Poet, printmaker show at NPG
The Coopers, married for 31 years, work well together in art, too

Budgeteer News
Kyle Eller

Sometimes it’s all in the family. Joel and Deborah Cooper each have successful artistic lives of their own – Joel is one of the founders of the Northern Printmakers Alliance and Deborah is a poet with three published books to her credit.


But their work together has been featured in galleries across the Northland, and a new exhibit at the Northern Prints Gallery, 318 N. 14th Ave. E., opens Thursday.

“Works for the New Millennium” is just what it sounds like – work done by the two since the year 2000. “We had to try to think of what to do,” Joel said. Eventually they just picked a cut-off point, and they were surprised to see that they had nearly 40 pieces to choose from.

Joel began his screen printing work through a class at the Duluth Art Institute 15 years ago. It was through that same organization that the couple first did a collaborative show. Since, the couple, married for 31 years, have shown together in Aitkin, Grand Marais and elsewhere.

The themes that come through this particular collection involve the landscapes that inspire both artists, including the countryside surrounding a place the Coopers own on the South Shore of Lake Superior. They also have traveled to Italy, Ireland and Wales, and each has produced different works.

In the case of the Welsh-inspired work, Joel decided to work in a really stringent traditional format that sets dramatic limits on the dimensions, making the print either really wide or really tall. Deborah decided to do a haiku in response.

“Because he was using a strict form, I though I would use a strict form, too,” she said. Another theme has been family, particularly aging and loss. It’s one that has also shown up in Deborah’s individual work, after she lost both of her parents.

“There’s always that sense of needing to remind ourselves to just pay attention,” she said. There is also one striking work involving Joel’s parents, dancing, even though they are struggling with aging in other ways.

The Coopers say they enjoy both their individual work and their collaborations. “I think it’s all good,” Joel said. “… It’s nice to do something creative together.”

Deborah said the collaborations have made their relationship more fun. And she said each respects the other’s work process. That place on the South Shore is where a lot of work gets done, and not all of it is done together – they respect each other’s need for solitude.

For Deborah, it’s a deeply spiritual process.

For Joel, it’s less so. “I don’t have these deep-seated, heavy meanings to the work I do,” he said. But the collaboration brings out something in each. “When I’m working from the poem I’m not always working for the meaning of the poem,” he said. It might just be an interesting image.

Conversely, when Deborah works from the print – as is the case in about three quarters of the pieces which will be shown – she works from the emotion, rather than the literal image. The two also offer each other a considerable amount of feedback, positive and negative.

Deborah has done more collaborating, working with dancers and other artists, as well. “It opens a door that would have stayed closed otherwise,” she said. In fact, the two have kind of inspired a trend. The Northern Printmakers Alliance will be doing a collaboration with Lake Superior Writers, a group Deborah is affiliated with. During the Coopers’ exhibition, both will also showcase some individual work, Joel in the form of a few prints and Deborah in the form of some of her books. Both are happy to be in the Northern Prints Gallery, owned and operated by printmaker Cecilia Lieder.

“I really support what she’s doing,” Joel said. The gallery offers an “intimate setting,” he noted, much like someone’s living room. In fact, that’s very much the case – the gallery, dedicated exclusively to original prints, is in an 1891 vintage Duluth home, designed to give patrons a sense of how the works will look in their own living rooms.

“Works for the New Millennium” runs through Aug. 14. A public opening, with a chance to meet the artists, is scheduled for Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Those interested in learning more about the Coopers and their work may also find information at the couple’s Web site,