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Widower of Faversham artist Rosemary McLeish on mission to ensure her work is not forgotten


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A widower has told of his mission to ensure his late wife’s huge body of artwork and poetry is not forgotten.

Gifted artist and writer Rosemary McLeish, known as Rosie, sadly died last August after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Rosemary McLeish. Picture: Richard Cooper
Rosemary McLeish. Picture: Richard Cooper

She left behind a mammoth collection of work including around 1,000 poems - some of which detailed her experience of the brutal disease - along with other writing, paintings and artwork.

Her widower Richard Cooper, 75, speaks frankly of their 39-year marriage - which he says “could never be described as happy and remained childless”.

But he loved his wife deeply and his profound appreciation for her “brilliant” talent has left him determined to ensure her work is exhibited, published, sold, and appreciated as widely as possible.

Rosie was born in Glasgow in 1945.

After studying at university, she met Richard while working as a secretary at London’s Royal Free Hospital.

Rosie created vibrant artworks of flowers
Rosie created vibrant artworks of flowers

They married in 1982, and Rosie began writing, primarily short stories and poetry.

Richard got a job at Glasgow University and the couple moved to Scotland, where Rosie began art classes at the age of 40.

On her website, she told how she had been brought up “with the idea women were incapable of being artists”, and described her discovery of art as “a revolution” in her life.

She began painting vibrant oil pastels of flowers and still life, and had a number of successful exhibitions in Scotland.

A year in Canada saw her art evolve and become more abstract.

Richard Cooper at home in Selling, surrounded by some of his late wife's artwork
Richard Cooper at home in Selling, surrounded by some of his late wife's artwork

Meanwhile, she continued writing and in 2005, completed a masters in creative writing at Glasgow University.

In 2010, Richard retired and the couple moved to Selling, near Faversham.

Rosie continued creating art, including “assemblages” she made using items found in charity and antique shops, and at Faversham market.

She performed her poetry and exhibited artwork in the town, and had a “breakthrough” in 2017 when her first poetry collection ‘I am a field’ was published.

But she was sadly diagnosed with terminal cancer just before Christmas that year.

Rosie enjoyed finding second-hand items and repurposing them in her 'assemblages', such as this one which incorporates an ironing board
Rosie enjoyed finding second-hand items and repurposing them in her 'assemblages', such as this one which incorporates an ironing board

Rosie had already survived breast cancer twice - undergoing a mastectomy on each occasion.

But in 2017 doctors found the disease had spread to her spine.

Her health slowly deteriorating, she continued to work and penned a second collection of writing - Defragmentation - which was published in March 2020.

“It’s about her response to cancer, and the anger and hysteria you feel,” says Richard.

“The set of poems discusses her relationship with the cancer, neither with self-pity nor with a false heroic tale of making every minute count, even though she did in fact make every minute count in terms of her work.

"She was an absolutely brilliant artist and an absolutely brilliant poet..."

“It’s an absolutely brilliant collection of poems - quite outstanding.”

Rosie’s final poetry performance was an hour-long celebration of her work at Faversham Literary Festival in March 2020, which she attended in a wheelchair.

A few months later, she sadly lost consciousness and was rushed to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

It was there that she died on August 20, at the age of 74.

Since losing his wife, Richard has made it his mission to ensure her work is seen and appreciated by as many people as possible.

Rosie read and exhibited her poetry and artwork. Picture: Richard Cooper
Rosie read and exhibited her poetry and artwork. Picture: Richard Cooper

“In particular, many more poems should be published and the artworks should find homes with people who respect and like them,” he says.

“I wasn’t really a very great husband - I wasn’t supportive enough to her, and I wasn’t caring enough.

“She had her problems too, but we soldiered on.

“We loved each other, so we kept going.

“If she’d have been mediocre at what she did, her work would probably have ended up in landfill.

“But she was an absolutely brilliant artist and an absolutely brilliant poet.

A piece of art created by Rosemary McLeish
A piece of art created by Rosemary McLeish

“Honouring her memory, that’s part of it - loving her and wanting her to be remembered.

“But a big part is that the work is far too good to be lost. So that’s the main motivation - the sheer amazing quality of the work. I can’t undo what I did while we were married, but I can do this - I think.”

Doing justice to his wife’s legacy is a mammoth undertaking for Richard, a retiree “with no particular skills in raising publicity”.

But he has already set up a number of exhibitions - including an open house exhibition as part of East Kent Open Houses, a week-long exhibition in Chatham and a 12-week exhibition running in Edinburgh next June.

He also plans a small exhibition in Whitstable next year.

Richard Cooper is on a mission to ensure his late wife's artwork is not forgotten
Richard Cooper is on a mission to ensure his late wife's artwork is not forgotten

Meanwhile, much of Rosie’s artwork is hung around his home, which he enjoys showing to those who are interested in viewing it.

He is also practising reading Rosie’s poems in public at small open mic events, hoping to eventually take them to more prestigious literary festivals and events.

On what would have been Rosie’s birthday on Monday, Medway-based literary arts agency Wordsmithery, which published her two poetry collections, launched the Rosemary McLeish Poetry Prize.

The competition is open for entries on the theme of nature - which was always a strong theme in Rosie’s work - until March 1 with cash prizes available.

For more information about the competition, click here.

To visit Rosie’s website here.

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