Trained as a printmaker at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago under Bolton Brown, Louisiana-born Honoré Guilbeau Cooke won the prestigious Logan Prize for Lithography in 1932 for her print “Backstage Fairgrounds,” inspired by summer tours with a dance troupe. Her youthful desire to be a dancer often found expression in such prints as “Lament,” executed for the WPA under Kalman Kubinyi, and “Night,” done for the Print-a-Month series. During the 1930s, her lithographs won prizes at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s annual May Show, and she was included in a 1937 show at the Whitney in New York.
Primarily a visual artist, dance and theatre remained constants. Guilbeau was employed by the WPA to design sets and costumes for the Cleveland Theatre for Youth. In the 1940s she helped organize the Peninsula Players in Peninsula, Ohio, and for Cain Park productions, she danced and designed sets and costumes.
Guilbeau moved to a farm in Peninsula in 1939 with husband, Edmund Vance “Buck” Cooke, and their two preschoolers. The limited water supply there was unsuitable for printmaking but, ever adaptable, she continued to work in watercolor, clay, fiber, and her first love, drawing. Her art traveled from the countryside to such competitions as the Syracuse Ceramic National Exhibitions, always signed with her maiden name, Guilbeau, which she felt had more “oomph.” During the 1940s she and choreographer Eleanora Buchla Kubinyi transformed the Cooke family barn into an arts’ school for children and, during the 1950s, Guilbeau also taught at the Akron Art Institute.
In 1945 Guilbeau’s venture into book illustration began when she won a Heritage Press competition with her illustrations for The Adventures of Hajji Baba. Heritage Press also commissioned her to illustrate A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Shaving of Shagpat. Later she collaborated with Cleveland author Ethel Collier on four children’s books published in the 1960s: Hundred and Hundred of Strawberries; Who Goes There in My Garden? The Birthday Tree; and I Know a Farm. For Young Scott Books she wrote and illustrated Mrs. Magpie’s Invention in 1971.
Much of Guilbeau’s imagery is figurative, capturing her subjects in the everyday dance of life. She had a particular sensibility for the people and landscape of Mexico where she wintered, traveling with sketchbook in hand and often clambering up on a rooftop for a better view. A sketch could be completed in the time it took her husband to gas up the car. In Mexico she also became fascinated with mosaics. The Peninsula Library, which she helped found in 1943, would install her pebble mosaic, “Mural of Transportation in the Valley,” on the exterior of its new building in 1964.
Still active at age 99, Honoré Guilbeau Cooke died in May of 2006 as a result of a fall while hiking. Graphic and fiber artist, painter, ceramist, sculptor, muralist, illustrator, author, teacher, actor, dancer, costume and set designer, as well as wife, mother, and community volunteer, Guilbeau was equally adept at drawing a tree or planting hundreds of pine seedlings while hanging off the back of the farm tractor.