By Gabby Bass-Butler
Photos by Lindsey Culver
Every afternoon, Alicia Cook sets aside her homeschooling teacher hat, walks over to a special space in her Homewood cottage and sets up at her wall easel with oil paints in hand. With calming music or an audiobook playing, it’s time for her to get to work capturing flowers dancing in the wild and other moments that we can easily overlook in nature.
At the end of the day, Alicia hopes that her representations of the very real world around us will make others feel the same sense of joy that she gets from them.
When she was younger, though, Alicia mainly painted whatever her teachers were prescribing, and right after college she painted mostly pet portraits. Her grandparents loved to paint, and her family encouraged her love of art as a kid. She took lessons growing up, studied art at Birmingham-Southern College and later received a master’s in art history from UAB, planting seeds of creativity that bear fruit today. She hadn’t yet been drawn to nature though.
Her passion for it instead grew when she lived in Upstate New York, a departure from her hometown of Birmingham. While her husband was in school there, she not only taught art but also found herself inspired by the natural world around her. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more into nature,” she says. “I love to hike, be outdoors and garden, so that’s just a big part of my life. It’s what makes me happy and fills my soul.”
She did step out of her pattern of painting nature when she worked on a piece with Trinity United Methodist Church recently though. The church’s art walk last spring featured artists presenting their take on Jesus’ last days on Earth, and all of the pieces were displayed in front of the church on Oxmoor.
Alicia’s piece was collaborative as she sketched a cross on an abstract landscape and placed pieces of tape on it. One Sunday after church, children and adults could come pick from different colors and paint within the taped regions. Once the painting seemed finished, Alicia and her kids went back and added some gold paint and a few more touches to it ,and the painting was complete. Showcasing the cross was a beautiful and memorable moment for her, as she emphasizes that art can be an expression of worship.
Alicia spends most of her time homeschooling her two elementary-aged kids, but she dedicates afternoons to painting in her own oasis that she created in a recent home renovation that she says has elevated her painting routine.
“Before the renovation, I was painting in our dining room, where we ate our meals, did home school and practiced the piano. It was a cluttered, busy scene,” she says. “Now I’ve got my own space, and I can leave my stuff out. That makes it so much easier to go and start working. I have my paints all set up, and I’ve got some great easels that I love.”
Alicia is still thinking about maybe teaching one day as she continues to find herself inspired by the Impressionists, Monet, Cezanne and Degas. In fact, the reason she got a master’s in art history at UAB is because she thought she might like to work in a museum or teach it at the college level.
For anyone wanting to get into art history, she suggests something as simple as a visit to your local library. “I get inspired by them, the art and the history all the time, ” says Alicia. “Walk around the art history section and cultural section and see what pops out at you. Everybody loves different things and different styles: contemporary art, realistic art, there’s just so much out there.”
Alicia also recommends visiting auction websites and museums to learn more about art history. For her, the Birmingham Art Museum is the “ultimate place to get inspired by art and learn about art history.”
When she’s not exploring art or nature, Alicia also enjoys playing the piano and cooking, particularly making red lentil soup with sourdough bread to pair with it for her family. (Side note: She got into making bread by learning from another Homewood local, Hannah Scroggins’ (@_hannahs_homemade_) homemade bread making class.)
In the midst of that though, painting is still at the core of what Alicia does. She is currently working on new bird paintings—yet another element of nature she takes in day by day. “My favorite thing is to be inspired by something and just go paint, and hopefully, eventually, it probably won’t find a home right away but eventually it’ll find the right home,” she says.
Art History 101
Book Recommendations from Alicia Cook
- Art Through the Ages by Helen Gardner
- “This was a required book for art history in college, and I continue to use it today! There are many editions and adaptations so I recommend A Global History for beginners.”
- The Art Book by the Editors of Phaidon
- “With 500 beautiful color illustrations, this one makes for a great coffee table book too.”
- A Child’s Introduction to Art: The World’s Greatest Paintings + Sculptures by Helen Alexander
- ‘“A wonderful pick for kids! Includes art project ideas too.”
- The Story of Painting by Sister Wendy Beckett
- “This one includes interesting historical and technical information along with thought-provoking spiritual ideas about the art at hand.”