Goshen artist commissioned to portray 'Well Crafted' Elkhart County

Oct. 7—GOSHEN — A Goshen artist has crafted a piece celebrating Elkhart County.

Josh Cooper's painting is one of two in northern Indiana in support of the state's new "IN Indiana" initiative. A native of Chicago, Cooper has been an artist for almost 30 years, influenced by outdoor muralist and street artist Keith Haring during his time in New York and Andy Warhol in the 1980s.

"I got my first easel when I was like 8," he said.

By 14, he'd moved on to larger-scale projects, attempting to make a name for himself. Around that same time, his parents divorced, and he moved with his mom to Elkhart County, where he's remained for the most part since 1995.

"I used to get in trouble when I was younger for doing this on trains and buildings," he admitted. "But now I've turned it legitimate and I do it when people ask me to do it."

Cooper is actually a disabled artist, suffering from Multiple Hereditary Exostoses. He's had nearly 15 knee and ankle surgeries for the condition due to the bone disorder, making holding a traditional job difficult, but affording him the time to pursue his passion. He and his wife also run a downtown shop called The Hive of Light that's been open since December, selling crystals and Cooper's art behind TG Music and Mimsy Toys, 123 S. Main St., Goshen. He also hosts classes and stashes artwork around town for community members to enjoy.

"I get to do those kinds of things because I paint so fast," he said. "People will come into the shop or the Millrace and be like 'I found your magnet'. I stick them places. When we go out to eat I tip in art."

When the opportunity to create a mural for Elkhart County came about, Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau Director of Communications and Public Relations Terry Mark said they knew exactly who to go to. The bureau had worked with Cooper through the Vibrant Communities' Little Big Ideas Grant, when Cooper received a $500 grant for the development of Goshen Rocks in August 2017.

"He has other works on display in the community and they're colorful and well-received," Mark said.

The "mural" Cooper has created is an 8-by-8-foot graffiti painting — Cooper's signature style, designed on a wood frame, in a similar way the quilt murals are mounted during warmer months.

There's a hop symbolizing local breweries, a wheel for the RV industries, a music note for the local music scene, a superhero robot for the Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum, and a paintbrush for many artists like him around the region.

The piece took Cooper almost a month to complete, including the purchase of materials, three drafts, painting, and adding a protective top coat to the surface.

"I do a sketch and then I use an old school projector that they'd use as schools, so I have to wait until it gets dark, and then I can outline," he said. "I outline in the dark — and sometimes I paint in the dark."

In support of the state's new IN Indiana initiative and the county's Well Crafted Elkhart County initiative, the mural is one of two in northern Indiana which received grant funding for the commission and installation. The other is at Indiana Dunes.

"Part of their introduction was to encourage destinations such as ours to install murals that promote IN Indiana while also promoting the local area," Mark said. "Each destination took on the responsibility of commissioning the mural, identifying the selecting the artist, and working with the artist to get the design approved. Each mural is meant to highlight and celebrate what's unique about the area."

Earlier this year, the state launched the IN Indiana initiative to promote tourism across the state, and they're offering grant funds to any region that can provide an artist to commission such a piece that will garner state approval and highlight tourism points.

"We wanted our mural to represent all of Elkhart County," Mark explained. "We're excited. We can't wait to have it up on our building and for people to enjoy it. It's going to be the kind of thing people want to take pictures of and share with friends and family and we look forward to that."

The Elkhart County Well Crafted mural will be installed outside the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau before the end of October. The state and the bureau have hopes the murals will last for at least 10 years.

Dani Messick is the education and entertainment reporter for The Goshen News. She can be reached at dani.messick@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2065.