Perryville artist transforms antiques into works of art
There could be a piece of art out there you didn’t know you needed to have. And if that’s the case, Cheryl Cooper might have had her hands involved in it.
The Perryville artist has dabbled in many different art mediums since she was a teenager, but she now specializes in hand-painting items such as antiques, baseball gloves and sleds and turning them into unique keepsakes.
“Art has been a constant in my life,” she says. “What I do is more realistic. I classify it as narrative art. The pieces I paint on usually reflect what I paint. If I’m painting on an oil can, I’ll do something automotive. It kind of tells a little story of what its original purpose was.”
Cheryl turned her passion into her side job, Cooper Crafts, while she was a high school teacher in Ste. Genevieve. In her gifted education class, she tasked students with creating a business in an entrepreneurship unit.
“I usually tried to do things right along with the students,” says Cheryl, who has since retired. “So I created a business plan as well, and Cooper Crafts was born.”
While she does paint on canvas occasionally, the bulk of her energy is poured into the combination of two of her favorite things: art and antiques.
Cheryl and her husband, Scott, keep a keen eye on antique shops, flea markets and estate sales for different items on which to paint. “Sometime I’ll see something and know immediately what I want to paint on it,” the juried artist with Best of Missouri Hands says. “Other times it might sit around for a year or two before it hits me.”
Her pieces of art range in size from small measuring spoons to entire tractor fenders. The smaller items she might be able to complete in under an hour, and her bigger, custom projects can take up to 20 hours.
While Cheryl does the painting of the items, it’s a team effort in the Cooper household. “Scott is more than just my roadie,” she says with a laugh. “He preps items for me, and a lot of times he’ll paint the base coat. He’s the finisher with the clear coat as well.”
The holiday season is a busy time for Cheryl. She specializes in Christmas items that are mainstays in her customers’ homes every December. She creates beautiful holiday-themed sleds, coffee pots, utensils, muffin tins and more.
“Christmas is the biggest holiday for me,” she says. “I paint holiday scenes on a little bit of everything.”
She says the personalized holiday projects she undertakes are some of her favorites as they have special meaning. “I’m painting a sled this year that a customer brought me,” she says. “It was the sled she used as a child with her sisters. I’m going to paint three snowmen on it representing each sister and paint their names on the scarves. It’s a memento of her childhood that will have more meaning now.”
Her biggest sellers annually are specially made hubcaps and personalized antique baseball gloves.
While there are plenty of options for personalized pieces of art, especially from big-box stores and online, Cheryl says there is a difference in having it done locally by an artist.
“I can make sure it is done exactly the way you want it, on the exact surface you want,” the Citizens Electric member says. “I think those items are so much more meaningful when you know the person who created it as opposed to just ordering it online.”
The Coopers’ business is still reeling from a particularly rough 14 months. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out most of Cheryl’s vendor shows for the year, forcing her to just take orders online or remotely. But the biggest loss was at a show in late 2019.
“Someone stole our entire trailer that was full of completed items,” she says. “We lost about 1,000 pieces of artwork in total. We had put so much time into all of those items. I’ll never understand it. It hurt physically and emotionally to lose it.”
So Cheryl has spent the year working to replenish her inventory, readying for when the shows can safely return. The Coopers take their art to festivals and fairs across southern and mid-Missouri along with southern Illinois.
While the past few years have been stressful, Cheryl says art — from tole painting as a teenager to her painting a custom pedal car now — has always given her an outlet.
“I started painting when I was a teacher as a release, a stress reliever,” she says. “I’ve just stuck with it because it’s something I enjoy. Handing over a piece that I worked on to a customer feels to me like I’m giving a piece of me to them. That makes it special.”