I’m pleased to introduce Rediscovered Women Artists, a new addition to our AWA News blog. This will be a monthly post by art historian Dr. Jann Haynes Gilmore who spoke at our annual meeting in Steamboat Springs, Colorado in June this year on the subject of her latest monograph Olive Rush: Finding Her Place in the Santa Fe Art Colony. Until this book, New Mexico artist Olive Rush had been largely forgotten in the pantheon of early 20th century American artists. Since Dr. Gilmore’s retirement, she has worked as an independent curator and writer focused on underrecognized women artists in America. Her talk on Rush was well-received and inspired AWA to provide this platform for Gilmore to share with our members the stories of so many unknown women artists. We are excited to present Dr. Gilmore’s first selection of a talented female artist from Maine, Evelyn Kok.
Patricia Watts, Executive Director
EVELYN KOK (1923-2014)
Evelyn Olsen Kok lived and created her paintings on the rugged Maine coast in Stonington, a village made famous by American artists John Marin and Marsden Hartley. After she passed away in 2014, Kok’s neice Christina Shipps was concerned that her aunt’s work would fade into oblivion. Shipps then decided to reopen her aunt’s gallery on Stonington’s waterfront, once called the Gallery of the Purple Fish, or fondly, The Heap.
Kok graduated from the School of Practical Arts (now a part of Lesley University) in Cambridge, MA. She trained as a medical illustrator and worked in this field until she married a Dutchman, Jan Kok, a professor of music. The couple moved to Presque Isle in northern Maine. Venturing down the coast alone one day, Evelyn stumbled into Stonington and found her “place” in a tumbled-down blacksmith shop, turned gospel church. There Evelyn opened her studio to the public, but would not sell her watercolors; only her handcrafted bookmarks. Her gallery became a hub for locals and visitors charmed by Kok’s multitudinous talents and carefree spirit.
The artists’ oeuvre includes fine art renderings in watercolor, graphic and oil media, as well as written music, crafted decorative musical instruments, and regional maps. She also made notecards, calendars, and annual greeting cards with illustrated carol music for recipients to sing at holidays. Shipps elaborates, “every single thing she did every day was produce art.” She recalled that even Kok’s shopping list was done in calligraphy. Remaining atop the gallery desk today is a porcelain toilet top that Kok used as her painting palette, a clever adaptation, indeed!
Shipps inherited her aunt’s magnum opus because the artist had been reluctant to part with her work. Today one walks into the rustic gallery overlooking the harbor and is immediately taken back a half-century by the warmth of its mellow wooden walls hung with Kok’s paintings and illustrations. There are also racks of greeting cards, reproductions of her paintings depicting local and regional Maine and seasonal scenery.
The Koks were a well-known couple in northern Maine where they eventually settled year-round and spent their lives sharing art and music with their community. Evelyn taught art to the local women. Jan was asked to produce “Music Theater,” an educational program for kindergarten through third grade. Working together, the couple produced 52 black & white television shows that went out to both New Hampshire and Maine audiences, airing for 14 years. The shows featured children’s folk songs that they had written together, as well as animal stars such “Ink Spot,” a guinea pig. Jan played a guitar that Eve had decorated using kitchen utensils that were substitute musical instruments. Today, since the story of the Koks has been rekindled, New England adults are remembering the charming “Music Theater” episodes they loved as children.
There Has to be Magic: The Art of Evelyn Kok was written in 2017 by Christina Shipps and Donna McNeil and won first prize for Maine Authors Publishing Awards. In a review of the book Evelyn Kok was described as a “…painter, musician, luthier, medical illustrator, impish punster, tramper, and poet….Evelyn’s life inspired others to be fully themselves, mark their own path, and protect their light.” This portrayal epitomizes the extraordinary life of Evelyn Kok, an underrecognized woman artist with renaissance talent, whose notable career has been rediscovered.
Christina Shipps has commented: “I cannot tell you how many times over the past two summers that gallery visitors have recalled their own family artist stories and asked me what to do with a life’s collection? I say “Write a book. Open a gallery. If you believe in something, do it!”
Jann Haynes Gilmore PhD
For more information on Evelyn Kok go HERE