John Paul Cooper (1869-1933), a leading figure in the British Arts and Crafts movement, was an architect, designer and goldsmith. After attending Bradfield College, Cooper began working for the architectural firm J. D. Sedding, where he met Sedding’s assistant, Henry Wilson. They were united by a common interest in metalworking and jewelry design.
Cooper joined the “Birmingham Group” of the Arts and Crafts movement, which included: John Houghton Bonnor, John Paul Cooper, Edward Spencer and Henry Wilson, and in 1893 exhibited for the first time in the Society of Arts and Crafts. In 1897 he set up his small workshop in Kensington and exhibited regularly in the Society of Arts and Crafts in the following years.
John Paul Cooper created his first jewelry in 1900.
He presented some of his pieces at the Exposition De l’Art decoratif in Paris. From 1901, Cooper began teaching, and from 1904 to 1907 he served as head of the metalworking department at the Birmingham School of Art. In his teaching methodology, he proceeded from the fact that metal designers should design only those items that they themselves can produce.
John Paul Cooper often created his jewelry in gold, as opposed to the more typical silver pieces created by his associates. He used semi-precious and precious stones, drawing inspiration from their beauty, and often created spontaneous compositions rather than matching stones to premeditated designs. Once he remarked that the gems should “… be in harmony with each other, like two musical notes …”.
Cooper completed several important public commissions, including two crosses and a pair of altar vases for Birmingham Cathedral. In the late 1890s, he began making caskets trimmed with shagreen and exotic skins such as rays and sharks. By the middle of the 19th century, the technique of dressing and dyeing shagreen had been lost, and firms relied on the reuse of leather from old items. Cooper was determined to revive the process and restore the market. In 1899, he exhibited his first pebbled leather box.
John Paul Cooper was particularly noted at the 1906 Arts and Crafts Exhibition, when Studio magazine singled out his pieces for their sculptural quality and originality, at a time when other exhibitors’ work seemed rather formulaic. Shimmering colors and rounded cabochon-cut stones are typical features of Arts and Crafts jewelry. Cooper often favored spiritual and symbolic subjects. He was fascinated by the magical and spiritual associations of precious metals and stones.
After his father’s death, Cooper’s legacy allowed him to retire from teaching. In 1910 he moved to Betsomes Hill, the highest hill in Kent, where he built a house and a studio which he designed himself as “a tribute to the rustic architecture of Kent”.