Who Am I ? To Say the Things I Do ?

I was born and raised in Preston, Lancashire

within a loving family, in the North West of England

Martin Cooney, first photograph, with brother Michael

Yes, that’s me on the left in the photo above, perched with my brother Michael.  I was indeed a huge baby, around 11 pounds, ate like a mule, and suffered a potentially lethal ear infection that had me on the operating table for my first birthday.

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As was the custom back then (the 1960’s) I relished a degree of independence to roam and explore my world with a level of unfettered freedom that is (very sadly) quite unimaginable to the children of today…

And explore I did, at every opportunity. Fortunately for me, my family were quite fond of holidaying, and took every advantage to dart down to London, or the seaside (so many seaside resorts to choose from in the UK, it quite beggars the mind), along with frequent ‘day trips’ to the nearby Lake District, local castles, food exhibitions, ideal home shows… and whatever was to apt to compel our attention.

However, I did not enjoy school at all, hated it really, now that I come to think about it – but you can’t have everything I suppose.   My first ritual caning arrived at the tender young age of five, when in an innocent attempt to retrieve an errant football, I inadvertently triggered a corporal punishment clause in the headmasters contract that moments later had me alone in his ornate office picking out the actual rod (from a quite impressive collection, it must be said) with which he commenced to beat some sense into me.

Including being sideswiped across the head with the full force of a bible… knocking me off my chair as an 8 year old,  I was routinely subjected from a very young age to the most outrageous violence and sarcastic humiliation from teachers of both sexes.  And so, no, school and I were never on what you might call the best of terms.

But I really did enjoy growing up in the North West of England.  From my home town of Preston I could strike out in practically any direction and discover a whole world of options, first via Lambretta scooter, then a tiny little mini, and then a bouncy Renault 4.   But best of all,  Preston was, and still is, surrounded by the most wonderful countryside.  Within just a few minutes drive it is possible to lose ones’ self in moorland, woodland, forest,  mountains, coastlines… all wildly dramatic!    Such good times they were.   And then, just over there… across the channel, a whole ‘nother world to be explored that we called “Europe“.

From a very young age I knew that my lot was to wander.  I’m not trying to say that I had any particular idea of just what sort of life I did want, but in my heart of hearts I just knew that my future was not to play out in Preston, Lancashire, or most likely not even England for that matter.  I did know that there was something ‘out there’, a path for me to follow, but I was also quite convinced that I would have to forge my own way in life if I was ever going to discover just what my ‘proper groove’ may be.    And so, at the age of 22, after having fulfilled the terms of my five-year printing ‘compositor’ apprenticeship (hot metal typesetting, NGA sanctioned), I left home, left everyone I knew, and everything I owned,  and set out on a bicycle, to embark upon a journey that in many ways has continued to this day.

Martin Cooney departs for Israel, with father Jim and mother Ruth

And so, on June 11th, 1977, I set off to cycle down through England,  across the channel via ferry, and then continue up through the Low Countries of Belgium and Holland, before following the Rhine to Frieberg.  And it was from this lovely old German city that I hitch-hiked, bused, trained, and cargo shipped my way to Israel, where I was to spend the best part of a year.

Upon my return to England I took a job within my trade as a typesetter, and worked for ‘Febb Edge’, the radical East End of London, Bethnel Green print-shop.  Within a year however I had found myself bitten by the travel and adventure bug once again, and on July 11th, 1979, I purchased a stand-by ticket from Heathrow airport to Philadelphia,  from where I made my way up the east coast of America in order to work a summer season picking tobacco just outside London, Ontario, Canada.

Not only did I make sufficient money with which to continue my travels west however, but also contracted a quite severe case of allergic dermatitis, thanks to the toxins in both the tobacco itself, and the glut of chemicals routinely sprayed upon the tobacco leaves immediately prior to our picking it. Dragged along on an automated mini tractor we were required to pick six leaves per pull – and don’t dare drop one… I mean it!    Upon meeting up with a friend who I had met in London, England, we duly drove a ’66 Chevy from New York City to San Francisco.  Junker that it was, John gleefully pounced upon the rust bucket, as it was given to him for free. However, once we reached Berkeley, by now lacking her first two gears,  she refused to go an inch further, and so we were forced to catch the Bay Area Rapid Transport system in order to make it the last few miles.   Across the 4,000 mile journey my tobacco poisoning would on occasions flare up, and by the time we reached San Francisco I was feeling quite ill.   How fortunate then to be invited to spend a couple of weeks with the Moonies in the cool of their very pleasant rural compound.  Realizing eventually that I was not indeed ideal cult material (since I question everything),  I was escorted from the premises and deposited one chilly morning (around 3:00 am) upon a rather destitute corner of the Mission district.  But upon striking up a conversation with the only other Moonie deportee I soon found myself being convinced that his home state of Oregon, and Portland in particular, would prove the perfect place for me to use up most, if not all, of the one year visa I had been granted upon my arrival in Philadelphia.  Who knows what would have happened had I stuck with my original plan, which was to head south (winter cometh, and all that), but what I was to discover when I did indeed arrive in Portland was that the people were very friendly and welcoming, and very soon I had found a brand new set of friends, and brand new sort of life, and a whole new world to call my own.

