Dorothea Cooke (Gramatky) Biography

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Dorothea Cooke (Gramatky), (1908-2001) Born: Hollywood, CA, Studied: Chouinard Art Institute (Los Angeles). Dorothea Cooke graduated from Hollywood High School before deciding not to go to college but to study her passion, art. Her parents had come from New Hampshire where her father, Charles Prentice Cooke, was an MIT graduate and her mother, Harrie Gertrude Edgerly Cooke, attended Wellesley. Her father was a civil engineer who helped design the “five finger drives” that opened up the San Fernando Valley to being developed. She and her sister, Hellen, were both chosen by legendary Stanford University professor Lewis B. Terman for his landmark study on gifted children. Until she was in her 90s, Dorothea was interviewed each decade for the study, which concluded that gifted children were not misfits but tended to have happy, productive lives and long marriages.

At Chouinard, Dorothea studied with F. Tolles Chamberlin, Clarence Hinkle and Pruett Carter. While there she met and fell in love with fellow artist Hardie Gramatky. Later she recalled, “Hardie arrived at Chouinard in 1928 after two years at Stanford. This handsome man with the nicest smile stormed into our life class, leaped over the sawhorses that we were using and started drawing fast and furiously. I really should have had blinders on because it was very hard to concentrate! He was so peppy.” She did fine arts etchings on a printing press in her home while he worked at Disney Company. The couple spent much time with their best friends, Betty and Phil Dike, during their years in Southern California’s Echo Lake district, and they married in 1932. In 1936, Hardie and Doppy (as she was nicknamed) moved to New York City, the Mecca of illustrators, and both found work immediately. Dorothea Doppy did artwork for King Features and Jack & Jill magazine under her maiden name of Dorothea Cooke, and in 1940 she illustrated a children’s book about Stephen Foster called He Heard America Sing. Doppy recalled, “For illustrating, I was paid the huge sum of $150. We went out to dinner to celebrate one night in a little place named Shima’s in the Village. We got the fanciest dinner they had -– 85 cents -– and we thought we were really living!”

After three miscarriages, Dorothea gave birth to a daughter, Linda Anne, and the Gramatkys decided to move out of the City to Westport, Connecticut, in 1946. A 1950s wife, Doppy was renowned for serving homemade popovers & chili when the Fairfield Watercolor Group would meet monthly at one of the 12 artists’ homes. Still doing covers and illustrating for Jack & Jill for fifteen years, Dorothea also did an illustration for a Spanish textbook that featured a woman in a frilly nightgown in bed, and it caused the book to be banned in Boston, a story that Hardie loved to tell! In the 1970s she illustrated a book for the Xerox corporation, but it wasn’t until Hardie had died and she had moved to New Jersey at age 74 that she began painting watercolors for her own enjoyment. She won several awards in art shows.

And then in 1989, G. P. Putnam & Sons publishers urged Dorothea and her daughter to finish Hardie’s last children’s book, Little Toot and the Loch Ness Monster, posthumously. While Linda edited the manuscript, Dorothea painted two original full-color illustrations for the book and also added watercolor background to several charcoal sketches that Hardie had done. Actress and producer Shelley Duvall chose to animate the book for her Emmy-nominated television series on Showtime, Bedtime Stories. In the years following the publication of the book, Dorothea joined her daughter in traveling “from Maine to California” giving talks at schools and libraries, where her bright eyes and youthful enthusiasm and energy enthralled everyone. With senile dementia, she moved back to the Connecticut house in 1998 to live with her family until her death at age 92.

Biography by daughter Linda Gramatky Smith

California Watercolor