Santa Fe, N. M.
One of America’s best-known printmakers during the first half of the 20th century, Howard Norton Cook was also a painter and muralist of distinction. Cook was born in Springfield, Mass. in 1901, where he attended local schools. On graduating from high school, he received a scholarship that allowed him to study painting and drawing at the Art Students League in New York City under George Bridgman (1864-1943) and Andrew Dasburg (1887-1979). In 1922 he took a break from his studies to travel to Europe, where he sketched and wrote travel articles. Later that year he returned to New York and the Art Students League to study etching under Joseph Pennell (ca. 1857-1926). The following year Cook traveled to Japan and China via San Francisco and Honolulu. His drawings from this trip appeared in “Century Magazine” and “Harper’s Magazine.” In 1924 Cook was hired as an illustrator for “Forum” magazine, with his illustrations also appearing in “The Atlantic Monthly.” A 1925 trip to Constantinople (now Istanbul) produced more illustrations. The trip ended in Paris, where he created his first etchings. His wanderlust led him in 1926 to sign onto a cargo and passenger ship that made regular sailings from New York to San Francisco, traveling through the Panama Canal, but he lasted only four months. Spending the summer in Maine, he created his first large woodcuts, which were printed in “Forum” magazine. The magazine sent him to New Mexico later that year to create illustrations to accompany its publication of “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” by Willa Cather (1873-1947). Cook was captivated by Taos, its pueblo and the surrounding countryside, and also by the artist Barbara Latham (1896-1989), whom he met there and married in 1927. That year the Denver Art Museum gave him his first one-man exhibition, showing his prints. The Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe gave him a solo show the following year. The Cooks drove to New York City later in 1928, where he met Carl Zigrosser (1891-1975), director of the Weyhe Gallery and later the print curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Zigrosser included prints by Cook in a group show later that year, with the first of several solo shows following in 1929. A 1929 trip took the Cooks to Italy, North Africa and then to Paris, where he created his first lithograph, printed at the studio of Edmond Desjobert. His work began receiving awards; the American Institute of Graphic Arts selected prints by Cook for its “Fifty Prints of the Year” exhibitions in 1928, 1929, 1930 and 1931. After living in western Massachusetts for a year, the Cooks moved to New York City in late 1930, where he printed lithographs in George Miller’s (1888-1955) studio. Cook won the first of two Guggenheim Foundation fellowships in 1932, which he used to spend about a year in Taxco, Mexico (a colonial-era city about 100 miles southwest of Mexico City). While there Cook sketched the residents of the city, made etchings and created his first fresco. Etchings he created while in Taxco won prizes from the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the American Society of Etchers and Chicago Art Institute. After their return, Cook won a commission from the U.S. Treasury’s Public Works of Art Project to create two frescoes for the Springfield, Mass. courthouse. The next year he won another Guggenheim Fellowship, which he used to travel around Texas and the southeastern states, sketching the inhabitants of the rural South and workers in the coal mines and steel mills in and around Birmingham, Ala. Cook won two national competitions for mural commissions in the mid-1930’s, one for the Pittsburg, Pa. courthouse, which won a Gold Medal in 1937 from the Architectural League of New York, and another for the San Antonio Post Office, a huge mural with 16 fresco panels. Cook and his wife moved to Talpa, New Mexico (near Taos) in 1939. He turned from printmaking to pastels, then paintings in tempera and oils, creating only 26 of his 223 prints after 1939. During World War II he received a commission as an “artist war correspondent,” serving in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific. During and after the war he enjoyed several solo exhibitions at institutions around the country and served as a visiting professor of art at several locations, including the University of Texas, Austin (1942), the University of California, Berkeley (1948), Washington University, St. Louis (1954), and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (1960). He was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1948 and a full member in 1949. His last mural commission was in 1952 at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. In 1963 the National Academy of Design awarded Cook its S. F. B. Morse Gold Medal for his lifetime achievement in the arts. Cook has started suffering problems with his legs as early as 1956; in 1963 he was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. In 1972 the Cooks moved from Talpa to Roswell, New Mexico, and then in 1976 moved to Santa Fe, where he died in 1980. (TNB 4/2016) Selected bibliography: Adams, Clinton. Printmaking in New Mexico, 1880-1990. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991 Zigrosser, Carl. “Howard Cook,” in New Mexico Artists: John Sloan, Ernest L. Blumenschein, Gustave Baumann, Kenneth M. Adams, Adja Yunkers, Raymond Johnson, Peter Hurd, Howard Cook., New Mexico Quarterly: New Mexico Artist Series, No. 3. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1952.