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From #039;playboy#039; to painter

Maurice Cook grew up in the mining town of Carbon Hill. His dad worked in the mines but, being a youngster, he wasn't allowed in the mines, so he earned a little money by picking cotton in nearby Fayette County.

There wasn't anything much about the cotton field that Cook liked. The work was hard and the pay wasn't that much. But when he did have a jingle in his pocket, he would go to the drug store in Carbon Hill, get something cold to drink and look at the magazines.

"I went to look at the Playboy magazines," he said, with a smile. "I would put the Playboy inside another magazine so nobody would know what I was looking at."

One day, Cook happened to notice a picture in one of the "cover up" magazines.

"The picture was of a painting by Normal Rockwell and I was fascinated by it," he said. "The next time I was there, I saw another picture by him on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post and I realized that he painted all the time for the magazine. I stopped going to the drug store to look at pictures of naked women. I started going to look at paintings by Norman Rockwell."

Cook had always enjoyed drawing and Rockwell's work inspired him to paint.

"I wanted to paint in such a way that other people would enjoy my work as much as I enjoyed his," Cook said.

Today, Cook is doing just that.

His whimsical paintings are very popular among collectors as well as those who just like what he does.

"Most of my painting are of black people because that is my life," he said. "About 99.99 percent of what I paint is from memory and what I remember is happy times. When I was growing up, times were hard and we didn't have a lot, but those were happy times and I paint them as happy times."

Even Cook's cotton field paintings have a bright and happy feel about them; however, they offend some black people.

"To them cotton represents slavery," he said. "To me, cotton was a way to get money to buy things we needed and wanted, like clothes and odds and ends. But, back then, everybody picked cotton because everybody was poor. It was a nostalgic time and I like to look back on those times."

Cook said he has fond memories of his childhood.

"We laughed and played all day long," he said. "We were happy. Today, children have long faces and they are bored because they have too much. They've got everything, so what do they have to look forward to? I paint those happy times in my life and I hope others get pleasure from them. I want to put smiles on faces."

Many of Cook's paintings are of church scenes and they, too, have a whimsical feel about them.

"For me, going to church as a child was more of a social thing," he said. "We were very religious and our religion started at home. Church was more of a place to socialize. We got to dress up in our nice clothes and show them off. That's what I remember most and that's what I paint."

Perhaps, it's odd that most of those who purchase Cook's work are not from the black community.

"Some black people buy my paintings, but not many," he said, "But when I go into a house and see one of my paintings or prints hanging on the wall, I am honored. If people like what I do and appreciate it and it makes them feel good - like Norman Rockwell made me - then I am honored. And, there's no reason for me not to be."