Mark Bassett, author of books on American art pottery, lost his husband George Cooper on January 31, 2020, to an apparent heart attack, while asleep. Cecil George Cooper (1948-2020) was the oldest son of Cecil Floyd Cooper and Rosella Suhler Cooper of Springfield, Colorado, who both predeceased him. Three siblings also survive: Randy Cooper of Manzanola, Colorado; Kathleen Cooper (David) Frank of Springfield; and Marie Cooper (Brad) Emmons of Portland, Oregon. He is also survived by two children, and numerous nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.
George lived a life filled with music. Starting in eighth grade, he played the organ during services in the family church. In high school he repaired numerous player pianos, with project pianos spilling out from his parents’ garage onto the front lawn. He studied music education and organ performance at the University of Colorado, and was then drafted into the US Army, serving from 1970 to 1973. (He was a medic in Korea during the Vietnam War). After his military service, in Wichita, KS George again became an entrepreneur, making tracker bars and roll frames for player pianos under the business name Mechanical Music.
In 1984 George partnered with Mark Travis Bassett (b. 1953) and was an important “sounding board” for Mark, giving him feedback on every writing project for the next 35 years, starting with Mark’s Ph.D. dissertation (1985) for the University of Missouri. The two had met when George taught Mark country and ballroom dancing, a hobby they both enjoyed for many years. For twelve years, in first Wichita and later Des Moines, George also served as church organist at the local Metropolitan Community Church, an inter-denominational Christian faith.
Between 1987 and 1990, the couple lived in Nevada, Iowa, after Mark was hired to teach at nearby Iowa State University. Because of George’s willingness to move to Iowa, Mark in 1990 temporarily gave up his teaching career. However, while working as a full-time antique dealer, starting in 1991, Mark began conducting research and photographing collections for a book, written with Victoria Naumann Smoot, called Cowan Pottery and the Cleveland School. Its 1997 publication coincided with the couple’s next move… to Lakewood, OH. In Cleveland, Mark and George became active members of the Cleveland City Country Dancers, which was an LGBT square dancing group. Mark’s books on Roseville Pottery followed soon after they settled in Lakewood.
For the next 22 years, George worked as a pipe organ technician for Holtkamp Organ Company, and he was also one of the company’s three main “voicers,” meaning he repaired, built, or rebuilt pipe organs and then tuned the pipes individually to have a proper sound or voice. His work travel took him to many large church and collegiate pipe organs across the US; this could position him on a job site from several weeks to several months. Among George’s most memorable projects for Holtkamp were the pipe organ of the Cathedral of St. Louis, King of France (New Orleans), damaged by Hurricane Katrina; and (his personal favorite) restoring a rare Aeolian player organ for The Historic New Orleans Collection. He also worked on the pipe organs at the Juillard School, St. Olaf College, Utah State University, Park Avenue Christian Church (NYC), the Peabody Institute, and many other prominent venues.
In 2005 Mark returned to full-time teaching, first in the undergraduate writing program of Case Western Reserve University. In 2010 he moved to the Cleveland Institute of Art, to teach American Crafts History in addition to several writing courses. In the spring of 2019 Mark retired from full-time teaching, but he continues to serve on the adjunct CIA faculty.
At a time when same-sex marriages were available in only a few American states, George and Mark eloped to Niagara Falls, NY, where they were married on December 26, 2013. Because it was Boxing Day in Canada, two square dancing friends from Toronto were able to drive down to serve as witnesses and to celebrate the occasion. George retired from his full-time position at Holtkamp in 2019, and during his retirement was planning to build several band organs of his own design. Mark will remain in the 1917 home the couple shared together for more than 20 years.
In September, George’s ashes will be interred with military honors at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery. A range of friends and family are expected to attend a memorial celebration of George’s life, scheduled now to take place in Lakewood on Saturday, September 26, 2020. Those wishing to attend the celebration should please contact Mark at markTbassett@gmail.com.
Photograph of George and Mark by Monika Chapman.