Anne Cook returns to the Vineyard art scene with Chilmark exhibit

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Anne Cook is back. After over a decade of living off-Island, and more or less taking a break from her painting career, the artist has returned to the Island and to her first love.

Ms. Cook, who showed her work at a number of Island galleries when she lived full time on the Vineyard, has launched her comeback with a show at the Chilmark branch of Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank.

On display through August 25, the show features a number of beautiful pastel paintings of tranquil up-Island scenes. Masterfully executed, the large (22 x 30) landscapes display an expert use of color and stroke, and truly capture the magical quality of the Island.

It’s not surprising, since the artist has a long history with the Vineyard, extending back a few generations. She was born on the Island during a summer stay with her grandparents. Growing up, the artist spent summers and holidays on the Vineyard, and then moved here full time in the late ‘80s with her former husband. The two founded and operated the Chiaroscuro Theater Company, which produced shows with the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse and independently.

Ms. Cook’s aunt, Anne McGhee, for whom she is named, is a well-known Vineyard painter who is currently a member of the Fenway Studio artists in Boston. Her great-grandfather, John Folinsbee, was a celebrated impressionist artist and one of the core painters of the New Hope School of landscape painters. Ms. Cook’s grandfather, Peter Cook, was also an artist who was friends with Thomas Hart Benton.  

In 2004, the Newman Galleries in Philadelphia hosted a show called The Legacy of John Folinsbee, in which Ms. Cook’s work was featured.

“He died when I was 14,” Ms. Cook said of her great-grandfather. “I had to get to know him through his work. It’s almost like his spirit got into me.”

Ms. Cook has certainly inherited both her ancestors’ talent and passion for painting. She had a successful 20-year career as an artist — showing here at the Field Gallery, Etherington Fine Art, the Gay Head Gallery (now known as the Sargent Gallery) and elsewhere. Eventually, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a technical writer and editor.

This past spring, Ms. Cook returned to the Vineyard and took up painting again full time. “I just wanted to come home to be in a community that means something to me,” she said. “I’m focusing on getting back in a groove with my painting.”

Unlike many landscape artists, Ms. Cook chooses not to work from photos. She paints en plein air, and then finishes the work in her studio from memory. In stormy weather, she sometimes works on site right out of her truck, which she calls a “rolling studio.”

“Part of the pleasure is using the skills on site,” she said. “You sort of imprint the Island in your mind’s eye so you can return to it later on.”

Although she also works with oils, Ms. Cook finds that pastels are the perfect medium for working en plein air. “It’s a very efficient way to capture light and shadow and color when you’re on location,” she said.

As a teenager, Ms. Cook received her first set of pastels from her aunt, Ms. McGhee. She has built up her skills with the challenging medium over the years. “I’ve developed a touch,” she said. “It requires an appreciation for pressure and texture.”

The use of pastels give Ms. Cook’s work a great deal of subtle variation in detail as well as a very appealing combination of texture and perspective. You really feel like you could walk right into one of her landscapes.

“Having been born here, I guess I just have a mystical connection to the Vineyard,” the artist said. “A connection to the unseen specialness of the place.”

Anne Cook: Land, Sea, Sky on display at the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, Chilmark, through August 25. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4 pm, and Saturday from 8:30 am to noon. For more information, contact acook77@msn.com or call 301-775-9987.