Born in Cambridge in 1912, Olive Cook read Modern Languages at Newnham and began work for publisher, Chatto and Windus, as a typographer. She then spent eight years at the National Gallery, whilst her painting tuition came from Cedric Morris at the East Anglian School of Art and Design at Benton End near Hadleigh. She was also encouraged by her husband from 1954, Edwin Smith. Smith, too, painted and drew, although his artistic reputation was forged through photography. The pair collaborated on a number of acclaimed books for Thames and Hudson, Cook’s prose and Smith’s photography in perfect harmony.
In 1985 Olive Cook helped to establish the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, creating a permanent home for those Essex artists whom she and Edwin Smith had championed.