Bremen #2. Wood engraving. 281x203 mm; 11 1/4x8 inches, small margins. Edition of only 30 (from an intended edition of 50). 1931.
Cook, most widely known for his lyrical prints of Manhattan, was born in Massachusetts and traveled the continental United States extensively. As a young man, he moved to New York and enrolled in the Art Students League. He studied printmaking there under Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) who, nearing the end of his life, was characterized by his atmospheric cityscape etchings. Cook's interest in the medium increased after a trip to Paris in 1925, where he spent time with fellow ex-pats and master printmakers James E. Allen (1894-1964) and Thomas Handforth (1897-1948).
Cook's career took off after a 1926 trip to Maine, when woodcuts he made there were picked up by Forum, one of the most widely-circulated American magazines at the time. The publication subsequently commissioned Cook to create woodcuts of the American Southwest, where he became enamored with New Mexico and the Taos artist's colony, returning throughout his life (he relocated there permanently in 1939 and ultimately died in Santa Fe). By the end of the 1920s, Cook's adept printmaking caught the interest of Carl Zigrosser (1891-1975), the esteemed director of the Weyhe Gallery in New York who supported many emerging artists. In 1929, Zigrosser both hosted Cook's first solo exhibition and encouraged him to travel to Paris, providing him entrée into the venerable lithography studio Atelier Desjobert. Despite experimenting in a range of printmaking techniques, the woodcut remained Cook's medium of choice.
At the peak of his career, from the late 1920s until his 1939 move to New Mexico, Cook feverishly depicted a rapidly-changing New York. Construction on skyscrapers flourished in the interwar period, with landmark towers like the Chrysler Building completed in 1930 and the Empire State Building completed the following year, while the Great Depression halted progress on other projects and construction sites remained commonplace. Cook was employed by the Works Progress Administration during this time. Artists like Cook, Louis Lozowick (1892-1973), and Samuel Margolies (1897-1974) embraced the evolving city as their subject, using exaggerated perspective to emphasize the grandeur of buildings, and portraying construction workers as everyday heroes.