Ophelia Gordon Bell, the daughter of animal painter Winifred Gordon Bell, was born in London in 1915. From the age of 15 she studied at Regent Street Polytechnic Sculpture School in London where she worked with stone, wood, metal, clay and plaster. By the age of 23 she had already exhibited her work at the Royal Academy, the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and the Royal Scottish Academy.
In 1940 she married William Heaton Cooper, they settled in Grasmere and had four children. As the children grew up, Ophelia was able to resume her career as a sculptor. After meeting Edmund Hillary at an Everest re-union at the Eskdale Outward Bound centre, she was inspired to model a portrait head of him. The original plaster cast is displayed at the Studio in Grasmere and a bronze cast is exhibited at the Museum of New Zealand
Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. Ophelia then went on to complete a portrait of family friend Lord John Hunt who led the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953.
Ophelia and her husband William held a joint exhibition at the Fine Art Society on Bond Street in 1955 where she exhibited a portrait of John Hunt along with the bust of Edmund Hillary. It was opened by Brigadier Sir John Hunt and was a great success.
In the late 1950’s the Atomic Energy Authority became interested in Ophelia’s work and commissioned a series of bas relief panels for their headquarters at Risley in Lancashire. She was later asked to carve two large figures from huge blocks of Portland stone each weighing three and a half tons. It took eighteen months to complete and became her largest work to date. It was the first time she had worked in stone, " stone speaks slowly and does not show the character of the artist as well as bronze" she maintained.
Although it was fascinating to work with because of the interesting oyster shells and fossils it contained. They were called "Thought in Action” and stood at the entrance to Risley HQ, where they still stand today. 'Thought' shows mankind holding in his hands the unbroken atom. In 'Action' mankind is shown controlling this new power. In the reactor beneath his
hands is depicted the authentic symbol of fission, a chain reaction above which man is the controlling power.
She went onto to make many more pieces for the A.E.A as well as the Roman Catholic Church in Carlisle where her sculpture of St Bede is carved from hard white Roman stone. At St Oswalds church in Grasmere her sculpture of the Madonna and child is displayed.
In her later years she made her much loved sculpture studies of shepherds, farmers and climbers, some with their dogs, sheep or lambs and even a portrait of William Wordsworth and one of William and his sister Dorothy. These sculptures were first modelled in clay on an aluminium armature, then cast in plaster and finally cast in cold-cast bronze. Each subject was limited to an edition of twelve to comply with the definition of an original art work, laid down by the Royal Society of British Sculptors.