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Folk Artists Gallery Aron Rook: Visual arts

About Aron Rook:

Aron Rook of Cumberland County, PA is a muralist, illustrator, and wood carver. She has been immersed in the arts since she was a small child: ballet, music, drawing, and now visual arts that fill walls and extend beyond two dimensions. In late 2022, she shared her thoughts about courage, gratitude, family heritage and artistic exploration with folklorist Amy Skillman.
Aron is pronounced like Erin: AIR-in.

“I think everyone wants to support one another in living a plump, colorful, enriched, and meaningful life.”
A soft-focus self-portrait photo showing Aron’s face and shoulders. Many small rhinestone gems decorate Aron’s face, and a large palm frond is painted across her neck, face and shoulders. The upper tips of the fronds almost reach her eyelids; the center stem curves up across her collarbone; and the lower tips of the fronds reach down across the neckline of her dress and merge with its green-and-peach floral print.  She is gazing dreamily at something above the camera; her left pupil is centered within the palm frond crossing that eye. Her black hair is pulled away from her face into a ponytail at the top of her head, and her jawline is silhouetted against the hair falling behind her right shoulder. Her lips are painted with dark red lipstick outlined in black, and are slightly parted to show her teeth. Behind her on the wall are more of the frondy leaves and some bright magenta patches that are probably flowers.

photo courtesy of the artist

In this self-portrait, Aron Rook herself becomes the canvas for a nature-inspired mural.

About Aron Rook


Aron Rook was left on the doorstep of an orphanage in Seoul, Korea with her given name and birthdate attached to her blanket. At 13 months old, she was adopted by her family in Central Pennsylvania. Aron honors the choices made by her biological mother and holds immense gratitude for her adoptive family.

“Even from a young age, I believed I could connect with the women of my Korean ancestry.”

For most of her life, Aron has been aware of connections to both families. And she wondered, as so many trans-national adoptees must, if her birth parents are still alive. But more recently she has been focusing much of her art on bridging her two families, through art and spirit. “I want them to meet each other.”

A woman with large-framed glasses holds 13-month-old Aron Rook on her hip with one arm, smiling down at her.  Another woman (mostly out of the image) holds out both hands as if to take the baby in her own arms.  The baby, who is looking at this new woman, wears a fluffy white hooded jacket; she has short black hair and Asian features. The woman reaching for her is wearing a pink suit jacket.  Behind these people, a third person in a dark blazer stands, with hands folded across their chest, holding some folded papers.

photo courtesy of the artist

Baby Aron, newly arrived from Korea, meets her adoptive mother in the Philadelphia airport.

Artistic awakenings

Even when Aron was a child, her parents sensed that her mind, heart, curiosity, and life would be in the arts. “I remain in many ways just as I was as a child. I play, laugh, cry, and feel deeply in this very real world. I pretend, and imagine, and create. I continue to be fascinated by deep learning, deconstructing, reconstructing, and building.”

Aron grew up on a farm, within a creative family. Her grandfather worked with wood; her grandmother was an oil painter and an active musician and music teacher. Her grandmother “was the first to express that I ‘looked’ — because when I drew a horse, its legs had joints, and were not just sticks. That single comment,” says Aron, “opened up a world and a fascination for visual art.” Throughout her entire childhood, Aron’s family found many opportunities for her to explore the world of the arts — a world where she felt at home.

A four-panel illustration by Aron Rook.  The first of the panels shows a little Asian girl sitting between the paws of a huge stylized tiger, making a painting. The second is titled ‘The Artist’ and shows a conceptualized woman with hair like a helmet, with a paintbrush in her teeth, a rabbit on her head, and a second rabbit crowling out of her hollow shoulder.  The third is titled ‘The Educator’ and shows a large hand reaching down to place a water-drop into the head of a little girl with rainbow-swirled hair.  The fourth panel is titled ‘The Big Idea’ and shows an astronaut standing on a box, holding a cable that appears to have planets strung on it like beads.

image courtesy of the artist

(click to view full-size image)
“Creativity (and all the components on which creativity is based) is part of my genetic build.”

From the age of two until she was 15, Aron was immersed in ballet culture, spending most of those years at “The Barn” with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Ballet culture is one of “rigor, discipline, mindful movement, beautiful lines, attention to detail, and imagination,” a complement to her family culture of high expectations and hard work on the farm. She recognizes that both have been fundamental in her expectations of herself and what she might be able to contribute.

