New Orleans lost one of her favorite sons this week. Jeffrey Cook, artist/dancer/educator, was found dead in his home on April 7. He was 48.
Born and raised in Central City, Jeffrey studied at Xavier University and San Francisco Art Institute before becoming a professional dancer. At Xavier, legendary New Orleans sculptor John Scott served as both professor and mentor to Jeffrey, teaching him that the best ideas and subject matter come from the city streets. After receiving an MFA from SFAI, encouraged by his friend Shaun Early, he auditioned for and earned the position of Principle Dancer with the Los Angeles Repertory Company, a position that allowed him to perform in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy, Hong Kong and Scandinavia, as well as several major stateside cities. His dance career also included a stint as a Solid Gold dancer, and a brief role in the 1984 film Breakin'.
Upon his return to New Orleans, he established a studio in a renovation located in the neighborhood of his youth, Central City. It was here that he created a series of painted and collaged work that leapt off the wall and referenced the patinas and architecture of his environment. Works such as Making of a Melody incorporate found objects, signs, and handmade dolls to comment on the social and physical neglect of a community, combined with a nostalgia for the neighborhood's former glory and hope for the future.
In 2002, the Ogden Museum began a new educational program, Artists and Sense of Place, which places artists in month-long residencies in public schools. The purpose of the project is to show students how to explore a sense of place through art. Jeffrey was placed as artist-in-residence with Guste Elementary. The theme was Magic in our Neighborhood. Jeffrey photographed abandoned buildings and fences in Central City, made copies for the students, and taught them to make these images beautiful through art. See the entire project here: http://www.ogdenmuseum.org/education/magic.pdf. He went on to participate in four sessions of Artists and Sense of Place, as well as other educational programs at the Ogden.
When the Ogden Museum was preparing to open Goldring Hall to the public, Jeffrey was part of that crew. The very first nail that supported the first painting was hammered into the wall by Roger Ogden and Jeffrey Cook. Today, as we were hanging Making of a Melody on the fourth floor Goldring Hall, one of the many cardboard boxes opened to reveal an envelope no one had seen before. It contained ephemera from the Ogden's Grand Opening celebration (where Jeffrey performed a dance choreographed specifically for the event) including a slice of the symbolic red ribbon. It was so like him to hide our own history in a work about his personal history and sense of place. Jeffrey Cook was a great friend to the Ogden Museum, and he will be missed by all.
On Tuesday, April 14, 2009, a memorial service for Jeffrey will be held for the art community at Ashe' Cultural Arts Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. On Wednesday, April 15, 2009, services will be held at Ashe'. A viewing will take place from 9 a.m. till 11 a.m. followed by a memorial service.