September 24, 2021

Howard Cook's NYC

         I featured a couple of pieces by Howard Norton Cook (USA, 1901-1980) back in 2017, but it’s time for a few more.  Born in Massachusetts, living in New Mexico, and fond of travel, Cook was inspired by the scenes he saw around the world, in cities, landscapes, and small towns.  He worked in a variety of printmaking techniques, but of course I’m only sharing his relief block prints.  Today I’m also sharing only a variety of views from New York City.
        One of Cook’s trademarks is his dramatic viewpoints, which are on full display here.  This view of Manhattan Bridge looks up along one massive pier, leaving the viewer dwarfed by the engineering.  Even the ship passing under the bridge looks small in comparison.
        The scene of the ocean liner Bremen is also an unusual view with, once again, an emphasis on the engineering.  Rather than seeing the entirety of the ship from the side, or a view of the luxurious decks or amenities for passengers, Cook has chosen to look along a 
narrow deck, with the hangers for the lifeboats along one side, and the vents and chimneys on the other.  It becomes almost abstract with its bold geometric shapes.
        A much simpler, more graphic black and white design is evident in Cook’s wood block print of the Christopher Street Station on the 6th Avenue El.  There are strong shadows, and areas of black meld together in the dark.  I like the way not every detail is outlined or indicated.  The artist trusts the viewer’s eye to interpret what it sees.  Cook recorded later that he enjoyed taking the El and preferred it to the subway, and I think you can feel affection in this piece.  There’s something a little whimsical about it that seems to me to reflect Cook’s feeling, “I always liked watching familiar aspects of the city passing briskly by.”
        Finally, another dramatic piece, with bright lights shining on the rain-slicked pavement on  a dark night.  The building shown here was the Weyhe Gallery, which was a center for printmaking in the 1920s and 30s.  Cook made this piece as a holiday greeting card commissioned by the gallery.  In addition to the dramatic lighting, dramatic skyscrapers tower up at odd angles into the sky behind.  The architecture of the neighboring buildings is suggested with just a few delicate lines, while Cook has added lots of fun details to the depiction of the gallery itself.  An array of artwork is shown in the ground floor window, and an umbrella-less man takes shelter in the doorway.  My favorite touch is the cat silhouetted in the upper window.

[Pictures: Manhattan Bridge, woodcut by Howard Norton Cook, 1930;

The Bremen, wood engraving by Cook, 1931;

Christopher Street, woodcut by Cook, 1928;

Greetings from the House of Weyhe, linoleum cut by Cook, 1099 (All images from The Old Print Shop).]

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