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Cokes to shutter Art Studio

“I like this one. That was long years ago, in the 40s. The manwith the beard was in either WWI or WWII and he said they gassedhim,” said Bertie Coke, pointing to a picture of a bearded man. “Helived in an old abandoned car, and he wouldn’t let anyone take hispicture but Bob.”

Coke and her husband Robert have run the Art Studio at 110 W.Cherokee St. for years. But after being the eyes of Brookhavensince they took over the studio from John Williams in the mid-80s,the Cokes have decided it’s time to cover the studio’s canvas forgood.

Currently, the Cokes are selling the almost 80-year-old store’smerchandise, including old pictures, negatives and even records ata reduced rate in anticipation of their closing at the end ofApril.

The Cokes say that they’ve enjoyed the trip. They’ve alsoenjoyed the things they’ve been able to see and photograph alongthe way.

“See that picture right there? That’s Portland Maine, thePortland Headlight,” said Mr. Coke, pointing to a picture of alighthouse with stunning colors.

“We also have this lighthouse from Londonderry, Vt. We reallysaw some good colors that year,” said Mrs. Coke.

Browsing the store uncovers pictures of all kinds. There arephotos of men playing jazz instruments in New Orleans, pictures ofexotic animals and pictures of family members.

“The jazz men are the men that play in the Preservation Hall inNew Orleans,” said Mrs. Coke. “As far as we know, Bob’s the firstone that ever took pictures of them, and he did it with availablelight.”

Coke won second place in a New Orleans Press Association contestfor pictures in that collection. And they aren’t the onlyaward-winning photos in the store.

“These pictures have come from all over the United States. Everyyear we’d take a fall vacation and travel 3,000-5,000 miles,” saidMr. Coke. “We’ve been all the way over to California, and to allthe parks in the United States.”

Another intriguing group of photos in the Art Studio is acollection of large cats that Coke photographed at the Audubon Zooin New Orleans.

“That white tiger was laying with her head on a stump, and totake a picture of an animal you have to have their ears up,” saidMrs. Coke. “Robert was throwing coins at her, and someone said,’You don’t have to do that, you can call her name.'”

When he called the cat’s name, she sat up, and the rest ishistory, like so much of the collection in the studio. Just goinginto the store is a history lesson in itself, as Mr. Coke has notonly recorded history, but will tell tales of all the places he’sbeen and famous people he’s known.

“You know Billy Graham, the preacher? I got to know him realwell, too, and he’s a heck of a nice guy,” said Coke.

Even more of the history of the town is recorded on oldnegatives the Cokes have filed away.

“We also have historic photos of Brookhaven, and we’ve beenquite successful with those, but we don’t really get in thedarkroom anymore,” said Mrs. Coke.

To say a picture is worth a thousand words is an understatementto any photographer, but to sit with the Cokes is to understand thethousand words make up a story.

“That man was just walking down the street and I stopped him andasked him if I could take his picture,” said Mr. Coke, pointing toa picture of a suspicious-looking man wearing a snappy bowler cap.”Then I took it when he looked at me like that.”

The going-out-of-business sale continues until the store closesat the end of April, and the Cokes say it will be tough to closethe doors.

“One reason we’ve kept it as long as we have is it gets us out,and we have time to sit and talk,” said Mrs. Coke. “We don’t haveany close family here, and we’ve made a lot of friends we neverwould have met otherwise.”