Whether it is still this way I have no idea, but Portland really did welcome me in, and certainly compared to how things are today, making friends was an absolute breeze.  Everyone seemed friendly and welcoming, rents were low, and in no time at all I was beginning to think of the place as home… which was a bit disconcerting as I had forged distinct plans to keep on moving, and come summer would be ready to continue on my way, and off back in to the world from whence I came… or pastures new – it mattered not.  But that was before fate intervened, and the lovely Kris Marquette appeared upon the scene to send me head over heels in love.

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Upon my meeting Kris, the love of my life, at the Elephant and Castle English Pub in downtown Portland, we formed an almost immediate bond, and it wasn’t long before we were travelling together down through Central America, and up along the East Coast of America, before traversing the continent once again, and settling down for the 2nd of three stints we have spent in the city of Portland, Oregon, to date.

It was to take an especially abundant Commercial Salmon Fishing Season in Kenai, Alaska, during the summer of 1983, to provide sufficient income for us to finance our next adventure: three months of bliss upon the idyllic island of Koh Samed, in the Gulf of Siam, Thailand.

Martin Cooney, Koh Samed Beach, Thailand

No electricity, no television, nothing but dazzling white sand, palm trees, a few huts and and their respective fishing boats.  Footpaths, as opposed to roads, criss crossed the tiny island, yet it lacked for nothing, whatsoever.    Mightily revived by our blissful sojorn we set our sights upon London, where we lived 4 years, from 1984 to 88, running our Garbanzo Coffee House; 25 yards from The Angel Tube, Islington, North London.

From our base in the capitol we took every opportunity to explore and devour the English, and Welsh, country lanes, country pubs…. footpaths, clifftops, windswept beaches, gardens, manor houses, villages, towns, and all that constitutes the glorious British countryside. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU NATIONAL TRUST !

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In 1989 the knock-on effect of a tragic, truly awful, King’s Cross Underground fire lead to the Angel Islington’s deep, dark tube station to be completely redeveloped.   And so once again pulled up stakes and relocated away from London, and back to the city where Kris and I had met, but had twice previously left. After a three month spell in Carmel, California, we eventually made our way up the coast to Portland, Oregon, where we rented a top floor, corner apartment, downtown at SW Salmon and 10th.   But first we had a little time to while away.    So unexpected and swift was the nature of events in the immediate aftermath of the fire, and so quickly was our little corner, comprising a curry shop, greengrocer and our Garbanzo Coffee House, torn down… that several weeks were to elapse while my US visa (or Green Card) worked it’s way through the American Embassy;  and so off to Greece we went for some much needed rest and relaxation.

Upon returning to Portland for what would be our third stint in the City of Roses I had no idea that we would be staying for over 12 years this time around.  But once we purchased our seven bedroom former Mormon bishop’s house, just off SE Hawthorne Blvd, it appeared that we were in this for the long haul.   Never until this point had Kris or I lived in the same residence for more than a year or two – perhaps three, maybe four, tops.   And when our beautiful, gorgeous, son Joseph popped into the world a couple of years later, it appeared increasingly apparent that we were going nowhere,  for a while.

During our dozen years or so in Portland, the dilapidated old carpenter Gothic manse – quite ruinous really when we bought it – was gradually transformed and brought back to, if not it’s original glory then, a lovely old roomy, ‘craftsman’, wooden home.   And over the years many, many friends, family and students from across the world would make full use of those seven bedrooms.   Friday Night Fish Fries!  Ping pong parties, dinner parties… there was always something brewing – often quite literally, since the massive kitchen (Mormon, remember!) doubled up quite nicely as an unofficial brewery!

