Rajie Cook often joked that museum visitors are more likely to come across his artwork on their travels than a portrait of Matisse or a landscape by Van Gogh. They saw it when they took the elevator to an upper gallery or stopped in the toilet.
In 1974, Cook & Shanosky Associates, a design firm founded a few years earlier by Mr. Cook and Don Shanosky, was commissioned to create a series of symbols that were easy to understand and that represented the kind of information that people put together Efficiently conveying land, conveying it efficiently A public place might be needed – which toilet was for which gender, the location of the nearest elevator, whether smoking was allowed and so on.
The signage of the two, 34 pictograms (others added later), is still in use today: the generic male and female figures; the cigarette in a circle with the red line through; the minimalist locomotive and the airplane to identify the train station and airport.
But Mr. Cook’s artistic interests went well beyond useful signs. By the time Cook & Shanosky collapsed in 2002, Mr. Cook had already started into another type of art, creating three-dimensional sculptural assemblages – boxes of found objects. Most of them were inspired by his exploration of his own legacy as the son of Christian Palestinian immigrants and what he saw on his many trips to the Middle East.
He viewed the works exhibited in museums and galleries as “art activism”. One box held the names of children victims of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the bottom quarter of the box filled with spent cartridges. Some of the children were Jews, but most of them were Palestinians, which, according to Mr. Cook, was not reflected in the coverage of American news agencies.
“Only part of the story is told,” he said in a 2018 interview with the Palestine Museum US in Woodbridge, Conn.
Mr. Cook died on February 6 in a Newtown, Pennsylvania hospice near his home in Washington Crossing, his family said. He was 90 years old.
For much of his career, Mr. Cook was known as Roger Cook thanks to the whim of a fourth grade teacher.
“My teacher found Rajie too difficult to pronounce,” he recently told Bucks County magazine, “and suggested that he be called Roger instead.” My maiden name was changed in a flash, but my parents did not object to the educator. “
Only decades later, when he began to explore his legacy through art, he returned to his first name.
His last name, too, was someone else’s idea that was imposed on the family long before he was born. His paternal grandfather’s last name was Suleiman, but he was nicknamed Kucuk, the Turkish word for small, by the Turkish occupiers because of his small stature; Later, when the British occupied Palestine, they turned it into Cook.
Rajie Cook was born on July 6, 1930 in Newark, the son of Najeeb and Jaleelie (Totah) Cook. His interest in art showed up early on.
“In high school, I was usually the student who sat in the back row sketching and drawing while the teacher and the rest of the class focused on other topics,” he wrote in A Vision for My Father, a paper published in Year 2016.
After graduating from Bloomfield High School, New Jersey in 1949, he enrolled at the Pratt Institute in New York, where he graduated in 1953.
In 1960, while working for an advertising agency in Philadelphia, NW Ayer & Son, a freelance illustrator named Don Shanosky was assigned to one of his projects. Mr. Cook moved to the New York design firm Graphic Directions in 1962 and met Mr. Shanosky again in 1965, who applied for a position that he won.
In 1967 the two went into business for themselves, founded Cook & Shanosky Associates and started a business in Manhattan.
Mr. Shanosky, who now lives in Florida, said in a telephone interview that they published an announcement about the new company in Graphis Magazine.
“The picture we used sums up how he and I were related,” he said. “It was two hands, one pencil. This way symbolized how we worked. “
Their designs, whether for annual reports, advertisements, or a government client, have always been a collaborative effort that has not been credited to one or the other. And their philosophy was straightforward.
“We stuck to the principle that design communicates no-frills, gadgets and other foreign material for maximum effectiveness,” Cook wrote in his book. “If the core idea is good, it will scream the loudest, if it is not overshadowed by ornaments. “
This philosophy went well with the pictogram assignment. The project was intended to prepare for America’s Bicentennial, which would attract many overseas visitors who would need help navigating airports, historic sites, and other public spaces.
The effort was overseen by the Department of Transportation and the American Institute of Graphic Arts (now simply known as AIGA), and that meant Cook & Shanosky, which was still a small business at the time, had many eyes. The company received parameters about what the symbols had to do and relied on existing symbols from around the world.
“We kept in mind that the people who see the pictograms speak different languages and use different alphabets,” wrote Cook, “and in some cases were illiterate.”
As soon as the first drafts were offered, a committee reviewed them and in turn gave numerous opinions.
“Since most of the committee members were designers themselves, there were a lot of ‘Have you tried that? “” Shanosky recalled. The members of the committee were armed with a roll of black tape and a roll of white tape.
“They would say what if this was moved there or what if this was shorter,” he said. “They would cover our black symbol with white tape to make it shorter or use black tape to make it longer” – before usually agreeing on something very similar to what he and Mr. Cook originally did had presented.
Mr. Cook has reproduced in his book some of the notes the company received from these reviews, including this one relating to the symbol for a drinking fountain, a figure hunched at the waist over a stylized depiction of a fountain:
“Figure: lower body disproportionate to torso.”
“Is Arm Necessary?”
“Arm necessary to indicate that the figure is not bowing.”
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan presented Mr. Cook and Mr. Shanosky with an award for “Excellence in Design for the United States Government.”
Mr. Cook is survived by his wife Margit (Schneider) Cook, whom he married in 1955; two daughters, Cynthia Rhodin and Cathryn Cook; three siblings, Lillian, Wade, and Edward Cook; three grandchildren; and a great grandson.
Mr Cook said he picked up sculptural assemblages after coming across the work of artist Joseph Cornell, who was known for his shadow boxes. Mr. Cook’s work has been shown in numerous exhibitions, including 2003 at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston with the title “Made in Palestine”.
“I remember my father – he died at the age of 94 – old and blind and sat on the radio and said he was waiting to hear something good on the radio about peace in the Middle East,” Mr. Cook told the New York Times in 2004 when interviewed about the controversy sometimes caused by exhibitions of Palestinian art. “I’m 74 and I don’t know if I’ll ever hear it. I don’t want to die at 94 and still wait for peace. “