Local Art Teacher Retires After 22 Years

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For hundreds of Rim country residents, the news that Alberta Cook is retiring conjures reminiscences of her beginning oil and water color classes.

Cook is walking away from teaching after 22 years at the Payson campus of Eastern Arizona College and Gila Community College. She will miss it dearly.

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Local artist Alberta Cook, retiring after 22 years of teaching oil and watercolor classes at the local community college, poses with an oil of a river in Idaho she uses to demonstrate the use of color to students. She painted it from a photograph taken by one of her students.

"I've taught in many locations," Cook said. "We've been at Manzanita Manor, down on Main Street, at the high school, down at Bonanza Square."

When Payson finally got a permanent campus a few years ago, Cook was ecstatic. "I cried tears about that campus because it was so beautiful," she said. "It's a dream."

But students are students wherever classes are held, and over the years Cook has seen many come and go.

"I love the people," she said. "They're very dear to me.

"The younger ones are like my children; the older ones are like my brothers and sisters."

Many have been with her most all of the 22 years she's been teaching.

"Some of the people in my class are old," she said. "They're really old. I have one lady who is 86 and she's painting better than ever."

Cook believes most but not all people can be taught to paint.

"Some students are just lovely," she said. "I show them something and they'll say, ‘Oh, yeah.' Others will stand flat face-to-face and argue with you."

One of the fundamental principles Cook tries to instill she illustrates with a spider web.

"You draw a spot and attach a spider web to teach them to anchor their main design -- to strengthen the design and make it eye-catching."

The students who have the most difficult time are those "who are very mechanical," Cook says.

"It's hard for them to see the artistic value of the spider web," she said. "They want to center things perfectly."

Some students are also afraid to just let go.

"I say, ‘You need soft edges. Can't you mix a little of the color of the sky into the tree?' They're terrified. You just don't do that. A lot of people start with a tiny little brush, and they start with tiny little details," Cook said. "I took a portrait class a couple years ago, but it's not really my forte. I like to paint big and loose. I like soft edges."

Which might just be a metaphor for her life.

Cook moved to the Rim country 22 years ago from Pomona, Calif., as a "new widow."

"My husband had a Mobil station on a very busy corner there," she said. "I didn't want to, but when he died, I took over and ran the station for a year."

Her original destination was Flagstaff, but a friend of her late husband told her about Payson.

"He had a sister who lived in Mesa and came up here quite often. He said, ‘Oh no, I'll tell you where you want to go.' Of course, we had to get a map and try to find it."

Cook plans to keep painting. In fact, she currently has two commissions that will keep her busy "from here to August." Because of her love for people, she also plans to do a lot of socializing.

"I'm quite a social person, and living in a fourplex we have lots of neighbors," she said. "I have open house a lot."

Another task she plans to tackle is cleaning out a lifetime of memories.

"I'm going to try to set my house in order," she said. "I have a small apartment with a whole lifetime worth of stuff. When artists die I get calls and they say, ‘Would you come and help us? We want to have a yard sale. How much for this brush? How much for this tube of paint?' Most of it should go to the dump, so sometime before I die I want to throw away all my junky stuff so my kids don't have to go through it."

But before that day comes, Cook hopes to enjoy many years right here in Payson.

"I love it here," she said. "I really love it here. But I will miss the people in my classes."

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"Painting is a language without words -- the language of vision. By design, quite literally, the viewer is led along into the places and spaces the artist intended, while making interesting stops along the way. It may be a place of quiet beauty or, by contrast, it could be a place of stimulating ane exciting discord." -- Alberta Cook, Artist and teacher

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