Catching up with Patricia Cooke (Studio Art ’11)
July 15, 2020
I graduated from Appalachian State in 2011 with a BFA in Studio Art. Upon graduating, I moved to my hometown of Greensboro, NC and worked for my family’s vending company. Although the initial job I worked was not arts related, I knew that it was important for me to procure studio space to keep my momentum from ASU rolling and become involved in the local arts scene. I found an affordable studio space and joined a co-op gallery that held monthly openings and opened the door to my recognition as an artist, as well as monetary gain from my work. Within a year of moving home, my family sold their company, and I began to work as a barista and yoga teacher, which gave me even more free time to focus on my studio practice. In addition, the coffee shop where I worked took me on as their curator, where I could design bi-monthly exhibitions of work by local artists, as well as hold opening events.
During my time at ASU, I was employed by both the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts and the Smith Gallery as a member of their exhibitions teams, and this experience made gave me all of the knowledge I needed to serve as a curator. After a few years of working in this manner, one of my professors from ASU, Jeana Klein, moved to Greensboro and hired me as her studio assistant while she was on sabbatical. This gave me a great opportunity to be fully imbued in the structure of a professional artists’ studio.
I can’t tell you exactly when or how it happened, but one day I knew it was time to look for graduate programs. I had been building my studio practice as a sculptor since my graduation, and knew I wanted to find a program that was a good fit for me. I found the MFA program at the University of Miami, and applied in 2013. I was accepted into the program, but unfortunately was not offered any financial assistance. I was put in contact with the head of the sculpture department, Billie Grace Lynn, and she advised me to work on my portfolio for a year and reapply in the hopes that I would be considered for a teaching assistantship. It was great advice, because I was offered a Graduate Teaching Assistantship in 2015, which included a full tuition waiver and monthly stipend! One of my main criteria for choosing a graduate program was to not put myself into debilitating debt, and that is something that I strongly urge any artist looking for an MFA program to consider.
My MFA program at the University of Miami was three years, and included a year of teacher training followed by two academic years of teaching my own classes. I had a lot of creative freedom in my work, and because the program was small (my direct cohort was only five students), I had easy access to my professors for guidance. At the end of the program, all students had a month long solo show. I would definitely encourage students to consider class size as a factor in choosing a graduate program; I had great relationships with my professors, but I had colleagues who butted heads with them and it affected their work. I think that if I had been part of a large cohort, I would have felt overlooked and thirsty for attention from my professors. In addition, I have peers pursued their MFAs at schools with larger programs, and they mounted a group exhibition at the end. There is nothing wrong with this, but I was happy to have had a solo show.
I graduated from UM in 2018 with an MFA in Sculpture. I was offered to stay on the faculty roster and continue teaching for the university in Fall 2018. I have been an adjunct faculty at UM since, and am now teaching two classes per semester, one in Introduction to 3D Design and one in Introduction to Sculpture. With my experience from the Turchin Center and Smith Gallery, I was hired as an art handler for Museo Vault in Miami. It is very interesting work, and I have been able to actually touch (with gloves) masterpieces by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Claes Oldenburg, Jean-Michel Basquiat, among others with my hands. I am also highly involved in Art Basel Miami Beach each December, delivering and picking up artworks for the fairs.
My identity as an artist definitely began and was nurtured at Appalachian State University. I have grown so much as an artist since then, but am often reminded of the wonderful lessons that I learned from my professors and peers alike. When I entered the art department, I was sure that I was going to be a painter. During an upper level painting course, we were assigned to do a “painting for the blind”. I interpreted this to play with texture, heavily. I adhered wallpaper, shower curtains, tissue paper, plastic netting, and a showerhead using gesso and gel medium to create a billowing flow of texture, and that was the moment I became a sculptor. My professors at ASU, across media, were encouraging approaches to sculpture and material and helped me blossom into the artist I am today.
I have many fond memories of being in the sculpture studio in the middle of the night, unconcerned with time and just becoming lost in the process of creating. Although I was being critiqued and graded, it always felt like a safe space for exploration and learning from failures. I would advise current students to take advantage of all of the studio time they have, as well as all of the opportunities that ASU and the Boone community have for artists. Being in such a small community has its benefits; you can become a known name very easily. Learn as much as you can from your professors, enjoy your time, and be grateful to be a part of such an awesome department!