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Posted on Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 4:30 p.m.

Local artist enjoys painting holiday themes on windows of Ann Arbor businesses

By Lisa Carolin


Artist John Copley paints icicles on the windows of Mani Osteria and Bar, the 34th downtown store window he's painted this season. This is Copley's eighth year painting the windows on downtown shops.

Angela J. Cesere |

If the name John Copley isn't familiar to you, his paintings may be. They grace the windows of many downtown Ann Arbor businesses during the holiday season. The local artist completed 34 installations this year on store windows from Ashley Street to State Street and on Main Street from Huron to William.

Copley was hired by the Main Street Area Association to decorate the windows of its members and his deadline to get them done was last night, also known as "Midnight Madness," the first Friday in December.

"The object is to make the Main Street area festive and fun for shoppers, especially on that evening," said Copley, who said that he is constrained from doing overtly religious themes. "I try to stick with a winter theme, which also allows the decorations to remain up as long as people would like."

Snowmen, snowflakes, icicles, branches, and the occasional holly and wreath are the main subjects of Copley's work. At Abracadabra, the jewelry store on East Liberty near Main street, Copley created a peace sign wreath.

"Our window is challenging due to an ornate metal gate," explained Abracadabra's co-owner, Katherine Lesse. "He also did ornaments hanging down between metal bars and used stenciling, filled it in with paint and threw on sparkles."

Tiffany Royal, who owns Arcade Barbers in Nickels Arcade, has let Copley use creative license.

"His sense of humor is my favorite part about him," said Royal. "This year he painted snowmen wearing headphones and looking down at cell phones texting each other, making fun of how people separate themselves from others."

Royal says that after someone vandalized the painting, Copley came back on his own to repaint it.

"He's awesome and goes out of his way to do extra," she said.

"I am willing (within limits) to do whatever people want on windows," said Copley, who has been doing the holiday painting for eight years. "I get a lot of pleasure from people who remark that they are so glad to see me back, or that my paintings signify the beginning of the holiday season for them."

The Ann Arbor native, who graduated from the University of Michigan School of Art and Architecture in 1969, uses Golden Acrylic paint as his medium. Copley opened Crow Quill Graphics with Zeke Mallory at the corner of Ashley and Liberty in 1973. They created signs, murals, logos and T-shirts. In the mid 1980s, Copley worked as a scenic artist painting backdrops for plays and operas as well as working on many of the displays used at the Detroit Auto Show.

"I also worked with the Housing Design Group at U of M for many years doing murals in residence halls, and some of my work can still be seen there," said Copley.

He has been a studio painter since 2001, and his work can be seen on his website,

Copley enjoys painting windows despite the sometimes less-than-ideal conditions.

"Every year I get wonderful compliments, and that kind of thing can keep you going through a lot of adverse weather," he said.



Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 5:53 p.m.

John is one of our favorites. We have one of his prints and one of Zeke's in our front room. Still have many Crow Quill Tshirts boxed up and can't even think of what to do with them. Most likely they will go to my niece who will actually wear them probably. Keep up the great work John.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 10:29 p.m.

John's been around forever, a true towny. As someone said, we are lucky to have him and his talent here in the community.

Rosie Lemons

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 8:26 p.m.

He works hard under horrible conditions some years, to bring color and joy to this season. Definitely should check out his web site too. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Thanks John! I need to do a 'photo walk' and preserve your work.... maybe add it to your web site?


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 4:10 p.m.

Is he the same artist who has been painting the windows of Arbor Farms? He does a great job. Once again it shows we do not need to go to other counties to get great art. It is right here. Also why is the sculpture in front of City hall is never lighted?


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

Obviously these businesses did not get the memo about art being a waste of money. Great work! Keep it up.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

John is a wonderful asset to our community!


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 11:34 p.m.

I'm hoping somebody could fill in some history. This downtown tradition started sometime in the 80's with a different artist, a young man who I believe died after only a couple years of doing it.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 9:26 p.m.

He was Edwin Simpson.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 11:13 p.m.

Beautiful! Can someone explain why the midnight madness is only one Friday night in the month of December? Why not make it a draw for residents and visitors throughout the month? Hint: Many visitors will be here to pick up their students...


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 10:42 p.m.

i just looked at his web site. this man has some BIG major talent. not being smart on the next statement. maybe he could be on the art board. what we need are people whom are artists vs people whom think they know art. i am going to go downtown and look at his work. nice job john.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 10:41 p.m.

It's no easy feat to work outdoors, especially when it comes to handling acrylic paint in the cold. Thank you, John, for such festive and beautiful imagery during the holidays!

Linda Peck

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 10:03 p.m.

This is just so great! We are blessed to have this wonderful artist and many others here in town to give us gorgeousness to look at!