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Arches of the King Bridge grace society's yule cards

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The Great Lakes Historical Society's Christmas card for 2009 originated with sketches Alexander Cook made years ago.

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Years ago, artist Alexander Cook looked out the window of his downtown Toledo hotel room and drew a few sketches of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge spanning the Maumee River - its distinctive arches captured with a few strokes of his pencil.

This year, on the hunt for a Great Lakes scene to feature on an annual holiday card sold by the Great Lakes Historical Society, Mr. Cook dug out his sketches and went to work.

"It looked like a scene from Europe and so I made a couple of sketches, because artists are always carrying notepads and stuff," Mr. Cook, now 85, said of his riverfront view. "That's how I happened to pick the subject."

For 41 years, the Cleveland-area artist has drafted scenes of ports and ships of the Great Lakes, images that are then printed on cards and sold as an annual holiday fund-raiser for the society.

Starting in monochrome and evolving into full color, the cards are in demand each year from both society members and Great Lakes enthusiasts.

And with just weeks remaining until the Great Lakes Historical Society signs a lease to move its maritime museum from Vermilion to Toledo, the organization hopes to garner interest by featuring Toledo on this year's card, said Christopher Gillcrist, executive director of the society.

To date, the society has sold about 100,000 cards and collected about $75,000 in the annual sale, Mr. Gillcrist said.

"Here's a volunteer who's willing to use his talent to both raise money but also document the history of the Great Lakes," Mr. Gillcrist said.

Mr. Cook began creating cards for the society "quite by accident," he said.

A volunteer with the society and artist by trade - he worked as a cartoonist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and then as an art teacher in the Cleveland city schools district for 24 years - Mr. Cook said he started the drawings for the society's newsletters.

"They said, 'Why don't you make a Christmas card?' and so I did," he said.

To entice Toledo residents to join the society as it makes its move to the Toledo Maritime Center on Front Street in the Marina District, the society will offer a complimentary pack of cards to a select number of new members, Mr. Gillcrist said.

The society hopes to open its new facility in May, 2011, complete with the Willis B. Boyer Museum Ship, which organizers hope to move from the Maumee River near International Park to a slip by the museum site.

When built in 1911, the Boyer was called the Col. James M. Schoonmaker and was the world's largest bulk carrier ship.

Mr. Gillcrist said it will be rechristened its original name once it is moved to its new home site.

"We're very excited about it, and we think we can do something great in the building," Mr. Gillcrist said of the Great Lakes Society's anticipated new home.

"We think there's great support for it, and we think with the money we've raised so far, we can do something stunning."

For information about the society or to order the holiday cards, go online at inlandseas.org.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.

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