When I was a little girl, the Los Angeles Natural History Museum was my favorite place in the world. I was obsessed with mummies and dinosaur skeletons. Every weekend I’d beg my parents to take me there.
One month we visited two Sundays in a row. I thought I’d gone to (strange little girl) heaven!
After years in a dead-end job, those memories guided me to UCLA’s Department of Anthropology, where I also took classes in archaeology and paleontology, earning a Master’s degree at age 36.
Recently I returned to the Museum. Ah, the scent of old cloth and ancient stone. I’ll take it over Shalimar any day. But they’d remodeled! Where were the mummies? And is that…modern art?
I studied the prehistoric sea cow skeleton (dusisiren jordani) flying above. Strange, not only because sea cows don’t fly.
Wire mesh covered half of it.
Contemporary artist Randy Cooper (1943 – ) created the effect, based on a technique he pioneered and calls Shadow Sculptures. I can almost forgive the Museum for ditching the mummies, since Cooper is an inspiring late bloomer.
He took his first art class in his 40s — a six-week sculpture series. After the first evening, he came home and told his wife,
I know what I’m going to be when I grow up.
I’m going to be a professional sculptor.
That class and its follow-up equals the extent of Cooper’s formal training. Although he first worked in the traditional mediums of clay, bronze and artificial stone, he soon began experimenting with wire mesh. His magical torsos, which create intriguing shadows, have made him world famous.
Cooper’s artist statement observes: “When lit with a light source, the shadows sometimes have more details than the sculpture itself.” In fact, one man who commissioned his wife’s torso decided to keep it in the bedroom!
Cooper receives several hundred private commissions a year and his work is extremely popular in Paris. Amazingly, he does not use molds. He does all the shaping with his hands and a few simple tools.
The Los Angeles County Natural History Museum wasn’t his sweetest assignment. That honor goes to Inferno, the chocolate dress (post image above) Cooper designed with Stevie Famulari for the 2004 Annual Chocolate Show, a chocoholic’s dream convention held annually in New York.
The framework holds 40 pounds of chocolate and candies—without using straps. Cooper ingeniously designed it to sit on the model’s hips. He and Famulari have collaborated on other wearable art (such as the fanciful corset that Famulari wears in the post image above).
Here I am, 61 years old, and I want to design dresses.
It’s a kick.
Now age 68, Cooper lives in New Mexico with his wife, Susan, a writer and an artist who works primarily in pastels, oils, and acrylics.
Wondering what Cooper did before he took that first sculpting class? He…
- worked as a lumberjack and hod carrier (assistant brick layer) in the woods of the Pacific Northwest,
- earned a Master’s degree in education and taught special education for over a decade and
- spent seven years with Westinghouse, first as an operator, then as a Total Quality Management developer and teacher.
In other words, a typical Later Bloomer!
- Randy Cooper’s website
- The ABQ Journal (source no longer available)
- The Los Angeles Natural History Museum