The secret is in the clouds.

Even on static canvases mounted on the wall, the landscape photographs in Dan Cook’s Franklin home seem full of movement. Jet-puffs of white in the sky above the imposing peaks of the Grand Teton mountains make the whole scene quiver. A low-lying layer of gray clouds offsets the rushing river near Durango, Colorado.

Smears of cirrus clouds make the formations of Monument Valley march across the desert.

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“In a photography, if you have clouds or interesting sky, it puts motion and movement into the picture. It needs that,” Cook said. “Landscapes can be flat, and I really try to photograph in a painterly way so there’s that motion.”

Cook traversed 6,000 miles to capture the stunning wilderness and wide-open landscapes of the American West. He will showcase his images in “Visions of the West,” a comprehensive look at his travels to 12 national parks and 20 national monuments.

More than 80 photographs will be on display, offering glimpses into the colored layers of the Grand Canyon and the windswept formations of Arches National Park.

“The trip west inspired me to do a very special show — something that blends the history of the Native Americans and the cowboys of the Old West with the spectacular beauty of our national parks,” he said.

The locations Cook visited are all major tourist attractions. But by driving through the landscape, he also came across vistas or aspects that were completely unique.

During his trip through Colorado, they discovered Chimney Rock, a sacred site for the Ancestral Puebloans who used to live in the area. The group wasn’t planning on stopping, but Cook was struck by this rock tower rising above the blossoming mountain forest around it.

“It was unexpected. We had not planned to be there. That’s the fun of traveling and photography, the surprise element,” he said.

Walking through the foyer of Cook’s Franklin home is like stepping into another world.

Native American music plays softly over hidden speakers. Navajo cloth weavings and baskets hang on the walls. Mementos and souvenirs from towns such as Tombstone, Arizona, and Silverton, Colorado, dot the shelves.

And on the walls, full-blown canvases of mountains, deserts, canyons, rivers and other landscapes offer a window into the West.

“I wanted to make this a more personal thing, because I have so many different items that relate to these images,” he said. “For me, it puts the history in perspective.”

Cook, a 1967 graduate of Franklin Community High School, had worked for more than 40 years in the landscape business. He graduated from Purdue University with bachelor’s degrees in landscape architecture and art history.

With his wife, Sally, he owned a landscaping design, nursery and garden center in Columbus. Cook retired four years ago to focus exclusively on his art and photography.

When he was 8 years old, Cook would follow his grandmother around as she shot photographs on her Brownie box camera, an inexpensive camera made by Kodak. He would borrow it to take photographs of her cats and other pets.

From that point, his interest grew into a passion. That melded with his hobby of hiking and visiting parks.

“I was raised on a farm in Bargersville, so I’ve always been outdoors,” he said. “I’d go with my grandmother to pick blackberries, or we’d lay on the ground looking at the sky and the clouds.”

Cook’s work has taken him throughout Indiana and the Midwest. His shots show off everything from the lighthouses on Michigan’s coast to old barns in Zionsville to unnoticed scenes around the corner from his house.

Formerly an oil painter, Cook has retained some of that essence in his photographs. Using a computer program, he can manipulate an image to appear as brush strokes.

Themes develop in his work. Reflective water, silhouettes of barns or trees, and vivid colors are seen over and over again.

“Those are the things I try to put in my special photographs,” he said.

His work locally has been extremely fulfilling, but over the past two years, he has spent much time traveling the West.

Accompanied by his aunt and uncle, Bonnie and Dennis Brown, he flew into Phoenix then spread out to the various parks and monuments they had prioritized. Their travels took them as far north as Yellowstone National Park, throughout Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

“There is so much more color out West. That’s what I love. I’m a color person,” he said.

The entire experience was captivating, but Cook had his favorite locations from the trips. In addition to Chimney Rock, he also enjoyed a historic train through the canyons, river valleys and wilderness of the San Juan National Forest from Durango to Silverton.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming, with the Snake River flowing past the peaks, were expansive and easy to take in.

“You can drive and see the entire mountain range; you can hike along the river and see beaver dams and trout,” he said. “It’s just beautiful.”

The fruits of those trips have inspired Cook to have an exhibition and open house. “Visions of the West” also serves as the 25th anniversary of his first professional art show, the Creative Images show hosted by the Indianapolis Art League. Since that time, he has entered numerous juried shows, including the Penrod Art Fair in Indianapolis and the Brown County Art Gallery. Cook is currently a member of Southside Art League.

He has spent hours over the past months getting photographs transferred to canvas and setting up his home to accommodate all of the new images. His studio will be modified where people can buy prints of the work.

Sitting on a table, Cook plans to set up a book where people can sign in and offer their thoughts about what has moved them about the show.

His hope is that the community comes to see what he’s been working on, and that it leaves an imprint on them when they leave.

“I want my guests to take the warmth of my home into their hearts and keep a visual image of a photograph or canvas that may inspire them to create their own masterpiece, or make a travel destination dream come true,” he said.

The Cook File

Dan Cook

Home: Franklin

Age: 68

Family: Wife, Sally, died from leukemia in 2011.

Occupation: Worked for 42 years in landscape design, including a portion owning his own garden center.

Current project: Working in fine photography, specializing in local and national landscapes.

Membership: Current member of the Southside Art League

Where to find his work: Cook’s work is available in two Franklin galleries, Generation Art & Frame and Studio Stuff. He will be featured in Gallery 31 in Franklin starting in June.

If you go

“Visions of the West”

What: An exhibition of more than 80 works from photographer Dan Cook, focusing on his travels to the American West.

When: 2 to 5 p.m. May 7

Where: 2055 Pelican Drive, Franklin

Open to the public

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.