Cooke named ‘Honored Educator of the Year’

UPSTATE — Former Pickens High School art teacher Debbie R. Cooke will be recognized as this year’s “Honored Educator of the Year” at the Society for Photographic Education Southeast Regional Conference,

Debbie R. Cooke

Debbie R. Cooke

being held at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville.

The Honored Educator is awarded to a recipient who has made a significant contribution to the field of photographic education through classroom teaching, writing, publishing, museum education or other areas of professional practice in the field of photography.

Cooke grew up in Florence, where she visited a museum on Spruce Street as a child, and from there sparked an interest in photography that blossomed into a passion for art. After she graduated from McClenaghan High School, she went on to receive her undergraduate degree from Winthrop University in 1973 and her M.F.A. from Clemson University in 1989.

She taught art at Pickens High School for more than 20 years, and in 1993 she was named Teacher of the Year by the School District of Pickens County. Cooke also served as a former consultant for the Polaroid Education Program and as an Artist in Residence with the University of Georgia’s International Studies Program in Cortona, Italy, and as Co-Chair of the Visual Arts department for the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities Summer Program. She taught photography at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville before retiring in 2011.

Cooke received awards and grants from The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, The South Carolina Arts Commission, The South Carolina State Department of Education, and the South Carolina Art Education Association. She was selected to be a fellow for The Fulbright Memorial Fund in Tokyo, and her artwork has been featured in magazines and publications and showcased in local, state and regional art shows.

The Sheffield Wood Gallery of the Fine Arts Center in Greenville plans to host an exhibit, “Debbie R. Cooke: A Retrospective” to honor her art until Nov. 21. It will feature a selection of her work from the 1990s through 2013. The first series includes works produced using the “Polacollage” technique. These provocative images produced from 1992-2001 combine past art historical images and ideals with present values and icons. Cooke’s next series of work, the installation Shams of Comfort (2004), was a reaction to the Iraq war and a statement about American values and our consumer culture. The most recent work from 2013 explores the evolution of culture regarding food and the development of agribusiness, which was inspired by her involvement with the Slo Foods Movement.

Cooke was more than just a resident of Pickens County, and though she received many awards, she will be remembered for her ability to make a lasting impression on countless people throughout her 50-year career as an artist and an educator, all which stemmed from a passion for art that began on Spruce Street, in Florence.

For further information about the exhibition or the Fine Arts Center’s Permanent Collection, contact gallery coordinator Kimberly Clark at or leave a message with the front office at (864) 355-2550.