Cathy Cook’s love of the arts has always been broad and diverse. When she came to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts unsure of which media she wanted to pursue, she discovered she didn’t have to choose.
“I spent a lot of time mixing media, not sure where I was going,” Cook says. Soon, however, a dominant medium emerged. “I took an animation class one summer and was hooked. I took classes in Super 8 film, but I also kept sculpting and printmaking. I also studied sociology and women’s studies, which became very important in my future work.”
Cook earned undergraduate degrees in Inter-Arts (focusing on electronic music, film, and art) and Fine Arts (painting, sculpture, printmaking, graphic design). Following a stint teaching animation and art at UW-Whitewater, she returned to the Peck School to study film in the master’s degree program.
“Some fascinating professors were coming to the program. It was an easy choice,” Cook says. The hands-on environment at the film department, she adds, allowed students to produce whatever they wanted. “The faculty encouraged you to have authorship from concept to completion. In the filmmaking industry there is usually a hierarchy. The film program allowed you to learn all aspects of production. Without claiming one skill, you could learn absolutely everything. That was the biggest challenge, but also the biggest reward.”
Cook was the first student to complete the MFA program in Film at the Peck School. After finishing her degree, she moved to New York and worked in the film industry for more than 10 years as an art director, production designer and scenic artist. She now teaches media art full-time at the University of Maryland–Baltimore County.
And despite living on the East Coast for nearly three decades, Cook continues to maintain close ties to Wisconsin. Her film, Immortal Cupboard: In Search of Lorine Niedecker, won a Jury Award at the 2009 Wisconsin Film Festival and was nominated for the Best of Documentary at the 2010 Beloit International Film Festival. She’s currently working on a multi-media project, documenting the migration of whooping and sandhill cranes, which roost for the summer in Wisconsin.
“Some of my peers and the faculty I met while at the university, I am still working with today,” she says. “We’ve been working together or in contact with each other since graduation. That was one especially important thing that was a result of my work at UWM.”
PHOTO CREDIT: J. Shimon & J. Lindemann