Story by Julia Weiden

If you’ve ever daydreamed about abandoning your day job to spend more time pursuing a true passion, you certainly aren’t alone. Tammy Oliver Cook spent twenty-six years working for a pharmaceutical company, leaving her painting and photography to be pursued outside of the regular nine-to-five hours. It was just over two years ago when the Hollandale native took the leap many are too fearful to make: she left her corporate career to engage as a full time artist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.

While the vocational switch may have seemed a sudden move, it was actually a natural step in a long progression of artistic study. Her first endeavor in painting, some twenty years ago, was at a simple group class. “I loved it so much, I forgot to eat lunch!” Tammy proclaimed, a sign of true captivation.

Ten years later, Tammy began to tinker with photography, initially with the purpose of using photos exclusively as references for her paintings. What developed was a respect for an entirely new medium of art that led her to explore creative opportunities to work with respected artists in locations like New York and Italy, seeking out dramatic lighting to both paint and photograph.

Tammy’s drive to improve and her corporate background led her to the next move: opening a business. Ice Tree Arts, still in its infancy after opening in April 2014, connects the community with well-known local artists through workshops, including a recent photography class during the Historic Annual Natchez Balloon Race led by photographer Tim McCary. The success of the small business relies on the eagerness of local venues and teachers, which Tammy is thrilled to have found in abundance.

The enthusiasm is mutual; Tammy also provides great support for local artists. To stroll through her Fondren home is to visit a gallery of Mississippi’s finest artists, many of whom Tammy has trained under. In her dining room are two oil paintings of rosy-hued flowers. To the untrained eye, one could easily assume that both were crafted by the same painter, but Tammy explains that while one is her own doing, the other is by one of her many noted local influencers, Lucy Mazzaferro. Among the tribute to her Mississippi mentors are figure drawings by Bebe Wolfe, landscapes by Roger Dale Brown, and a salivation-worthy realism painting of a cantaloupe by Bob Tompkins.

Running a business and creating artwork take a great deal of time, but Tammy still manages to make volunteer work a priority. One night a week she assists at The Center for Violence Prevention, where families are able to find an abuse-free environment. In a way, Tammy finds it similar to her paintings where there is that contrast of light and dark. “Light comes in all forms,” Tammy says, “And it brings light to everyone when a person can make that decision to move on.” In order to further support those who benefit from the center, Tammy makes an effort to contribute a portion of her gallery shows’ profits back to violence prevention.

It comes as no surprise that Tammy’s ultimate goal is to have Ice Tree Arts host a class where students create and display their work in a show where all proceeds are given to a charity of their choosing. As an artist and enterpriser with a desire to give back to her community, it may seem as though Tammy’s new life is just as packed with work as it was during her corporate days, but the difference is vast. She simply states, “I don’t find it stressful, because I’m doing what I love.”

Cook’s work will be featured in a May 21 showing at The Cedars, part of this year’s Arts, Eats & Beats in Fondren.