LA CENTER — Helen L. Cooper didn't know an artist was hiding deep inside her until she bought watercolors for her grandson 30 years ago.
Cooper, 89, rarely has been without a paintbrush since. The Newton O. Belt Art Association's annual art show will feature her work later this month.
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Painting wasn't a part of Cooper's life when she was growing up on a farm in Miller City, Ill.
"I had no idea I could paint," she said. "All that talent, and I didn't know it. A little box of crayons with six colors would make us really happy."
Cooper was a beautician for 50 years in Cairo, Ill., where she lived until moving to La Center three years ago. After that, she was the personal hairdresser for Barkett Funeral Home and site manager for the Cairo Citizens Center. She also quilted and made crafts before she started painting.
Cooper's first painting was of a deer. Her favorite subjects are still landscapes and wildlife.
"One of my beauty shop patrons said it looked more like a dog than a deer," Cooper said with a laugh.
"But it didn't discourage her," added her daughter Beverly Pickett, who lives nearby.
After a while, Cooper started displaying her paintings at Bluegrass Restaurant in La Center, and began giving painting classes.
"I can't tell you how many I sold at Bluegrass," she said. "Lately, I haven't been wanting to get rid of any of them. You're not famous until you die anyway."
Cooper said she was shocked when asked to be the featured artist at the art show, scheduled for Oct. 19. She is one of the members of the newly formed art association. President Sue Ingram said the group has 15 members.