Kentucky folk artists Ronald and Jessie Cooper began to make art in their fifties after a rather traditional American life of marriage, work, and children. After Ronald was seriously injured in 1984, his children bought him a set of woodworking tools to pull him out of his depression. He could not work, but he could carve. He began to make wooden toys, which Jessie would then paint and sell. When Morehead State University professor Tom Sternal came across their work in 1987, he suggested to them that they delve into a more expressive style- one that would speak to their personal world. Together they created a religiously obsessive body of work, from figurines to furniture that opens to reveal Biblical and apocalyptical scenes within.
One of the most striking pieces depicts John and Lorena Bobbitt, a couple who gained notoriety in 1993 when Lorena severed John’s penis after a fight in which John allegedly raped her. In Ronald Cooper’s rendition of this moment in American media, Lorena stands over John’s bed holding his severed member with the words “I done it” painted on her stomach. The headboard of the bed is inscribed with the words “She bobbed it,” and the footboard with “Careful men, we might be next.”
Morehead State helped many local folk artists develop their vision and market their art around the country, so that they could hopefully sustain themselves with their work. It was crucial, however, that the university not interfere with the content or style of the art.
Ronald passed away in 2012, and Jessie in 2013.