Wood-engravings of A.C. Cooper

WatermillIntroduction

Born in Reading in 1890, Albert Cooper was apprenticed as a printer at the age of fourteen. He also attended evening classes at the University College Reading, where he was introduced to graphic design and illustration. He worked for a number of local printing firms including Knill & Sons, and the Eastern Press. In 1922 he joined Harold Taylor at the Golden Cockerel Press, Waltham Saint Lawrence. Subsequently he worked closely with Robert Gibbings, who took over direction of the Golden Cockerel in 1924, until its sale to Christopher Sandford in 1933. Thereafter Cooper was no longer employed in the printing trade.

At Waltham Cooper met the many prominent artists and writers associated with the press. During this period the Golden Cockerel became pre-eminent among English private presses, producing fine books often illustrated with wood-engravings. Cooper was himself an enthusiastic and prolific artist in his spare time, and Gibbings encouraged him to develop his own work, particularly wood engraving, for which he showed considerable talent.

Cooper exhibited his work with the Society of Wood Engravers on at least four occasions between 1924 and 1928. Also in 1928 he was included in an exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, in the company of Gibbings, Eric Gill, Eric Ravilious, David Jones, and other artists associated with the Press, although the catalogue did not describe his prints individually in the way it did theirs. He sold work through the Redfern Gallery London, and elsewhere, and exhibited at local art shows where he was often a prize-winner. Throughout his life, frequently in the company of his wife Dorothy, he made numerous sketching trips throughout Britain and Ireland, and painted in watercolours and oils.

Cooper moved to Ruscombe in 1924 but regularly cycled into Reading to attend evening classes at the University School of Art. He was an enthusiastic member of Reading Guild of Artists for many years and a founder member of the Twyford and Ruscombe Art Group. He remained at Ruscombe until his death in January 1989 at the age of ninety-eight.

Undoubtedly the high reputation of the Golden Cockerel Press was due in part to the exceptional standards of presswork that Albert Cooper achieved. To Eric Gill he was 'the (almost) infallible Cooper'. Not surprisingly Gill was less enthusiastic about Cooper's work as a wood engraver.

Wood-engravings

In pastoral subjects very typical of the period, as Morning, there is more than an echo of the work of Cooper's fellow wood engraver Ethelbert White, whose prints are numerous in Cooper's own collection of proof pulls, and perhaps also a degree of sentimentality. But he was capable of stronger images, as witnessed by An Old Pollarded Willow Tree (below), and he frequently displays an unusual interest in mechanization, as in The Water Mill (above) and Road Makers, and the dramatic effects of light at night (Headlights, Mid-night Travellers). He was also willing to tackle figures, and notoriously difficult crowd scenes, achieving a certain, perhaps unintended, humour in Harvest Festival (below), and a pleasing naivete in The Merry-go-round.

WillowtreeIn 1989 Dorothy Cooper presented the University Library with a miscellaneous collection of materials, conspicuous amongst which were Cooper's own wood-engravings. The following list records his major works ­- those which he editioned (with the one exception of Loddon Willows), always in fifties, and mounted for exhibition and sale. A few apparently minor, editioned, but unmounted items are excluded, as are many other miscellaneous prints. The titles given here are Cooper's own, most often written by him in pencil on the back of the mount. There are some variations, which are recorded. Editioning and signing is on the print.

Prints

HarvestfestivalAbingdon
The Angler
Donegal (one example inscribed 'From Lamia')
Elms at Sunset
Flies
Harbour Lights
Harvest Festival
Headlights (one example titled 'Motor Headlights')
Loddon Willows
The Merry-go-round
Mid-Night Travellers
Morning
An Old Pollarded Willow Tree
On the Farm (one example stamped on the mount 'The Redfern Gallery Ltd.')
Road Makers
The Water Mill (One example titled 'The Mill')
A Wiltshire Cottage (one example titled 'Earlstone Wilts')
Untitled (Cottage with milkman)
Untitled (Market at night)

Notes

Morning was no. 60 in the Society of Wood Engravers annual show in 1924; On the Farm, as 'Down on the Farm', no. 86 in 1925; Road Makers and The Merry-go-round respectively nos 103 and 106 in 1926; Donegal no. 98 in the first of the 1928 shows. All were in editions of fifty and priced at one guinea each.

Morning was printed on the cover of the Golden Cockerel Press prospectus Forthcoming publications 1926 (Cock-a-hoop XIX). Morning was also reproduced in The Reader, 2 no. 2, November 1926, p. 75. Flies and Loddon Willows were published in Tamesis: the official journal of the Students' Union of the University of Reading, 29 no. 3, Summer term 1931, p. 56 and opposite p. 74. In the same issue, p. 73, under the heading 'The Art Club', it is noted that 'a number of students were very anxious to visit the Golden Cockerel Press and Mr Robert Gibbings has kindly consented to give up an evening to show us round'.

Acknowledgements

The University Library is indebted to Mrs Dorothy Cooper for her gift of the A.C. Cooper Collection; this brochure by David Knott, with acknowledgments to Martin Andrews for information supplied over a long period, and Hilary Paynter for kindly providing details from the records of the Society of Wood Engravers.

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