- Associated Press - Saturday, August 16, 2014

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) - For Sam Cooper, art was something to do quietly, to savor in his basement as he put on a track of Mozart and drifted off to his special place.

He never needed a spotlight or a pat on the back for the years he spent teaching himself watercolor. Neither did Cooper, 87, need any fancy tools or even a new piece of paper for his art - oftentimes, he painted on both sides or on a scrap piece lying around the house.

It came as a mighty surprise to Cooper’s kids, then, when they discovered he had produced something close to 500 paintings in that basement, much of his work coming after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease decades ago.

Cooper’s paintings of landscapes, windmills and small European towns went on display for the first time in his life recently at St. Patrick Presbyterian Church. The show was a part of First Fridays, a monthly event in downtown Greeley.

For Cooper’s family, the show was an opportunity to see a new side of the man they all loved. It was a time to celebrate his life, and also to say goodbye.

Cooper’s disease advanced to a point several weeks ago that meant he was bed-ridden and barely speaking. Some family members feared he may not live long enough to see his art show through, said Bruce Cooper, one of Sam’s sons.

But when the art show was about a week away - close enough for Sam to remember each day that it was approaching - his kids began showing him the calendar each day in a countdown, his daughter Ann Rich said.

It worked.

Sam wasn’t one for too many words at the show, but he smiled with bright eyes at kind words from his friends and family, and paused in between greetings to gaze on some of his work.

“He’s had a tremendous day, all day,” said Kristi Kilpatrick, Sam’s caregiver who first suggested the art show.

Sam would probably never admit it, but on the rare occasions that he made his work known, he seemed to secretly appreciate the compliments, Bruce said.

Bryan Cooper, another of Sam’s sons, said that made it obvious he painted purely for pleasure, which, he said, is the mark of a true artist.

Many of Sam’s watercolors depict landscapes or ranch houses, but some come from a time when he took a bike ride through Europe with Bruce.

The pair stopped in the small town in Holland where Sam’s parents grew up, and they traveled through Italy.

“He took some pictures there that just totally moved him” Bruce said.

Jo Cooper, Sam’s wife of 63 years, said some of her favorite paintings were the Christmas cards he painted to send out for the holidays. That was some of the only work that many who knew Sam ever saw, until Friday.

Sam had always been very active, playing tennis and getting outdoors regularly, Jo said. As the Parkinson’s eventually took away his ability to walk, Sam turned more and more to his painting.

When his hand began shaking too much from the disease, he used a weighted glove to keep it steady enough to hold a paint brush.

His disease has since taken even that from him. In a short autobiography displayed on the coffee table, Sam wrote that news of the disease was devastating for him, as he knew he would eventually be robbed of the gift of movement.

But his life has been full of things he loved - hiking, biking, camping, playing tennis, fishing, traveling to far-off places.

“As a whole, my life has been good to me, and I am extremely grateful,” Sam wrote.

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Information from: The Tribune of Greeley, Co, http://greeleytribune.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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