University alum John Copley is one of those people you probably haven’t seen before, but would know if someone described him.
If you’ve lived in a campus dorm, chances are you’ve seen Copley’s work at some point.
Copley, an Ann Arbor native who graduated from the University School of Art and Design in 1969, has painted several large murals that now hang in several University residence halls.
Since finishing his degree, the Ann Arbor native has always managed to find jobs that utilize his art skills. His first job out of school involved painting lines and crosswalks on the road for the city of Ann Arbor.
“I found relatively quickly that I was the only person who thought I was a genius,” he said, referring to his initial plan of painting for a living straight out of college.
From that point forward, it’s been all painting all the time for Copley, who’s done large murals for five residence halls — Alice Lloyd, Markley Hall, Mosher Jordan, South Quad and West Quad — over the past few decades.
“Whenever they did something like move a bookshelf in a dorm, there was an open space and they’d ask me to paint something,” said Copley, whose wife works at the University.
In turn, Copley has painted everything from a mural featuring Zingerman’s to a view of New York City from the water. Among other things, he created the sign that hangs above West Side Books and etched the windows at Bella Ciao restaurant, both of which are on West Liberty Street.
His most recent University work, completed about three years ago, is displayed along the walls of a computing station in West Quad.
Copley, who paints for a living, said he’d like to continue doing work for the University, but that he hasn’t been asked to in the last few years.
“The University just isn’t paying for it anymore,” said Copley, adding that Mary Waite, a Housing Design Service employee for the University, used to call frequently. “I call periodically to see if anything is going on or needs to be done, but they always say there’s nothing to do.”
Copley said he hasn’t visited the dorms to see his work.
“I always tell my friends that want to see my paintings that we should take a campus tour,” he said. “If we stopped by each dorm I’ve done work for, it’d end up being a pretty good hike.”