Trump appointee Rodney Mims Cook Jr. exits U.S. Commission of Fine Arts

One Less Cook On The Commission

Trump appointee Rodney Mims Cook Jr. exits U.S. Commission of Fine Arts

John Russell Pope’s neoclassical West Building at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (NCinDC/Flickr/ CC BY-ND 2.0)

On March 23, the Biden administration announced the intended appointment of Lisa Delplace, principal and CEO of Washington, D.C.–based landscape architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden (OvS), to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA). This news signaled an end to a near-unprecedented—albeit relatively brief—period in which the independent, seven-member federal agency charged with giving expert advice on design and aesthetics pertaining to architectural development in the nation’s capital was without a landscape architect in its ranks.

The American Society of Landscape Architects and other groups that had previously urged the White House to correct the lapse by appointing a landscape architect to the CFA applauded the news. “The Commission and our nation will benefit tremendously from Lisa’s broad expertise across multiple scales of landscape architecture and her experience with federal projects,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin in a statement.

However, one question remained: which sitting member of the commission would Delplace replace?

AN has learned that Delplace will take the seat of Rodney Mims Cook Jr., a developer and designer who serves as founder and president of the National Monuments Foundation. The Atlanta-based nonprofit organization has overseen the design and construction of several monuments including Atlanta’s Millennium Gate and World Athletes Monuments, also known as the Prince Charles Monument, since it was first conceived in 1999.

Appointed to the CFA in January 2021, Cook was one of three remaining Trump-appointed members of the commission alongside Duncan G. Stroik and James C. McCrery, II, both of whom were appointed in December 2019.

Cook, Stroik, and McCrery maintained their appointments following a major May 2021 shakeup in which the four other Trump appointees on the commission—chair Justin Shubow, Chas Fagan, Steven Spandle, and Perry Guillot, who was the CFA’s sole landscape architect at the time—were asked by the Biden administration to submit their resignations. Those four members were replaced with Biden appointees Billie Tsien, Peter D. Cook, Justin Garrett More, and Hazel Ruth Edwards. Tsien currently serves as chair of the commission, the first woman in the 112-year history of the CFA to do so, with Edwards acting as vice-chair. The commission’s four newest members were sworn in for four-year terms in June of last year.

As relayed to AN by architect Thomas Luebke, who has served as Secretary of the CFA since 2005, Cook’s service on the commission ended on March 23.

Cook’s appointment came to an end after the White House formally requested that he submit his resignation—well ahead of the typical four-year term. Similar to the past Trump appointees who did not voluntarily resign when requested to do so, he was ultimately terminated.

Delplace will be formally appointed to fill the vacancy on the commission left by Cook in the coming weeks. An official announcement from the CFA regarding her appointment is forthcoming.

Per his official CFA bio, Cook, in addition to his work with the National Monuments Foundation, is the designer of the Newington Cropsey Museum of Art in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and co-designer of a competition entry for the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial that was awarded the Commendation prize of the National Civic Art Society in 2011.

More recently, Cook was instrumental in the realization of Rodney Cook Sr. Park, a new 16-acre Atlanta green space named in honor of his late father, a longtime Atlanta alderman and Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives from 1966 through 1973. Located in the historic Vine City neighborhood adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium and along the Atlanta Freedom Trail, the park opened to the public last June. Cook also sits on various boards and is a founding trustee of the Prince of Wales’s Foundation for Architecture, a founding board member of the Institute for Classical Architecture and Art, and a charter signer of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Update 4/5/22: In reaction to Cook’s forced departure, Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society and past chair of the CFA, sent AN the following statement: “By terminating a fifth member of the Fine Arts Commission, Biden has proven that he is treating commissioners, who are statutorily intended to act independently of the president, as mere political appointees to be removed at will. By violating the law and precedent going back over 100 years, Biden has opened the floodgates. I would not be surprised if future administrations replace all commissioners as soon as they come into office. There will be a deleterious lack of continuity on the commission.”