Rob Cooper’s legs were spinning the pedals of his bicycle during a nighttime commute through his neighborhood on the Jackson subway a few years ago when a direct message rang out on his phone, catching the eye of the artist of the stained glass window and, for a moment, stunned him as he saw the name of the one who sent him: Neil Gaiman.
As a teenager, Cooper fell in love with the British author’s best-selling works, including ‘The Sandman’, a comic book series from DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint soon to air on Netflix, and Nebula, Hugo and Bram Stoker. . Award-winning novel “American Gods”. As a father, Cooper read Gaiman’s books to his own children before bed.
Pausing, Cooper read the message: “Rob, I love your work. Can you make me a window in the UK? »
“What about Neil Gaiman?”
Cooper joined Pearl River Glass Studio in Jackson’s Midtown neighborhood as an intern in 1994, developing his talent and eventually achieving his current position as Chief Glass Painter. The artist divides her time between studio work and her own commissions and interests.
As a personal project, Cooper compiled a list of his favorite authors and began portraying them, starting with Eudora Welty for “local fame” as well as Daphne du Maurier and Franz Kafka. The lawsuit linked his passion for books and literature to his artistic prowess.
“(The show was) a way for me to do something that I wanted to do — in a way that nobody told me how to do it,” Cooper said.
Shortly after, the artist’s friend, Laurel Wing Caston, an art collector, said, “Hey, what about Neil Gaiman?
The author was already on Cooper’s list of around 100 writers, but Caston’s suggestion “ignited a fire” under Cooper and served as a catalyst, leading him to move Gaiman to the top and then in line for a portrait. .
Completing Gaiman’s portrait in 2020, Cooper mailed it to Caston. “It went well,” Cooper said.
The artist also posted a photo of the portrait on Instagram. Recounting his admiration for Gaiman, he shared a memory of being fired as a teenager for reading Gaiman’s “The Sandman” too much at work.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Gaiman was remodeling a home in the UK when he came across the image of his face in stained glass. He reviewed Cooper’s work on the platform and decided to reach out via direct message.
“I was floored and just said, ‘Sure,'” Cooper recalled.
Harry Clarke “setting the bar”
The excitement over the commission lasted for months, Cooper said. Then comes the long process of fine-tuning the style and details.
“He didn’t give me much to go on, other than it was for a house he’s renovating in the UK,” Cooper explained. “I thought he was going to have all these ideas for the window, being this amazing storyteller.”
In an early exchange, Gaiman shared an image of a window by famed early 20th-century Irish stained glass artist and illustrator Harry Clarke, who happens to be Cooper’s favorite artist in this field. “His work is great, super detailed too, so that’s where I set the tone,” he said.
Clarke’s works served as a springboard for inspiration.
“I think that’s what set the bar high for me,” Cooper said. “I think of Neil Gaiman, and I also think of Harry Clarke, two of my heroes. It pushed me to push over the top.”
Cooper pushed Gaiman for details of their email conversations, focusing on the images. Since Gaiman is such an advocate for literacy and libraries, as well as a voracious reader and lover of literature, Cooper came up with the idea of a gigantic library scene, to begin with. Gaiman referenced a library in the Sandman comics, in the main character’s castle.
“He was offering me the chance to star in his creation,” Cooper said.
The small designs have garnered positive feedback. “He gave me total freedom, really,” Cooper said. “He didn’t want to tie me down in any way. He apparently went through my work on Instagram and decided he liked it enough to trust me to do whatever I wanted to do, which was pretty overwhelming.
Aspiring to create his most ambitious window to date, Cooper took a months-long hiatus from the studio to devote more time to the effort.
“Everything I’ve learned in over 25 years of working at Pearl River Glass, I kind of fit into that window,” he said.
The window, over a meter high and packed with detail, had to be planned and drawn by hand, full size, on paper in advance. “When you work with glass, the improvisation is not the same as with paint,” explains the artist.
Cooper spent a month on the drawing before translating the approved design into glass.
“Andy has this incredible selection of glasses from around the world,” he said of Pearl River Glass owner Andy Young, who gave Cooper the okay to use whatever was available at the studio to the command. “It’s the one I pulled out of the Cadillac window and didn’t hold on to.”
“Everything is permitted in dreamland”
In Gaiman’s “The Sandman”, the main character Dream, also known as Sandman or Morpheus, lives in a castle with a library at its heart. The Dream Library is full of books that great authors have imagined but never created.
“They’re just dreaming, so it was a really fun concept, which let my imagination run wild,” Cooper said.
The resulting window art is a labyrinthine treat in blues and golds, with teases of infinity wherever the eye strikes. Lucian the Librarian is on the spiral staircase, with Matthew the Raven on a nearby railing – characters from Gaiman’s comics.
“The nice thing is that Neil Gaiman’s house actually has a spiral staircase with a shelf underneath, which I didn’t know exactly was the case,” Cooper said. “It ended up integrating with the architecture of the house in a really interesting way.”
Cooper based the window layout on Siena Cathedral in Italy, which helped him “achieve something epic,” he said.
A sculpted, sleeping head of Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote a story about an infinite library, rests atop a column. A detailed lute player in Cooper’s window comes directly from a panel of the last window Clarke ever made – the window shared by Gaiman which was his favorite.
“I referenced a lot of different things,” Cooper said of the Easter eggs included in the final product, such as the Buddha and Aladdin’s lamp, which reward closer scrutiny. “Glinda from ‘Oz’ books is in the library, studying. Because so many characters cross the stories, I thought it would be really fun – and weird – but it all happens in dreamland.
One night, Cooper had stayed until after midnight at the studio putting the finishing touches on the window when he sent Gaiman a picture of the finished work. The author responded by noting his details, his faces, his references and his worlds within worlds.
“It’s a stained glass window that’s bigger on the inside, which is totally fitting,” Gaiman replied, giving a nod to “Doctor Who,” a long-running TV franchise Gaiman has been working on for. wrote several episodes.
‘Full Circle’, meets Gaiman in person
Last May, a year after shipping the window to Gaiman’s home in London, Cooper met the author of myths and fantasy tales in person. A friend’s invitation to visit Austin, Texas coincided with the author’s tour stop there. Caston, who had commissioned the window for Gaiman’s portrait and had since moved to the city, also attended the show.
“It came full circle,” Cooper said. “I have to go behind the scenes to meet him”, just like his whole family. “It was good that we all got to see it.” Wendy Eddleman, Cooper’s wife and fellow artist, along with their children Lucie, 21, and Theo, 16, all played a symbolic role in the project, wrapping tin foil around some coins.
“I told him it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing in stained glass,” Cooper said, once again thanking Gaiman for the opportunity to create it.
Roy Adkins, friend, photographer and Gaiman fan, helped Cooper create a poster of the window design, both for a personal recording of the work and at the request of friends who wanted a copy.
When Gaiman promoted the posters, dozens of orders were received.
“I’ve never felt so challenged,” Cooper said of the “dream opportunity.” The window represented a personal artistic pinnacle, and its creation paralleled the rest of the family’s artistic direction. During the trip, Edelman revisited Gaiman’s literature and comics, and their children also turned to Pearl River Glass Studio, where they all work now.
See part of Cooper’s process in this video of “Makers in Their Spaces” from the Mississippi Museum of Art series. Purchase copies of the Neil Gaiman commissioned poster through Cooper’s PageInstagram or at Pearl River Glass Studio (142 Millsaps Ave., Jackson). For more information about the studio, visit pearlriverglass.com.