FLORENCE, S.C. – Frank Sylvester Cooper is an untraditional Christian minister.
Instead of preaching on Sundays at a local church, he shares the inspiration of Jesus Christ through art.
Art is his ministry.
Twenty years ago, Cooper began painting with no formal art training. The talent, he said, is God-given. It just took life’s trials and tribulations for him to realize he had it.
In 1994, Cooper was living in West Palm Beach, Fla., when his mother died. He also was experiencing problems within his marriage and was battling cancer. Doctors had lost hope.
“Painting was an outlet for me,” Cooper said. “It was an inspirational way out.”
He would paint for encouragement while in the midst of his problems.
“I didn’t know I had the gift to do this, and I didn’t go to school for it,” Cooper said. “But I just picked up a paint brush and started painting.”
There were people who wanted to invest in him and his talent, but his poor mindset caused him to reject the offers.
“There’s a lady in West Palm Beach who asked to give me a studio and everything I needed,” Cooper said. “She said she would buy me anything if I would just paint. But with the state of mind I was in, I couldn’t accept. So I came to South Carolina.”
The move was a way for Cooper to escape the life he had in Florida. He said he knew he was dying, and he did not want that to happen in Florida where his children were.
“I came here, and I seem like I got more peace,” Cooper said. “I didn’t want to die around my children. I really came here to lay down, but God kept me living.”
He lived alone for 10 years in Lamar, S.C., and now stays in Timmonsville, S.C., with his significant other.
It took years after his move to South Carolina for Cooper to pick up a paint brush again.
“The pictures I was painting was so sad, so I quit for almost 18 years,” Cooper said. “Recently, I just got inspired to go back to it to share it to the world.”
Instead of going to an art supply store to buy a canvas, paint and brushes, Cooper uses whatever resources he has nearby. He hand-makes his canvases and tries to only use oil paints.
“My picture frames are basically old window frames,” Cooper said. “A guy gave them to me. Eventually, I’ll start painting on canvas and get beautiful frames, but now I use whatever resources I have. Just basically stuff people gave me.”
Cooper has completed almost 130 paintings, including 90 in the past two years. He only recently has gotten to the point where he is able to part with them.
“I haven’t been selling them, because really, they’re personal to me,” Cooper said. “I really want to share them with other people, but I just don’t want to give them away. They mean so much to me.”
A few of Cooper’s works are displayed at Thieves Market, an antique store in Florence.
Annette Martin, an associate at the store, said Cooper comes in several times a week and talks with her and the other workers. One day, Cooper told store owner William Goins about his obsession with painting.
“He asked William if he could bring some of his paintings and try to sell them,” Martin said. “William told him to bring in some and we would give it a try. To say the least, we were all impressed.”
Customers often remark about “the interesting pictures displayed in the store,” Martin said.
“You will be impressed with his beautiful colors and handmade canvases and frames, and most of all, the heart shown in each one of his beautiful creations,” Martin said.
Cooper said he spends almost all day painting at a warehouse he rents in Florence. He also goes there to pray, to read his Bible and to thank God for being merciful to him.
“Basically I stay all day until night. It’s an everyday thing for me,” Cooper said.
Prayer gives him the inspiration he needs to create a painting. After he prays and meditates, he is able to paint freely.
“It’s not something I just pick up and copy off of somebody else,” Cooper said. “It’s an inspiration, so I have to let it flow and let it stay natural.”
Many of Cooper’s paintings are nature scenes because that is one aspect of life he really enjoys. Something as simple as a leaf blowing on a tree is beautiful to him and can be captured through a painting.
“That’s the way I characterize my thought,” Cooper said. “I know the beauty is there, I just try to capture it. And each time I capture it, it inspires me so much.”
More than anything, painting daily is a form of relaxation and a way to promote compassion.
“This gives me great inspiration,” Cooper said. “It’s just something to try to help compel compassion back into people. It’s just a gift that God gave me, and I really appreciate it.”