I found out that Don Cook died while I was in labor with my son. Funny how these things work. I needed a distraction so I checked my phone and there it was. Did I know? No, I had no idea.

I met Don Cook as a graduate student at MICA in 2002. He was a mentor to the grad students in the ‘other’ summer program, but we struck up a number of conversations about my work and where it was going. Don always had lists of books I needed to read, art exhibits I needed to check out, and sexy French films I needed to watch, and we didn’t always agree.

As the years passed and we began to exhibit more and more frequently in Baltimore and surrounding areas, we had a series of ongoing and fierce debates – about truth, beauty, gossip, and integrity – among other things. I enjoyed the bristly challenge of him. When I saw him headed my way, I would smile and adjust my thinking cap, knowing that small talk would be briskly pushed aside and Don would have an issue to chew.

Over the years, Don wrote several critical pieces for the Bmore Art Blog, and, as art editor at Gutter Magazine, I featured him in my ‘Medium’ column. When I visited his studio, he served me homemade scones and espresso and had more questions for me than I had for him. To check out that body of work and interview, click here.

When I started a brand new series of pared down works on paper, Don Cook was the first person I invited to my studio. I had so many questions – I wasn’t even sure why I was making these new drawings. In true Don Cook form, he didn’t answer any of my questions, but he congratulated me for making difficult decisions and leaving the ‘pabulum’ behind.

After the visit I didn’t necessarily understand my work better, but I knew with absolute certainty that Don believed in what I was doing, and I believed in it as well. That’s the kind of teacher and person he was. You always knew where you stood with Don. If he’s reading this, I am sure he is rolling his eyes right now, but he needs to know – he will be missed.

Obituary from the Cumberland Times:

Artist, writer, teacher and mentor Donald Cook passed from this world on Friday, Oct. 1, 2010.

Born in Midland on May 21, 1950, he was the beloved son of Libby (Bechie) and Donald “Frosty” Cook of Cumberland.

Don graduated from Bishop Walsh High School in Cumberland, class of 1968, and continued his education at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he received his bachelor’s degree in English with honors. Concentrating in poetry, he distinguished himself as a writer while there by winning the Calvert Review prize for poetry for work published in the campus literary magazine. An innovative and inspiring teacher and communicator, Don worked for many years with the Maryland State Arts Council’s Artists-in-the-Schools Program as both a member of the Poets-in-the-Schools and, later, as a visual artist, in the Artists-in-the-Schools. More recently, he worked at the Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, as a teacher and mentor in the Art Education Program, working with graduate candidates to help them develop their studio work. He also worked with the Maryland Historic Trust in Annapolis, where he did mapping, prepared architectural drawings and taught special seminars. A highly gifted and prolific artist, he was the recipient of many awards, grants, fellowships and artist residencies. Working primarily in drawing and painting, with occasional forays into three dimensional projects, his art has been extensively shown in many galleries and art venues on the East Coast, including a number of one-man shows. Much of his work was inspired by his roots in Western Maryland, a heritage of which he was proud. Posthumously, his work will appear at the Washington Project for the Arts in Washington, D.C. in November. Donald was a passionate, magnanimous spirit who profoundly touched and inspired the many who both knew and loved him.

Surviving, besides his parents, are aunt, Flora Lease and husband Paul, LaVale; and cousins, Paul Jr. and Reba; uncle, Gerald Cook Sr. and wife Catherine, Lonaconing; and cousin, Gerald Cook Jr. He is also survived by numerous cousins and former wife, Linda Reeves.

Link: Don’s bio on MICA’s webiste.