In 1938 Mrs Vivian E. Cook served on the African-American subcommittee of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Committee of the City. In her feedback to the institution she emphasized an educational role for the museum and made suggestions to help it achieve its outreach goals. Of all the members of the BMA committee, Vivian Cook was undoubtedly the one who would be the most engaged with the museum in the long-term, principally in her role as Director of the Art Committee for the Cooperative Women’s Civic League.
Born Vivian Elma Johnson in Collierville, Tennessee, in 1889, Vivian Cook earned degrees at Howard University in 1912 and Columbia University in 1917. She moved to Baltimore in the 1920s, where her day job was as a teacher, vice-principal, and then principal at various schools in Baltimore, including Douglass High School, Booker T. Washington High School, Dunbar Junior-Senior High School, Harvey Johnson Junior High School. She joined the faculty of Morgan State College in 1956.
In her work, life and advocacy, Cook always emphasized the value of higher education. Her ensuing career path as a teacher and principal shows that the example of her instructors at the historically black Howard University took hold. While Cook was not a curator in the 1939 show – being neither a BMA employee nor a person with former curatorial experience – the show must have impressed her greatly. Throughout the 1940s Vivian Cook collaborated with Adelyn Breeskin (who would become the Director of the BMA) on projects and acquisitions emphasizing African-American artists. The fact that Cook was involved with the BMA for so long signals that Contemporary Negro Art met her standards as an educator and advocate for black arts. As Cook’s main point of contact within the museum, Breeskin as an individual would have had a large impact on Vivian’s decision to continue supporting the institution. But Vivian Cook’s own initiative – spurred on by encouragement in the form of the 1939 show – is what fostered their mutually respectful and collaborative relationship .
All from the Baltimore Museum of Art Archives
Breeskin, Adelyn. Letter to Vivian Cook. 11 April 1946.
Breeskin, Adelyn. Letter to Vivian Cook. 12 July 1946.
Brinkman, Dorothea. Letter to Vivian Cook. 17 October 1945.
Cook, Vivian. Letter to Adelyn Breeskin. 27 March 1946.
Cook, Vivian. Letter to Adelyn Breeskin. 21 October 1946.
Cook, Vivian. Letter to Adelyn Breeskin. 24 November 1948.
Cook, Vivian. Letter to James W. Foster. 27 January 1948.
Cooperative Women’s Civic League. The Art Committee Cooperative Women’s Civic League holds its Third Exhibition of Art. Cooperative Women’s Civic League, 1940.
Moore, Geo. W. “Southern Field Notes.” The American Missionary, vol. 56, 1902.