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Edward F. Rook

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Edward F. Rook
Lyme Art Colony
American, (September 21, 1870–October 25, 1960) In Lyme: 1903-1960
The artists at Old Lyme generally had two kinds of thoughts about Edward Rook – that he was one of the finest painters in their group and that he had one of the most interesting personalities. As artist Nelson C. White phrases it, "Mr. Rook was noted for his originality of approach to almost every subject, not only in his art but in his daily life." His training in art was conventional for American painters of the time. He had studied in the 1880s with Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens, probably at the Academie Julian. Except for one or two visits home, Rook remained in France until the end of 1900. He did exhibit a painting in the 1898 exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which was awarded the Temple Gold Medal.

In 1901, on Valentine’s Day, Rook was married to Edith Sone. The following summer they travelled to the Canadian Rockies, then down the Pacific coast to California. Rook won a bronze medal that same year at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. Near the end of 1902, the Rooks went to Mexico, where they lived for eleven months. Rook came from a family of means and apparently could afford to do pretty much as he liked.

Edward Rook and his wife were in Old Lyme in late October of 1903. Why they chose to go there is not clear, but they obviously liked it, because in April, 1905, they moved to Old Lyme, "made it our residence." And it was there they stayed, their travels over, Mrs. Rook even behaving like a recluse at times. Rook continued to exhibit at major expositions; he won two silver medals at the Universal Exposition, St. Louis, in 1904; a silver medal at the International Fine Arts Exposition, Buenos Aires, in 1910; and a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, in 1915. He was also an active member of the Lyme Art Association. He did not have a New York gallery dealer, and since he deliberately set his prices high , he sold relatively few. He is represented, however, in the permanent collections of several American museums and of the Lotos Club, to which he belonged. He painted landscapes, still lifes and marines.

Rook was made a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1924, the same year he and his wife moved into a new home they had built in Old Lyme. The house was the talk of the town because Rook, who had grown passionately fond of automobiles, had designed the garage as the focus of the structure. The house, arranged tightly against either side of and over the garage, acted as a kind of picture frame for it. Rook owned three cars, among them a Hupmobile and a Locomobile. At nights he raised their hoods and spotlighted the engines so he could admire the machinery, which he thought very beautiful. He never learned to drive and had to hire driver-mechanics, most of whom dismayed him because of their casual attitude toward the machines.

Rook was essentially a gentle, courtly man, which seems to have made his vagaries all the more endearing to his friends. He loved mountain laurel, as did many of the Impressionist artists, and shared their frustration that the flowers often faded faster than they could be painted. Sometimes Rook tied pink cotton balls onto laurel bushes for a "second blooming," so he could finish a painting.

Rook stories are plentiful. One that is often told has to do with a sheet of plate glass lying on the ground near Rook’s back door. Artist Gregory Smith asked what it was all about. "Why, that is for the rats, sir." Said Rook. Smith pressed for an explanation. "That is to cover the garbage pail, don’t you see. The garbage pail is sunk in the ground and the plate glass is to cover it. And the rats can come. That is to torment them. They can see the garbage, but they can’t get it."

It tormented some of Rook’s friends that though he worked hard at his art, he never worked much at exhibiting it or promoting his reputation. Some of his paintings have only recently begun to appear in galleries again. Someday the work of this painter, so admired by his peers for its proficiency and vision, will have to be reassessed.

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