Clare Cooley is a multi-disciplinary artist and teacher whose career has spanned decades and coasts. Cooley emphasizes the healing nature of artistic and creative endeavors, whether that be teaching expressive dance classes, transforming a home into a sanctuary piece by piece, or sharing stories through written or visual art.
Where did you grow up? Why Duluth?
I was born in Tucson, Ariz. My family moved to San Diego, Calif., then Salina, Kan., Spokane, Wash., and Anaheim, Calif. I left home at 17 and came to Duluth at 18 to see where my father was born. On my third return visit, a friend said, “You will never go anywhere where you will be more appreciated.” I stayed and began teaching in 1975 at 23.
I loved the work and living here, but being a vegetarian then, I could not get enough fresh vegetables to stay healthy through the winter, doing six classes a day, so I had to leave. I lived in San Francisco for many years where my son Bodhi was born. Then we moved to Mill Valley, Calif., where I got to design and build our home that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art brought a tour to see.
Seven years ago, when Bodhi and I left California and decided to work together, I told him that he must also choose where we make our new home. Duluth was my first choice and became his when he said, “I thought you were exaggerating how nice people are here, but you weren’t!” We both love it here! And this is where I am most appreciated, which is a great blessing.
What is your primary artistic medium?
I am a multi-disciplinary artist with over 600 paintings, drawings, and etchings in my portfolio. It has always been natural for me to create in many mediums. My art began with dance, then design, writing, visual arts, music, wardrobe, decor, frame design, and fine china. My most recent art form combines the others: movie making.
Being self-taught, it took nine people in one day asking me to teach before I got the confidence to write my curriculum, “Dancing into the Arts,” using movement as an entry point into the other arts with a focus on creativity flowing across mediums.
The St. Louis County Board of Education hired me to teach all grade levels in a different school each week. I was also asked to teach at UMD and UWS, Miller Dwan hospital, drug rehab centers, crisis shelters, and to professionals in medical and therapeutic institutions. Recently I worked as a creativity coach with St. Louis County Drug and Mental Health Court participants and staff.
Where do you draw inspiration from in your work?
Nature is my muse and teacher as it is a master designer. Natural harmony is my limitless source of inspiration. My upbringing was so chaotic that no one noticed I stopped attending school regularly at 7 years old and instead began disappearing into nature. The serenity I felt there helped me get through much adversity, which I pay tribute to through my art.
Cranes are featured heavily in your illustrations. What meaning do cranes have to you?
Cranes are the most recurring subject of my work because they represent peace and harmony for me and have for people around the world throughout history. Cranes have been here for millions of years, live on most continents, and fly over the Himalayas.
They dance, trumpet, and the parents take equal care of the young. When I was granted permission to observe all fifteen species in person at the International Crane Foundation, I painted and wrote about them in my first published work, my Book of Cranes.
What other themes do you explore in your work?
I have drawn, painted, etched, and carved everything from insects to outer space, but I keep returning to birds who continue to inspire me on every level. I hope sharing my respect for nature’s beauty and mysteries through my art encourages us to take better care of it.
Are you a full time artist?
I have been making a living from my art since my twenties, never ceasing to create, as it is my joy and fulfillment. Creativity, I believe, is what I possess that is of the greatest value to offer others. I developed a career as a creativity coach to help others increase their connection to their creativity, the confidence to express it, and the courage to share it with others.
What is MotherSon Productions?
I was deeply honored when my young adult movie-making, storytelling son Bodhi Werner asked me to collaborate with him and combine our complementary talents — my diverse artistic experience, and his technical skills. He named our video production company MotherSon Productions LLC. We have produced music videos, a feature-length documentary, many short films, and published a book.
Currently, we are working on two web series posted to our YouTube channels The Creativity Show and Bodhi the Movie Maker. We create museum-quality limited edition prints of my art in our home studio, which you can learn more about on clarecooley.com/shop.
We are developing two episodic series, one based on my memoir. The TV pitches, pilot episode screenplays, and books they are based on were all selected by Catalyst Story Institute, the largest TV Festival in the world. Our production company will be up for six awards in 2023 at the Catalyst Content Festival in Duluth.
Tell me a bit about your book.
Originally, I wrote my stories to heal, and when I started to share them, many urged me to publish them to help others regain hope and health. My memoir Incandescence; Rising Above Darkness contains 52 short stories, 68 pieces of my art, and 40 photographs.
The stories reflect on moments of great adversity and expanding epiphany. I share what it was like growing up in a dangerously dysfunctional family as a sensitive, free spirit with a brilliant yet broken pedophile father and a gentle but sickly artist mother. Despite it all, I have survived and thrived and ended up happy with a rewarding art career. My memoir focuses on how I used creative expression to transform adversity into advantage — Art — hoping to help others do the same.
The last chapters of my memoir chronicle my son and I traveling the country in an RV for a year, covering 22,000 miles and 40 states to select where to make our new home. During our trip, we documented the migration of the Sandhill cranes and the conservationists who protect them.
We chose Duluth because of its appreciation for the arts and nature. For me, it was returning to where my career began. For Bodhi, it is where his career has begun.
We selected a historic building that had a lot of deferred maintenance. We restored our 1903 home ourselves and named it “The Emerald Lady.” A visitor said, “The Emerald Lady is a living museum with the heart of a home.” Hearing this description, I counted my one-of-a-kind artistic creations for the first time. When I got to 2,185, I had to stop counting and get back to creating.
Where can folks keep up with your work?
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