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When I think back to those days I find it quite extraordinary just how many and varied occupations I ventured to try.  I worked in bars, in a cinema/bar, I made pizza, and drove towncars. For a while I was a US mailman, having passed my stringent test, but the delightful novelty of delivering mail, in my own little van, in a lovely leafy part of town (the name: Lake Oswego should infer all you need to know) fairly rapidly wore off.  For several years, as a Classic Chauffeur I was given a free-pass to discover America like no one but, well, a chauffeur possibly can!  As a corporate driver I lived what might possibly be described as the ‘Life of Riley’.  Celebrities, big wigs… I drove them all. Rock stars, both faded and up-and-coming, soap queens, brides, mourners… in one way or another it seemed as though practically every strata of American society would find their way into my plush, quiet, exotic vehicle.  An ‘Open University’ is how I thought of it, for I got to talk with Airline pilots, priests, bishops, Enron executives, radio hosts, doctors, lawyers, businessmen and women of all stripes.  And when the luster of this astonishing world did begin to lose its appeal it was to pave the way for the launch of  ‘Garavance First Class Tours’; my luxury (one man) tour company.  With Oregon’s famous Willamette Valley wineries, the Mighty Columbia Gorge, Cascade Falls… Mount Hood, AND huge stretches of the rugged Oregon Coast well within striking distance of full, or even half day tours, not to mention tours of Portland’s lovely downtown…. it was to say the least, a most interesting and lovely spell in my life.  Eventually however the inevitable happened and, odd as this may seem, it all suddenly just  did not seem enough.   From the moment Kris and I met we found ourselves in agreement that living life is ‘a calling‘, and once called there really was no going back; for we knew in our heart of hearts that our lives were most definitely leading somewhere – just where, we did not know.  But what we did know is when the trail – the drive, the excitement, the thrill of it all… would appear to be going cold it is once again time for some difficult and involved conversation.  And so it was that, one chilly and damp night, after twelve very happy years back in Portland,  we once again made the bold decision to set off for pastures quite new.  Just where we were headed wasn’t actually very clear at the outset. For some reason I had picked out Sardinia on a map and decided that it was as reasonable destination as any.  And so, after a month or two’s sojourn in Thailand,  we put plans into practice when in Amsterdam we found ourselves haggling our way to purchasing a fine old Grande Dame of a Volkswagen camper van… from where we duly headed south.    Down through Germany, across the Alps,  and yes, we did eventually tour the entire Italian island of Sardinia, but it took a chance encounter in the beautiful English Georgian city of Bath, in the southwest of England, as the last century was drawing to a close, for me to realize just what this whole ‘epiphany’ had been about as I discovered to my delight that my own particular ‘calling’ was to actually learn for myself the fine art of carving stone.

Upon graduating from The City of Bath College with NVQ Level 2 qualifications, I worked as a Banker Mason in the surrounding villages from 2000 to 2003, learning to carve architectural stonework fast and accurately by working alongside men who served as the latest generation in a traditional industry stretching back, in an unbroken line, almost one thousand years.

For the past 13 years I have made my home in Woody Creek, 8 miles north of Aspen, Colorado, 7,300 feet in the Rocky Mountains, where I enjoy the truly stunning natural beauty of the Roaring Fork Valley with my lovely wife Kris, and our tall, handsome, ski-mad son Joseph (who now lives in Aspen).

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Some of my most treasured memories are those spent playing, as a family, with the weather here in Colorado: whether that means hiking the desert, frolicking in the snow (as in skiing), building snow sculpture, or just simply savoring the dry, high altitude air.  Others stand out moments include running one thousand miles one summer, and completing the Denver Colfax Marathon the next.    But believe me, in Colorado this sort of strenuous activity is not even considered odd, or particularly exceptional in an way… it’s just that sort of place, and why I live here I guess.   It is certainly what drew me here: everybody is up to something or another, it’s quite the norm, quite a lively place indeed.   I am also rather proud of my pioneering, and popular, Aspen Public Radio ‘Wednesday Night Jazz Detour’, which ran for 3 hours, over the course of twenty months… which amounts to quite a lot of airtime, and many, many great listener phone calls!   And as for the Colorado Rocky Mountains,  well, they have simply won me over.  ‘Mountain Man Martin’ it is these days!

Before you go, I also would like to point out The North West Tuscan Way (located at the top of your screen… just below my Gift Shop!) – take a quick look for yourself – see what you think.  Who knows, if you are not careful, you just may find yourself being lured into a Three Month Tuscan Adventure of your own.  Perish the thought, eh?

And so, this just about brings us right up to date, for my workshop-studio sits just yards from the log cabin wherein I write this,  and it is there that I have made the crucial transition from banker mason to sculptor.

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Twenty-two miles due West of the cabin (as the eagle flies) Colorado Yule Marble – America’s premium white marble, the marble used to build the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and a great many of the nation’s most prestigious and important architectural landmarks – is quarried at an elevation of 9,300 feet, right up there on the snowline, amongst the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountain Elk Range.   Just why this is so has given me much to ponder upon: how on earth did I… that same lad from Preston,  who left home on a bike, possibly end up here?  For the strange part – very strange when I come to think just how much my Curvilinear Reductionist Marble Sculpture means to me,  is that I,  like the vast majority of people both here in the United States, and around the globe,  had no idea that marble of any sort was quarried in these parts,  let alone the finest in all North America.   Tell me, what are the chances of that?   With such ready access to so much magnificent marble I am thus able to explore and exploit previously unknown properties of Colorado Yule Marble. 

As for where life will take me from here, well, the sky is the limit as far as I am concerned

Just where my new, radical, Curvilinear Marble Sculpture will lead me

Is a question that, very shortly, will be addressed

Right here at martincooney.com

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