He and Don Shanosky developed the pictogram symbols used to identify airports, restrooms and more. He was also known for his sculptural assemblages.
Published Feb. 25, 2021 | Updated Feb. 26, 2021
Rajie Cook often joked that museumgoers were more likely to encounter his artwork in their travels than a portrait by Matisse or a landscape by van Gogh. They saw it whenever they took an elevator to an upper gallery or stopped in the restroom.
In 1974 Cook & Shanosky Associates, a design firm started by Mr. Cook and Don Shanosky a few years earlier, won a contract to develop a set of symbols that could be universally understood, and that would efficiently convey the kinds of information people in a public place might need — which restroom was for which gender, the location of the nearest elevator, whether smoking was permitted and so on.
The signage the two came up with, 34 pictographs (with others added later), is still in use today: the generic male and female figures; the cigarette in a circle with the red line through it; the minimalist locomotive and plane to signify train station and airport.
But Mr. Cook’s artistic interests went well beyond utilitarian signs. By the time Cook & Shanosky folded in 2002, Mr. Cook had already begun dabbling in a different sort of art, creating three-dimensional sculptural assemblages — boxes incorporating found objects. Most of them were inspired by his exploration of his own heritage as the son of Christian Palestinian immigrants, and by what he saw on his many trips to the Middle East.
He thought of the works, which have been exhibited in museums and galleries, as “art activism.” One box contained the names of children who had been casualties of the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, with the bottom quarter of the box filled with spent cartridges. Some of the children were Jewish, but most were Palestinians, something Mr. Cook thought was not reflected in coverage by American news outlets.
“Only part of the story is being told,” he said in a 2018 interview with Palestine Museum US in Woodbridge, Conn.
Mr. Cook died on Feb. 6 at a hospice center in Newtown, Pa., near his home in Washington Crossing, his family said. He was 90.