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‘Simple but ambitious’ dream: Upcoming exhibit to honor late La Jolla artist Patti Cooprider

Coop Cooprider stands with a collection of art by his late wife, La Jollan Patti Cooprider.
(Courtesy of Kami Cooprider)

Hand-painted cards she gave out over the years are sought for temporary display in the collection in Balboa Park.

During her life, La Jolla resident Patti Cooprider elevated the art of the card. Over the years, everyone from restaurant servers to cabdrivers to friends and the volunteers who joined Cooprider on her many charitable efforts would get hand-painted cards.

“She would sit cross-legged on our bed until 1 or 2 in the morning making these cards,” said her husband, Coop Cooprider. “Every one was an original. Every one was hand-painted. It was something she had the compulsion and a devotion to do every day. She would cultivate friendships and create art. She couldn’t live one without the other. She lived for friendships and creating art.”

Patti died in January 2021, and to honor her and raise money to help fulfill her dream to give children access to art education, Coop is looking to re-collect some of the cards to display as part of an expansive exhibition in San Diego’s Balboa Park (the cards will be returned to their original recipients after the exhibit).

“Patti’s Spirit Lives! 40 Year Art Retrospective” will be a wall-to-wall display of her cards and other pieces of art spanning more than 5,000 square feet at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego (formerly the San Diego Art Institute) for five days starting Wednesday, April 27.

The collection already includes about 500 cards and pieces of art from the Cooprider home, and the hope is to grow that with cards on loan from those who received them.

In cleaning out Patti’s storage unit after her death, Coop and daughter Kami Cooprider found three levels of flat 6-foot file drawers full of cards and paintings.

“There were 90 pieces from the 1980s, when we lived in Germany, that I never saw and didn’t know existed,” he said. “They are strong, exceptional and contemporary. I knew there had to be something here.”

Looking to showcase her work and raise money, the idea for the exhibition was born.

“Art was important to my mom in so many ways,” Kami said. “For me, receiving her cards felt like an extension of her spirit and energy. This exhibit allows us to grieve in a positive way because Mom said no tears [when she died]. This exhibit is to show that Mom’s spirit lives on and shows how many people she touched.”

The displayed cards that were previously kept in storage are not for sale, but people who donate to local children’s art organizations will be able to take one home. The exhibit also will launch funding for an endowment being established in Patti’s name.

Patti volunteered with dozens of charitable and nonprofit organizations, many centered on the arts and/or youth causes.

La Jollan Patti Cooprider, who died in January 2021, "lived for friendships and creating art,” says her husband, Coop.
(Courtesy of Kami Cooprider)

One of them was ArtReach, which provides visual arts programming to students across San Diego County. ArtReach will present a make-and-take workshop at the exhibit so visitors can create art inspired by Patti’s, said Executive Director Sarah Holbach. Donors will have the option to have 25 percent of their gift earmarked for ArtReach.

“We will use that to give free art lessons to kids, which I think Patti would have loved,” Holbach said.

Often a recipient of Patti’s cards, Holbach added: “When I would get a piece of mail with her return address, I knew it would be something good. Her words and beautiful artwork inspired me, so I always kept the card. She was such a leader, and I looked to her for inspiration.”

Reflecting on the cards’ visual impact, Holbach said: “The colors and the movement and her joy in her art is palpable. Being there [at the exhibition] will make your day better. ... To be surrounded by that much art is going to be a boost of joy or creativity. You are going to leave uplifted.”

Coop said Patti had the “simple but ambitious” dream of providing opportunities for “every child to be able to create art and enjoy the love of art.” The donations “will at least partially fulfill her dream,” he said.

Quoting Jiminy Cricket from Disney’s “Pinocchio,” Coop said: “When your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. Well, her dream was to have every child have access to art, and I’m trying to kick-start that.”

Those who have cards they would like included in the exhibit can send them to Coop Cooprider, P.O. Box 927654, San Diego, CA 92192 with the owner’s name, address and contact information on the back. ◆