Local Arts

A town near Charlotte is getting some new art, thanks to a scientist’s final request

Rendering of the first planned phase of the Kannapolis downtown revitalization project. Harold Cook bequeathed $6,000 to his native town, which will be used to fund downtown artwork.
Rendering of the first planned phase of the Kannapolis downtown revitalization project. Harold Cook bequeathed $6,000 to his native town, which will be used to fund downtown artwork.

His career may have been in the sciences, but Harold Lee Cook will be remembered with a public art display in his native Kannapolis.

Cook died in 2012 at age 68, leaving behind instructions for his family to give $6,000 to the city he cherished. His cousin Cindy Calvert and other family members decided the best way to honor his memory was with a gift that celebrated his love of the arts.

“Harold loved the city of Kannapolis, and was so proud of its accomplishments and the vision for the city,” Calvert said in an email to the Observer.

Cook grew up when Kannapolis’ textile industry was booming.

According to a city of Kannapolis press release, Cook’s parents worked at Cannon Mills but Cook pursued an academic path. He earned doctorates in public health and philosophy from UNC-Chapel Hill, and spent his career in medical research, later working as an adjunct assistant professor at his alma mater.

Cook returned to Kannapolis after he retired to take care of his mother. He was active in his community and church, and was excited to see the completion of the North Carolina Research Campus in the city, according to the press release.

harold lee cook
Harold Lee Cook died in 2012 at 68. He left $6,000 for his native Kannapolis, which will be used for a public art display. City of Kannapolis

Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant said Cook’s $6,000 gift will be part of the $30,000 that is budgeted this year for artwork in Kannapolis’ downtown.

Hinnant said there are no plans yet for how Cook’s contribution will be used, but one idea is artwork for city hall.

The city will consult Calvert, art experts and members of the community to decide how this year’s art budget will be used to both honor Cook and contribute to Kannapolis’ downtown revitalization project, Hinnant said. Since buying 46 acres of its own downtown in 2015, the former textile town north of Charlotte is restoring old buildings, replacing infrastructure and partnering with developers to build a baseball stadium, apartments and retail space.

‘A welcome treat’

Hinnant said he’s excited about the gift from someone who grew up among Kannapolis’ mill culture.

“Our history of hard work and labor did not necessarily extend to art. And so I think it’s a welcome treat that someone who grew up in a community of hard work would want to leave something as a legacy that would be of the artistic flavor,” Hinnant said.

Although Cook worked as a public health professional, Calvert said he loved visual arts, theater and music. They often attended music and art events together.

Calvert said Cook volunteered as an organist in his church and, with her help, hung artwork that he collected during his time at UNC-Chapel Hill to create a small gallery in his living room.

That’s why she felt a public art display would be the best way to remember her cousin.

“A piece of public art with his contribution to the city will help pass his love of art along for generations to come,” Calvert said. “I am excited to have a small part in honoring Harold in this way.”

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