Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Mary Lou Cook

Mary Lou


Honored April, 1988

Mary Lou Cook

Teacher? Calligrapher? Author? Minister? Craftsperson? Activist? Volunteer? It's not really possible to label Mary Lou Cook, founder of Santa Fe Living Treasures.

Having cultivated the philosophy and practice of honoring the creative impulse in herself and others, she has followed that impulse wherever it led, while encouraging others to do likewise.

"Anything that I do with my hands makes me happy," she said. That includes planting trees, designing proclamations as the official calligrapher of the city of Santa Fe, and practicing the simple craft of PastecraftTM, a craft using fabric and paste to cover solid objects, which she developed and now teaches to help people express their creativity. "The feeling of creating something beautiful that never existed before in the world, and creating it from something that was going to be thrown away, is wonderful," Mary Lou said.

Born in Chicago in 1918, Mary Lou, with her family moved to El Paso soon after her birth, in hopes the climate there would heal her father's tuberculosis. The young bank president died at age thirty-nine. Spending a great deal of time with her grandparents in Kansas City, Mary Lou then studied fine arts at Kansas University and the Kansas City Art Institute. After marrying Sam Cook, she and her family, including three children moved to many different areas. In several cities Mary Lou joined the Junior League and launched successful volunteer ventures, such as a preschool for blind children in Kansas City and a children's arts program in Milwaukee. "I trust myself. When I have the feeling I want to do something, I just do it. I don't know how to be any other way," she said.

With Sam's early retirement, he and Mary Lou settled in Santa Fe in 1969. The list of progressive Santa Fe organizations of which she is a member or founder includes: Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Business for Social Responsibility, the Greer Garson Theatre Guild, Habitat for Humanity, Community Peace Forum, and Santa Fe Network for the Common Good, which designates the Living Treasures. She was founding director of one of the first minority owned national banks in the US, United Southwest Bank.

Diagnosed with chronic leukemia in 1975, Mary Lou has lived with the illness for decades, embracing alternative health care, counseling others with serious illnesses, and following a spiritual path of good works.

Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes