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No matter what the media, Cindy Cooper pursues art with pleasure
September 29th, 2009
“I don’t have the wanderlust that a lot of other artists have,” she said. “Even if my family were no longer here, I think I’d stay because I love this place. I’m proud of it. I feel at home…. I don’t consider me part of Milwaukee but it is part of me. It is part of what defines me.”
That enthusiasm seems typical of how Cooper has built her life. It’s apparent in how she talks about her work:
On art: “I really do it more for myself than for anyone else. It just gives me pleasure.”
On teaching: “I love children, which is why I still teach…. The fun part is the kids.”
On making a living: “Part-time jobs are a Godsend. I’m not doing anything part time that I’m not having fun with.”
On her hobbies: “I love biographies, murder mysteries, old films, history, Lincoln…. I think all that stuff makes you happy and, for me, helps my art.”
A native Milwaukeean, she graduated from Whitefish Bay High School and studied art at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. As part of her studies, she studied art for one year in Rome with Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.
With a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in printmaking and a K-12 teacher certification in hand, she moved to Appleton to teach art in the public school system.
Four years later, she moved home and began patching together a life filled with art, teaching and a long list of hobbies.
Cooper is now arguably the go-to artist of the organized (and not so organized) Jewish community.
She seems to be involved in everything. In addition to teaching art at Congregations Beth Israel and Sinai (for 27 years), she leads many on-site art programs. “I call myself a fine artist for commissions.”
And her work is everywhere. As the art specialist in the Creativity Center of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Learning, she creates projects that are used by educators throughout the community.
If you’ve seen the cover of Beth Israel’s “Can’t Believe it’s Kosher!” cookbook or illustrations of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center’s 2001 book, “Tastes of Jewish Tradition,” you’ve seen her work.
(You might also see her working part time at Café Osher, which appeals to her love of cooking.)
She has been commissioned for countless designs for b’nai mitzvah invitations, poetry books, ketubot (Jewish wedding contracts) and more. She creates framed calligraphy pieces that combine letter and design. She does portraits in pastel and black and white.
Recently, her interest has gone three-dimensional with her interest in bookmaking, stitchery and collages.
A member of the International Bank Note Society, she collects bank notes and creates art with them. “Using engraved elements from bank notes and stock certificates, I put them together into collages,” she said, noting that this work has attracted many commissions.
For Cooper, her love of art hinges on “the bare bones of artwork” — shape, form, color, light and texture — rather than “an intangible, indefinable angst” or a commitment to a particular vision. “My curiosity is mainly in form and product and not so much in inspiration,” she said. “The material drives me.”
That drive leads her to continuing education. “I take classes whenever I can. I’m just trying to keep up with what I know and increase my knowledge and, at the same time, learn new techniques and new applications.”
As for tomorrow, she’d like to keep on keeping on. “I don’t hope that it will make me a huge living because I don’t think it will. But I hope I can keep doing it forever.”
“I would still love to be playing with art when I’m 90 years old. I’d like to never stop,” she said.