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For the Love of Creativity: Nancy Cooper


Jessica Johnson
As a little girl, Nancy Cooper was a self-proclaimed smartass who enjoyed being creative. One day when she got sent to her room for being a little mouthy, instead of staring at the walls sulking, she went into the garage, found a can of paint and painted her bedroom furniture. “When I was supposed to be doing homework I would draw women’s clothing. It was always when I wasn’t supposed to. I would start coloring with whatever,” she says.

This love of coloring matured to painting one Christmas when her cousin received a set of oil paints and showed them to Nancy—within a day Nancy’s mother not only purchased paints for her, but three canvases that would all end up quickly painted. Now, Nancy, a Montgomery native who relocated to the country near Wetumpka over 30 years ago, is an acclaimed abstract artist with paintings in galleries across the River Region and beyond. “I love living out,” she says of her converted barn where she lives with her daughter Katie. “I spent a lot of time looking at the colors of nature and how they work together.”

Capitol Heights Jr. High’s art program was Nancy’s first experience with any sort of formal direction. She credits her art teacher during those important years as the person who taught her everything. For the first time, Nancy had an adult that helped her grow her budding skill set. At an impressionable age, it was life giving for Nancy, and would ultimately lead her to majoring in art in college.

But in the early 1970s, when art was something many thought they had a “talent” for and saw themselves as the next Warhol or Lichtenstein, that Nancy was discouraged. A harsh teacher in the program tried to persuade Nancy from continuing to follow her passion due to the lack of art jobs. “She said, ‘if you are not fantastic you need to change your major.’ So, I changed my major,” Nancy remembers of the incident.

Following graduation, Nancy spent 34 years teaching 5th and 6th grades at Maxwell Elementary School on Maxwell Air Force Base. But art was never far from her mind. “In the classroom, my kids were always doing something creative,” she says. Due to her lack of certification, she only taught art one year.

Nancy found herself doing other things when she retired from teaching in 2007, including painting: “I was just loving every minute of it.” After she converted a spare bedroom into a studio, magic started to happen. “It’s almost like being an addict,” she remarks.

Continuing, “I can be at a party having a wonderful time and an idea will hit. Then I am not happy until I can sit down at my easel and paint. It’s just a feeling that you know inside of you what you want to paint—even though you haven’t planned it all out.” She admits that sometimes she will sit down at the easel and expect the painting to go in one direction; but then it will turn out completely different, and there’s just a little bit of enchantment in that.

Abstracts on canvas are Nancy’s favorite thing to paint, and she admits they are her most popular. Mixed media pieces are another favorite; she says she finds a lot of inspiration in junk mail of all kinds. “It just is one of those things that jumps in my head. I like a lot of texture in my paintings,” she adds.

Another favorite medium for Nancy is old pieces of wood—which serve as her reminder that you don’t need white paper or a blank canvas to make something beautiful, that there’s sometimes even more beauty in rescuing something that is doomed.

The joy for Nancy is not in the finished product of a specific idea. Instead, her joy comes from the method. The joy of each brushstroke as it spreads thick oil paint transports Nancy into another world: “Life is perfect when I am sitting at the easel. I have no problems.”

Nancy Cooper originals can be purchased in the following galleries: Red Hill Gallery, Tallassee; Mathison Interiors, Montgomery; Candle Cabin, Montgomery, and both locations of Holley’s Home Furnishings in Alex City and Montgomery.

Additionally, once a month, Red Hill Gallery in Tallassee produces “Moonshine and Design,” a paint and sip party with a featured artist. Many times, that featured artist is Nancy Cooper. Everyone at the party paints the same image, with Nancy offering direction. While these classes are for adults; she also works frequently with children interested in art. “I love to work with kids,” the former elementary school teacher says, proving the adage that old habits do often die hard. “Because they are so free… they haven’t been told they aren’t very good. They all think they are a wonderful artist and therefore they produce wonderful work.”

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