile accident which left him paralyzed from the waist down. While in recovery, he suffered from clinical depression and began having terrible nightmares which he found he could only exorcise through art. The husband and wife team complemented one anothers work: Jessie creating a world of heaven and Ronald depicting hell out of his own subconscious feelings. Their work quickly rose to fame among in the folk/ outsider art world at an international level.

Adam Mark Brown has produced a film about the Coopers “I Dreamed I Searched for You in Heaven”. (http://cooperfolkart.com/about.html) The story interweaves themes of memory, loss, and death in relation to their work and life experiences showing Jessie’s own struggle to triumph in retaining memories of her life while succumbing to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease and Ronald’s struggle after while losing his soul-mate.

(Photos © Copyright Kelly Ludwig, all rights reserved)