- Also known as
primary name: Cook, Howard
- individual; printmaker; American (USA); Male
- Life dates
- Text from Stephen Coppel, 'The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock', with the assistance of Jerzy Kierkuc-Bielinski, BMP, 2008
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Cook won a scholarship to the Art Students League, New York, in 1919. After a year's break to see Europe, he returned to the League in 1923 where Joseph Pennell briefly taught him to etch. But it was during a trip to Paris in 1925, when he stayed with the American printmakers James Allen and Thomas Handforth, that Cook took up etching seriously in Handforth's studio. Back in the United States in 1926 he made his first significant woodcuts in Maine and then in New Mexico, where he responded to the Spanish and Indian cultural heritage of the Southwest, making Taos his long-term base. In 1929 Cook returned to Paris to make lithographs at Atelier Desjobert, following the recommendation of Carl Zigrosser, then Director of the Weyhe Gallery, New York.
During the 1920s Cook supported himself on his extensive travels by providing illustrations of the places he visited for the magazines Harpers, The Atlantic Monthly and Forum, which also reproduced his woodcuts. His first solo exhibition in New York was at the Weyhe Gallery in 1929 and consisted entirely of his prints. By the early 1930s Cook was widely recognized for his prints of New York, particularly its skyscrapers and bridges. His lithographs of New York were made with George Miller in 1930, the start of a long collaboration with the printer. Cook insisted on printing his woodcuts and etchings himself. From a total oeuvre of some 223 prints in his catalogue raisonné, nearly 100 works were produced between 1928 and 1931.
In 1932, thanks to a Guggenheim Fellowship, the first of two he was awarded, Cook visited Mexico where his exposure to the work of the Mexican muralists led by Diego Rivera proved a turning point. Although he made a few prints of his Mexican experiences, he largely abandoned printmaking thereafter to concentrate on monumental public murals in fresco. He was commissioned by the Public Works of Art Project to produce murals for courthouses in Springfield and Pittsburgh in 1933 and 1935 respectively; his most ambitious murals were for the San Antonio Post Office in Texas, a commission won by national competition in 1937. Cook was appointed an Artist War Correspondent in the South Pacific in 1943 and saw combat in the Solomon Islands. In 1949 he was elected to the National Academy of Design in recognition of his achievements in printmaking. In the early 1960s Cook was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which severely curtailed his career; the disease progressively worsened until his death in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Smithsonian American Art Museum holds a virtually complete collection of his prints.
Text from Dawn Adès and Alison McClean, 'Revolution on Paper, Mexican Prints 1910-1960', with the assistance of Laura Campbell, BMP, 2009.
Howard Norton Cook was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts. Upon completing his school education in 1918, he won a scholarship to attend the Art Students League (ASL) in New York, where he studied for four years. After a trip to Europe in 1922, he returned to the ASL to study etching with the American artist Joseph Pennell (1857-1926), and also began learning about the woodcut technique. He made his first lithographs during a trip to Paris in 1929, demonstrating his willingness to work with different printmaking methods. 1928 proved to be an important year in Cook's career: he met Carl Zigrosser in New York and formed a life-long link with the Weyhe Gallery which sold and promoted much of his work. From 1930 he worked with George C. Miller, who printed his New York series.
Travel was a major part of Cook's life. A year after visiting Europe he spent time in the Far East, where his appetite for adventure was further aroused. Two years later he set off for Istanbul, Malta and France, ending up in Paris. In 1926 his travels took him to the Panama Canal, where he sailed as a Quartermaster on the New York to San Francisco route. He then travelled to the village of Taos in New Mexico where he met the artist Barbara Latham, whom he later married. Cook travelled extensively in the United States, often by car, making his most notable trip to the American South in 1934 on the second of two Guggenheim fellowships.
It was his first Guggenheim fellowship, awarded in 1932, that enabled him to live and work in the small town of Taxco in Mexico for eighteen months. Here he made prints showing aspects of life in this rural village. Several of these received prizes, including the John Taylor Arms Prize awarded by the Society of American Etchers for 'Mexican interior' (cat. 70), and an Honourable Mention from the Philadelphia Print Club for 'Acapulco girl' (cat. 69). In Taxco he painted his first fresco, depicting a lively fiesta at the Hotel Taxqueño. From that point he turned his attention to mural painting rather than printmaking.
Cook exhibited in the United States where he also worked as an illustrator for the magazines Forum and Colliers. During the Second World War he worked as an illustrator for the forces in Norfolk, Virginia, and later in the South Pacific. In 1956 he became ill but it was not until 1963 that he was diagnosed as suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. He was confined to a wheelchair for the last ten years of his life.
- Betty and Douglas Duffy,' The Graphic Work of Howard Cook', with an essay by Janet A. Flint, Bethesda, Maryland: Bethesda Art Gallery, 1984 (J 7 11)