Van Deren Coke Annual Achievement Award

A passionate photographer, Van Deren Coke began to make serious photographic images in 1936. He had his first gallery showing at the University of Kentucky in 1940. During the early 1950′s he studied with Ansel Adams and thereafter his works were shown in venues throughout the world.

Los Amigos del Arte Popular held its Fall meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico October 1-3, 2004. Forty-six members from Pennsylvania through California attended. One of the most important purposes of the meeting was to make the inaugural presentation of the Van Deren Coke Annual Achievement Award.

Van Deren Coke an early member of Los Amigos died July 11, 2004 at the age of 83. A native of Lexington, Kentucky he was a legendary figure in American photography, an accomplished sculptor, noted art historian, college professor, museum curator and director, and pioneer collector of Mexican Folk Art.

Born July 4, 1921, Van Deren Coke began his art education when he entered the University of Kentucky in 1939. He served in the Navy during WWII, from 1942-45. Later he continued his art education when he was awarded a Masters of Art in Art History and a Masters of Fine Arts in sculpture at Indiana University. A short time thereafter, he got his first professorial position as assistant professor of art history and photography at the University of Florida.

From 1962 – 1970 Mr. Coke moved to New Mexico to become the founding director of the University Art Museum at the University of New Mexico and Chairman of the University’s Department of Art and Art History. He left that position to become the Director of the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. In 1979 he left that position to become curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Art until his retirement in 1987. During his career, he authored several books on the New Mexican painting and his scholarship as an art historian earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975 and a Fulbright Scholarship in 1989.

Van was an early collector of Mexican folk art. He began making trips to Mexico in the 1950′s searching out folk artists and buying their works. He had a wealth of knowledge about Mexican folk art and brought an art critics eye to collecting. In the months preceding Van’s passing, the Los Amigos Board considered instituting an annual achievement award to recognize those who have made an outstanding effort over a prolonged period to advance the knowledge of Mexican and Latin American folk art. Upon his demise his widow, Joan, granted Los Amigos permission to name its award the van Deren Coke Annual Achievement Award.

By Dan McCauley


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