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Terra Cotta Sculptor

Cheryl Cooper sculpts in terra cotta, a medium usually reserved for utilitarian pieces.

Cheryl Cooper began her career as an artist by reading an ad in the newspaper. An art class was being taught at the local recreation center claiming to teach "anyone to sculpt." Cheryl took the teacher up on it! Her medium is rather unconventional. Rather than sculpting in bronze, she chooses to sculpt in terra cotta--a medium usually reserved for utilitarian pieces, not fine art.

Her realistic figures and busts vary from children to women to a wide range of animals, usually without the use of models but with a mere idea, inspired by the unrehearsed antics of people Cheryl encounters. Each piece begins the same way--with a 25-pound bag of red clay and a galvanized pipe mounted on wood for the armature, she begins the sculpting process. To keep the sculptures from blowing up during firings, she must poke holes in the clay and be sure it is no thicker than 3/4 inch in any one place, which means she has to hollow it out. But to do so, she must take her masterpiece apart! Cheryl cuts the sculpture into several smaller pieces, hollows out each piece, and then has to reattach the pieces using a mixture of water, dry clay bits, and vinegar. Next, it's time for the fine detail work. This process requires many layers of textures, as most of her pieces contain skin or clothing.

Once dry, the sculptures undergo a bisque fire. Then they are usually stained with iron oxide just before a high fire, followed by a 10-minute reduction. A reduction is the process of closing every opening in the kiln, "choking" the kiln for air. When the kiln is choked, it still requires oxygen for the gas flame to burn. Therefore it seeks oxygen from every possible source, including the stain and the clay. When oxygen is pulled from the iron oxide stain (which is technically rust), it returns to its former state, which is iron, changing the original red and black hues to wonderful blues and purples and metallic colors with the clay color still showing through.

Finally, her works are touched up with wood stains and water-based oil paints and finished off with a floor wax polishing. A unique and beautiful sculpture has now been created. Cheryl's sculptures are classical with a turn toward an Art Deco style, often featuring women adorned with a profusion of flowers and children detailed with old-fashioned clothing styles.

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