Cook was a native of Springfield, Massachusetts. When he was 19 he left for New York and enrolled at the Art Students League. Andrew Dasburg and Max Weber were two of his more influential teachers. Cook worked in lithography and photoengraving shops. This experience created the opportunity for him to use his woodcuts and drawings as an illustrator for magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly and Harpers. His travel as an illustrator opened up the world to him.
Cook’s first visit to New Mexico was the result of a commission he had to illustrate for the Will Cather novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop. He spent two months in Santa Fe investigating the backdrop of this famous novel. Cook met the love of his life when he traveled up to Taos. He married fellow artist Barbara Cook in 1927.
The couple traveled extensively. Cook did a popular series of woodcuts if the Grand Canyon. They went on to Paris in 1929 for Cook to learn lithography. In the 1930’s he earned two Guggenheim Fellowships. The first one led him to Taxco, Mexico to study frescos. The second one had him painting murals in the deep south of the local poverty.
They gravitated back to Taos. In 1937 Cook was awarded the Gold Medal for mural painting from the Architectural League of New York and given a commission to paint 16 fresco murals for the post office of San Antonio. This last commission was the largest ever given to a Taos artist.
Cook was an artist war correspondent during WWII. His paintings from this time period were exhibited in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. He was elected to the National Gallery in Washington D.C. in 1949. After the war, his work followed a more abstract path. Besides teaching as a guest lecturer, he was the first artist in residence at the Roswell Museum of Art.
Cook unfortunately was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1976 which brought his illustrious career to an abrupt end. That same year he received the SFB Morse Gold Medal and in 1979, the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Achievement in the Arts. He died in Santa Fe in 1980.
Howard Cook’s works are in major private and public collections such as: the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, Denver Art Museum, CO, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA and the Harwood Museum of Art of Taos, New Mexico.