At 188 square feet, the Lightner Museum’s new mural still won’t be the largest painting Joshua Cooper has ever done. The one he painted for the Jacksonville Zoo’s “Dinosauria” event was approximately 90 feet long by 8 feet high, or 720 square feet.
But it will secure the Jacksonville artist an enviable opportunity to have his work permanently displayed among some of the historic treasures of the Nation’s Oldest City.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the museum completed renovation of its first floor, including the music room. The floor was redone and walls repainted in the space that houses a collection of 19th-century mechanical musical instruments. The changes left the back wall exposed and ideally suited for a mural.
The museum ran a contest in the spring and summer, inviting artists to submit mural concepts that reflect the Lightner’s history, the Gilded Age or the history of music. The winner would receive a $500 stipend and lifelong museum membership to paint the 23.5-by-8-foot surface.
Cooper was selected. His painting will depict three figures representing the muses but in the style of the early 20th century’s Gibson Girls. It will be done in oil and in a realistic style.
The project is especially suited for Cooper, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University.
“I studied late-19th and early-20th century Realist painting and the Realist movement,” Cooper said.
In addition to depicting the Ice Age for “Dinosauria,” he has painted other murals at the zoo where he is an exhibit technician. But most of his work has been in oil portraiture and he is currently accepting commissions.
Painting a large work takes longer than smaller works, and Cooper projected that the Lightner mural will take him “a little bit less than a month” to complete.
To ensure the image turns out as planned, he has a method that safeguards proportions.
“Before I start painting, I like to do small studies to scale,” he said. “That way, I won’t have to worry about it. But even before I start painting, I’ll lay it out really roughly over the whole surface to get an idea of where things fit and make sure it’s proper.”
The Lightner Museum is in the former Alcazar Hotel, built in 1888 by Henry Morrison Flagler. It is home to one of America’s premier collections of fine and decorative 19th-century and early 20th-century art. Furnishings, paintings, Victorian art glass, cut and blown glass, and natural history specimens are displayed on five floors.
Cooper’s mural will be unveiled in the fall. His work can be found at Instagram.com/joshuacooperart. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.