The art and architecture of Central Bank are some of Sam B. Cook’s many legacies.

Clay Broughton

Cook believed that if a bank expects a community to support it, the bank first needs to support its community. One of the ways he demonstrated this commitment was the implementation of various beautification programs for Jefferson City. Careful urban planning, the planting of trees on High Street, and other initiatives were undertaken to augment the functionality and public enjoyment of the downtown district. 

He didn’t stop there. He also brought beautification to Jefferson City through Central Bank.   

Over the years, Cook acquired an extensive collection of art, which became a unique part of the bank’s overall aesthetic. He also selected a distinct architectural style used in the construction of Central Bank locations. Cook began purchasing works of art for the bank in the early 1960s, and the majority of the collection is in the style of abstract expressionism, reflecting Sam’s interest in modern art and architecture.

In 1961, Cook became president of the bank. One of his first major achievements was the commissioning of the Central Motor Bank, completed in 1962. The design by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was modernist architecture that seamlessly integrated into the flow of traffic from both the downtown district and Highway 50.  

The steel, glass, and aluminum building won international awards in landscape architecture, architecture, lighting, and interior design. Reportedly, the chief architect of the project, Bruce Graham — a legendary architect whose designs included Chicago’s Inland Steel Building, the Chase Manhattan Bank, the Hancock Center, and the Sears Tower — was so fond of the building that he had only one photograph of a building he’d designed in his office: the Central Motor Bank. 

The mid-century modern design, influenced largely by German architect Ludwig Meis van der Rohe, lent itself to abstract expressionism, and soon, Cook began acquiring pieces he felt complemented the bank’s architectural style while at the same time providing customers with a vivid backdrop against which to do their banking. 

As the bank grew and expanded operations, a need for additional locations came with it. These new facilities were designed and constructed in the Mies van der Rohe style as well. They would eventually house additional pieces of abstract expressionist art. In this way, Cook developed a unique look and feel in the banking marketplace, as both the art and architecture of Central Bank buildings differed dramatically from norms of the day.   

In 1981, Central Bank West was constructed, next to the then new Capital Mall. Its chief architect, Illinois Institute of Technology architecture professor Arthur S. Takeuchi, was also influenced by Mies van der Rohe, and the Central Bank West style reflects it.

In 2003, Central Bank completed construction of its Financial Center directly adjacent to the Motor Bank. Also designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Financial Center was built to handle the bank’s lending operations in close proximity to the Motor Bank.

The Central Bank art collection is now comprised of more than 500 pieces, and the vast majority of the work is still that of abstract expressionism.

For generations, customers of the bank have enjoyed this art displayed in various Central Bank locations. The works featured in the adjoining images of the Ones to Watch article are located at the Motor Bank, the Financial Center, and the Main Bank.

Notable artists represented in the bank’s art collection include Hans Hoffman, Andy Warhol, Friedel Dzubas, and Sam Francis. Of all the artists represented, Dzubas is the most prevalent, as 29 of his works are present in bank buildings. Hoffman was favored by Cook; his art was distinguished by a rigorous concern with pictorial structure, spatial illusion, and color relationships. Central Bank has six works by Hoffman. An additional highlight of the collection is a large mural, painted by the Japanese American artist Keiko Nemeth, on the second floor of the Motor Bank.

For generations, customers of the bank have enjoyed this art displayed in various Central Bank locations in Jefferson City and surrounding communities. The works featured in the adjoining images of the “Ones to Watch” article are located at the Motor Bank, the Financial Center, and the Main Bank.

Cook emphasized that the viewer should never try to see objects in abstract art. 

“It is feeling and emotion one gets from the composition, colors, and design, which are similar to the sensations I have when I listen to Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto,” Cook once said. “The abstract feelings I sense from great music are similar to my feelings for the work of great abstract artists.”

Cook also identified a clear relationship between art and architecture. 

“One reason I am attracted to abstract art is because of my perception of its harmony with the Meis van der Rohe architectural style, with which I have been much impressed,” he said. “I selected abstract expressionist art to be used in the bank offices because it adds vitality and brightness to our contemporary décor.”

The art and architecture of Central Bank continues to add vitality and brightness to this day.  Such a collection is impressive anywhere, and even more so in a city the size of Jefferson City. It truly is a gift to both present and future generations. Cook’s vision for what banking could be and how art and architecture could enhance a customer’s experience continues to add to the cultural landscape of Jefferson City and surrounding communities. It is one of his most enduring and important contributions to our industry, our city, and its people. 

For this gift, we simply say, “Thank you.”

Quotes from Sam B. Cook are sourced from “Sam Baker Cook II: His Biography,” as told to Jerena East Giffen.