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Creating is therapy for painter with painful past

Karie Cooper is a full-time student studying to be an art therapist. She makes jewelry, treasure boxes and bright paintings. (Dan Pelle)
Karie Cooper is a full-time student studying to be an art therapist. She makes jewelry, treasure boxes and bright paintings. (Dan Pelle)

Karie Cooper is another example of the healing power of art.

Her firsthand knowledge in the healing and therapeutic value of art has led her to the path of art therapy. Hour upon hour, her hands work tiny brushes and tools; the final products illustrate her love of color and desire to bring peaceful reflection to others. Called Zen art, her paintings and handmade jewelry reflect what creating art means to her. “A place where I can be at peace,” she said.

Cooper, 49, has been making art for as long as she can remember. For years, she kept art in the “hobby zone,” keeping a drawer or box full of sketch books and art supplies to go to when the urge hit. Life happened; she got pregnant and ran away from home. On welfare, she attended secretarial school and got her first job at The Spokesman-Review before her class graduated from Lewis and Clark High School.

She left the Spokane area to work at casinos on cruise ships and, after a divorce at 29, she hit the road to attend the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles. After graduating in 1992, she worked at the school and played in bands.

After tiring of the Los Angeles scene, she headed to Albuquerque, N.M., where she played music and worked as a blackjack dealer pit boss which led to a diagnosis of pathological gambling and a downward spiral followed by a series of counseling sessions and Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

“One day I went to the garage and started ripping through boxes. I found all my old art work and supplies,” she said, “I spent three days in bed just ripping and gluing paper. Somehow this process got me going again and I had come back to a part of myself that I had packed away: my artistic self.”

A few years ago, Cooper’s father died and she moved back to Spokane to be with her mother. Now, Cooper’s art supplies are not in boxes or drawers but within arm’s reach. “I know now that I can no longer keep art in a box,” she said, “I have to make it part of my life because it is part of me. Creating art brought me back from the brink of self-destruction and it is now part of my life.” She explores mixed media, acrylic paints, total abstracts and mandalas. Her finished products, which also include hand-painted trinket boxes and jewelry, are whimsical and bright.

She is a junior at Eastern Washington University and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology in order to be an art therapist. “I’m hoping to combine my desire to help others who are going through difficulties as I have with my love of art,” she said. “Because of my own personal experiences, I know that art works as a form of therapy and how cathartic it can be.”

The Verve is a weekly feature celebrating the arts. If you know an artist, dancer, actor, musician, photographer, band or singer, contact correspondent Jennifer LaRue by email
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