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February Issue 2007
UNC Asheville Celebrates the Retirement of Beloved Professor, Artist, Tucker Cooke
The University of North Carolina in Asheville, NC, is celebrating the retirement of professor Tucker Cooke. The festivities include a mural unveiling and an exhibition of work by Tucker.
Rising 37 feet above UNC Asheville's Highsmith University Union Café, a recreation of Raphael's masterpiece painting School of Athens will be unveiled Feb. 2, 2007. It is art professor Cooke's parting gift to the University. After more than 40 years, Cooke is set to retire from UNC Asheville in May.
The School of Athens mural is just one example of Cooke's talent for inspiration and collaboration. Cooke conceived of the project more than two years ago when the University asked him to create artwork for the vast wall space in the Highsmith University Union Café. Cooke, a talented painter, chose to reproduce Raphael's 1510 fresco for its "beauty, depth and content," he said. "It is a celebration of learning and the liberal arts."
And like so much of what happens in the liberal arts, Cooke didn't work alone. Over the last year-and-a-half, some 50 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members have worked together close to 15,000 hours on the project. The mural is made up of 4-foot-square panels, each painted by different artists. The completed mural is 40-by-37 feet, comprising 60 separate canvases.
"This is something I have always dreamed of doing," said Asheville artist Gloria Gaffney. "When I heard that Tucker had gotten started, I wanted to join in. It was like working in a Renaissance atelier."
The central figures in the School of Athens Plato and Aristotle exemplify the liberal arts tradition, one to which Cooke has dedicated his professional life. Cooke joined the faculty of Asheville-Biltmore College, the predecessor of UNC Asheville, in 1966. Even though he was fresh out of graduate school, Cooke saw the potential in the fledging program. He was named chair of the Art Department in 1971, a position he held until 2004, giving him distinction as one of the longest-serving academic department chairs in the state, if not the nation. Under his leadership, the department added a bachelor of fine arts degree and now comprises 10 full-time faculty members, more than 100 art majors, and nearly 450 alumni, many of whom are active in the professional art world.
Dianne Cable, a UNC Asheville art lecturer, was a student of Cooke's in 1967. "Tucker made the Art Department his second home," reflected Cable. "He has given himself to the betterment of the Art Department and its students. He always makes time to help individuals, be they students or faculty. And he created a family atmosphere in the department by opening his home to students and faculty for seasonal celebrations, dinners and any gatherings that would elevate and enlighten his colleagues."
While Cooke is known for his conviviality, students also know just how demanding he is in the classroom. Skip Rohde, a 2003 graduate, is now a full-time artist living in Mars Hill, NC. He studied painting with Cooke his senior year and remembers being pushed beyond his comfort zone to excel.
"Tucker made me work hard and I didn't think that was very fun then," Rohde chuckled. "But it was the best thing he could have done. I was trying to find a direction for my art that I could really sink my teeth into and kept running into dead ends. Tucker had absolutely no qualms about telling me so. I know I could never have gotten where I am without his constant pushing, questioning and demanding."
Cooke has been honored several times during his career with top teaching awards. In 1988 he was presented UNC Asheville's Feldman Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Creative Excellence and in 1995 he received UNC Asheville's Distinguished Teaching Award in the Humanities. Cooke also received the UNC system's highest teaching award, the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching, in 1999.
Along with being a full-time teacher and department chair, Cooke has remained a prolific artist. Cooke's paintings have been shown in more than 300 exhibitions and are housed in some 50 public collections, including the Mint Museum, Honolulu Academy of the Arts and the Plains Art Museum. In 2000, he received the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, one of the state's most prestigious civilian honors, which is presented to those citizens whose contributions to the state are "singular, enduring and significant."
During the development of UNC Asheville's Art Department, Cooke and his colleagues made the University Gallery the heart of the program, giving young artists the rare opportunity to hold solo exhibitions. The gallery shows student work year round and also offers space for faculty, alumni, guest artist and juried exhibitions. Recently, the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees, upon the suggestion of the Art Department faculty, voted to rename UNC Asheville's University Gallery in honor of Cooke.
"I cannot think of a more fitting legacy and tribute to Tucker Cooke upon his retirement," said Robert Tynes, UNC Asheville art professor and gallery director. "I am happy to say that the Art Department faculty unanimously recommended and wholeheartedly supports the decision to name the gallery in honor of someone who is not only a great artist and educator, but also one who has so fully shaped the UNC Asheville Art Department and all it has become."
S. Tucker Cooke: A Retrospective Exhibition will be the first show to be held in the S. Tucker Cooke Gallery, on view from Feb. 2 - 27, 2007. The exhibition's opening will be held on Feb. 2, followed by the grand unveiling of the School of Athens project in the Highsmith University Union. A gala for the mural and a retirement tribute will be held on homecoming weekend later this month.
For further information check our NC Institutional
Gallery listings or call UNC Asheville's Art Department at 828/251-6559.
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