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A stitcher’s story

January 8, 2018
man standing in front of two pieces of art workRandall Cook, building and project manager for River Campus Libraries, is also an award-winning fiber artist. (University photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Since 2015, the Memorial Art Gallery has celebrated the “after-hours” hobbies and creative lives of Rochesterians as part of a series called “Hidden Passions: Inspiring Conversations about Hyphenated Lives.” The program includes presenters from throughout Greater Rochester—including University of Rochester faculty, staff, and students—who share their stories and ideas about creativity with the community.

Randall Cook, building and project manager for River Campus Libraries, will talk about his passion for quilts at 7 p.m. Thursday, January 11, at the Memorial Art Gallery. Read more about Cook below. He’ll be joined by Brittany Williams, an assistant basketball coach and artist. Entry is $7.50 and includes museum admission.

At the start of 2000, on the heels of completing a massive work project related to a Y2K computer software changeover, Randall Cook found that he had some free time on his hands. And because January’s chill had set in, a hobby he could enjoy indoors was ideal.

“I wanted something to replace the crazy work life I’d been leading with something more calming,” says Cook, who now serves as building and project manager for River Campus Libraries.

He bought a sewing machine and a few books about quilting “on a whim” while walking through an arts and crafts store. And his passion for the art was born.

He started with easy projects such as traditional bed quilts, which he gifted to family members.

“It was exciting, so I kept going,” Cook recalls. His skills burgeoned, his desire to learn more grew, and he progressed into more complicated projects. In 2004, he started entering his work in quilt shows, winning several awards at the New York State Quilt Consortium show in Auburn. His interest in art quilts—pieces meant to be displayed rather than used as bedding—continued to grow.

In 2006, after “another crazy year at work” as a software project manager, he found himself without a job. Cook says he stretched his severance package and, at the encouragement of his friends, committed himself to his quilting.

He enrolled in a weeklong course with internationally renowned textile artist Hollis Chatelain in California, where he learned dye-painting techniques. He took a drawing class locally and continued to refine his craft.

Rather than simpler projects that could be completed in about a month, he devoted long stretches of time to creating hand-painted art quilts that required extensive machine quilting.

“2007 was a great year for me, personally,” Cook says, because of the time devoted to his creative pursuits.

That year, Cook’s “I Remain,” a red art quilt depicting the backside of a male nude, earned Finalist honors at the nation’s largest annual quilt show, the International Quilt Festival in Houston—where it also generated some controversy for its subject matter.

“I Remain” was among the works featured in a 2009 article on “Shocking Quilts” in Mark Lipinski’s Quilter’s Home magazine, a story that generated its own controversy when retailer Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts declined to sell the issue because of the “Shocking Quilts” feature.

Cook was also one of the artists featured in a 2011 short film, Stitched, which chronicled the stories of three controversial artisans as they prepared to submit entries for the 2010 International Quilt Festival.

He’s earned many accolades for his work over the years at the International Quilt Festival and at other shows across the country.

These days, he continues strive for balance between his life as a textile artist and his professional life.

“I’m a control freak. I’m a project manager, I have to plan things out,” he says. “My best and favorite pieces are the ones that come when I can get out of that mindset.”

He’ll sometimes take a week of vacation time to immerse himself in the creative process and work on surface designs for his quilts.

“I really need to be in ‘it’ and not in the rest of my life,” he says.

View his portfolio at

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Category: The Arts