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February 22, 2020
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A day of wood and amazement

  • Michael Cooper, sculptor and retired art teacher, is checking out the workings of his little wooden car. Jane Peleti

By: Irene Hilsendager
November 9, 2018

Visiting Michael Cooper last week was a day of intrigue, mystery and awes. Every sculpture or frames with go-carts was a guessing game, everything looked fairly normal at the huge piece of property north of Sebastopol until the large barn doors were opened to reveal so many pieces of art made of wood and metal. Cooper grew up in Lodi, the son of a grocer, and received his education at San Jose State, U.C. Berkeley and then taught art at the Foothill DeAnza College in Cupertino, Ca. for thirty-four years. He is now formally retired but the construction and simplicity of each art piece is mind boggling. When asked if he sleeps at night, his reply was “I sleep very well.” The reality of it all is so mind blowing that every piece of art is so detailed and intricately built. Walking through the two studios was almost as if you are in the Smithsonian and seeing a fantastic piece around each corner. The colors are bright and when you touch the piece, you would say everything is plastic or aluminum with different colors of woods, but it is stainless steel, with many different woods and resin. Michael builds with old Harley Davidson motors, air switches that make things move, wings swing out or propellers move. He is heavy into commercial art with illustrations and built a three-dimensional object. Cooper loves challenges. There are lessons to be learned even if painful and it does surprise you to some extent. In the mid 80s he lived in Rome making figurative sculptures and also built a duplicating machine, He said things ran their course and would not know where it would lead him to. He has sold his art and also has showings. He works about eight hours a day in his studio and that would lead to sixty hours a week. Michael had taken a 1937 Chevy pickup and built the first go cart before the phase started. He loved living in Perth as he said the wood from Australia is so mysterious-the colors are amazing. One intricate piece that stole the show (every piece steals the show as you look around the large room) is called How the West was won and How the West was lost. It has an oil derrick, cowboy boots, revolver, and about 100 things that move and revolve around the derrick. Each art piece has to be gazed at for at least an hour as every time you move you find another piece that either moves or the colors are amazing. One of his most recent works was influenced by his interest in combining organic and geometric forms with kinetic elements. During Michael’s illustrious career, he has received numerous awards and fellowships and a National Endowment for the Arts Award. Michael has participated in many one-man shows and is represented in various publications and private and public collections. After looking at a bright blue object that represented a chair, Michael made the statement that would only come from an artist. “The sculpture/chair series continues my exploration of wood, aluminum and steel using various laminating, machining and welding techniques. I find that bend wood lamination, in a single plane or in a compound curve, has enormous potential in developing form, strength and design. The sculpture/chair that develops during the exploratory process of options is both mysterious and elusive form, but it is powerful and seductive when it works.”