A talented colorist, printmaker, and devoted educator, August Charles Cook is known for his portraits, landscapes, and, perhaps most notably, woodcut prints. Cook and his wife, artist Irma Howard Cook, were beloved art instructors in Spartanburg, South Carolina; he helped to establish the art department at Converse College (Converse University since 2021) and taught there for forty-two years.

August Cook was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents who instilled in him an early appreciation for art. His father, an amateur artist, and his mother, an admirer of fine furniture, encouraged him to develop an interest in art, beginning with woodworking. This was the foundation for Cook’s furniture-making and woodcarving later in life. From 1917 to 1924 he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, this country’s oldest art museum and school. In 1921, Cook won the Academy’s prestigious Cresson European Scholarship which provided for three summer sojourns abroad. While at the Academy, he met and fell in love with fellow student Irma Virginia Howard. The two formed a friendly rivalry that encouraged each other’s artistic pursuits; it continued throughout their marriage. They married in 1924, and after a recommendation by Academy teacher Daniel Garber, Cook became the sole instructor in the emerging art department at Converse College in Spartanburg, where the Cooks stayed for the rest of their lives.

In building the program at Converse, Cook leaned heavily on his experience as a student at the Academy—teaching the fundamentals of drawing and painting while encouraging his students to develop their own artistic style. His approach served him well; in 1934 he convinced the college’s administration to establish an art major, allowing students to earn Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees—the first college in South Carolina to do so. Cook designed his two-story house, hand-carved its mantle, and built its bookcases. He also crafted furniture, including Chippendale-style chairs and tables and desks mirrored after Heppelwhite prototypes. Some pieces had intricate inlays; he often carved frames for his paintings. After retiring from the college in 1966, Cook purchased ninety acres in Chesnee in rural Spartanburg county and continued to teach students there into his eighties.

While Cook became known for his use of color, initially he was challenged by it. He spent several summers at Harvard University studying palette arrangements based on nature. Cook continued experimenting with color relationships for many years, consistently working to improve his understanding and control of color in his paintings. One example of his color proficiency is the portrait entitled Lillian, which represented South Carolina at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. The portrait is also emblematic of Cook's style—serious, studied, and an objective portrayal of his subject. His portrait of South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Bruce Littlejohn is in the collection of the South Carolina State Museum.

Cook challenged himself to learn woodcut printmaking, drawing on his youthful experience with woodworking. In the early 1940s, Cook produced his first woodcut, followed by many others, expertly crafted with remarkable detail. Whereas he is highly regarded for his oil portraits, when it came to woodcuts, he favored houses, both high style and rustic, set in lush landscapes. In 1990 the Milliken Gallery at Converse College organized a retrospective exhibition of Cook’s work consisting of thirty-three examples chosen by the artist shortly before his death at age ninety-three. At the time, a student of Cook’s for many years, offered this assessment: “He was a man who stuck to his principles; August Cook was not for sale. He had an unyielding quality to paint things the way he saw them. He was not a flatterer, and unfortunately, much of the public wants to be flattered.”