Sheila Cook dreams up 3D to honor hospital’s benefactors

What appears to be a simple mural in the making, is actually much more. Fishermen’s Community Hospital lobby will be transformed with a three-dimensional art piece that not only pays homage to the environment, but also the many supporters of the medical center.

For weeks, Art Studio owner Sheila Cook and her team have been laboring on the east wall of the lobby — dreaming and measuring and beginning to sketch and paint an underwater scene.

“We’ve been planning it for about a year with the Fishermen’s Foundation,” Cook said. “Kim Gregory and Marv Schindler approached us about the idea of a donor wall. It will recognize everybody who has contributed to this hospital, including the employees.”

Cook said her imagination took off almost immediately. Besides the painted mural, it will also include clay starfish and seashells that are fired and painted. It will also feature fused-glass fish and a reef sculpture made from found objects that will also be painted to resemble a coral head. Besides Cook, it will include the work of her husband, Steve, Lynn Loftus, Jessie Vandervoort and Ashley Evenrud.

“We wanted something unique — not the standard wall with brass plaques that tarnish in the Keys,” said Gregory, executive director of the Foundation. “I knew it was going to be special, but I think it’s going to far better than I even dreamed.”

It’s the perfect project for a woman who has always had an artistic instinct.

“I think I’ve been painting all my life,” Cook said, “as well as doing other things like making Barbie clothes for my dolls with scraps of fabric my grandmother gave me.”

In fact, she started college with the intention of becoming a potter. But then the theater bug bit. She received a full scholarship to study theater Fontbonne University in Missouri after being spotted in a local production. Following graduation, she joined a prestigious theater group working in the children’s theater division. Then she served on the Humanities Council in Missouri and Illinois, creating traveling performances about historical figures.

“They were huge tent shows,” she said. “Steve, my husband, was our technical director.”

The couple moved to the Keys about a dozen years ago, settling in Marathon. She said that’s when she switched art mediums, back to creating things with her hands.

“I was painting and doing embroidery and reading. Then I started making art box handbags out of cigar boxes,” Cook said.

That led to jewelry and constant trips to the mainland for supplies to fuel her art habit. She knew she wasn’t alone, so the idea of the Art Studio was born.

Besides the Fishermen’s Community Hospital, Cook’s murals grace several locations around town including Leigh Anne’s Coffee House, and the Jet Center. Plus, she has murals in Indiana, Illinois and even other countries — painted on mission trips, she said.

But the wall she’s working on now, that’s the most complex project she’s ever undertaken.

“It will take the whole team to make this work, but it’s going to be amazing,” she said.

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