“Ballet was the initial seed of my interest of the arts. To move, feel, expand and express; to practice, practice, practice. Each dancer had their own superpower and we all learned from each other. One could jump, one had high extensions, one had quick clean footwork for allegro; another had elegant lines in adagio.”

Aron Rook as a young girl, performing ballet wearing a yellow tutu with white tights. She is standing on one leg, on tiptoe but not en pointe, with her other leg stretched straight up toward the ceiling.  The boy dancing with her is kneeling with his arms outstretched.  Aron holds one of his hands, and rests her other hand resting on his shoulder.  She gazes upward, well above the camera.

photo courtesy of the artist

Aron as a young ballerina
“I am inspired (maybe a bit addicted) to the visceral experience of the arts. The arts connect us to our spirit and to one another.”

From dance to illustration

Moving through lessons in violin, French horn, voice, ballet, and even acting, Aron eventually shifted her interest solely to the visual arts. She participated in the Pennsylvania Governors School for the Arts, Rhode Island School of Design’s pre-college program, and received early admission and a scholarship in Illustration from Maryland Institute College of Art.

A black-and-white work inspired by historic woodcut illustrations.  It depicts two people in a bowl, perhaps a coracle boat. Both faces are mostly hidden by large quantities of fanciful hair that recalls basketweaving, Celtic knots, or a crown of thorns. One of the figures seems to be a slender woman drooping with exhaustion; the other might be a larger-figured person, or perhaps even part of the boat, since it almost seems to hold the slender woman in its arms.

image courtesy of the artist

Illustration moved her naturally into painting and mural arts. “As my life progressed,” she notes, “my work has followed suit in style and medium. In young adulthood the work was dark. I held interest in the beauty of inner shadows, searching for glimmers of hope. The work was mostly black ink abstract and figurative. But over time, I have shifted into a more illustrative style. I find myself these days interested in color, fades, mood, movement, and a continuing interest in how to create beyond 2-D.”

“At night I am enticed by vivid dreams, and practice documenting them in my mental and emotional library — dreams, as in the world of our psyche without boundaries.”
An illustration inspired by the art of India.  A turquoise elephant sits cross-legged, with eyes that look like a dragon’s and a jewel-toned lotus head-dress.  It has four human hands in various poses: one holds a pink floral hatchet upright; one holds a pink-and-blue flower on a long stem; one holds three patterned balls; one faces palm-out, with an open eye in the center of its palm.  The elephant is wearing red silk pants with purple crescent moons. A large mouse sits on the elephant’s foot, gazing up at its face.

image courtesy of the artist

Painting the town beautiful

Aron is now one of the artists on the roster of muralists held by Harrisburg-based Sprocket Mural Works (SMW). When SMW’s co-founder Megan Caruso moved to Harrisburg, PA as a young woman, she fell in love with the city. But it didn’t take long to learn that the public stories about Harrisburg were toxic. Like so many urban environments, the media focused on stories of crime and poverty and garbage. She wanted to change that. When she walked her neighborhood, she saw creativity, community, and compassion. Those are the stories she wanted to tell.

An Asian-inspired tiger reaches out a huge clawed paw to try to capture a bird.  But the tiger only gets a feather, as the bird flies up, trailing a ragged turquoise banner with the word ‘Resilience’ in red cursive letters.

photo courtesy of the artist

In one of Aron’s murals, a bird escapes from a tiger’s pounce in a graphic illustration of Resilience.

Megan had seen murals in other cities and was curious to know what a mural initiative could do for her new city. While murals are often valued for their economic development impact, Megan believes in their power to heal. She says, “Murals change your environment; they change how you feel about yourself and your neighborhood...the research shows that art causes us to heal more quickly, that engagement with art reduces pain.”

Another of Aron’s murals suggests painting the world with kindness.
  >> A stylized woman holds a spray-can labeled ‘KINDNESS’, and she is spraying it around.

photo courtesy of the artist

So in 2014, Megan Caruso co-founded Sprocket Mural Works with fellow artist Jeff Copus. Its mission is to “increase community pride and civic engagement in Harrisburg through creative action.” They work with neighborhoods, artists and organizations to create community murals across the city. They organize the annual Harrisburg Mural Festival, during which as many as 10 new murals might pop up around the city. They also offer trolley rides and walking tours of the existing murals. Over 7,000 people attended recent festivals. Aron has participated in these opportunities to paint stories onto the city’s walls.

Murals are a reflection of a community’s history and culture. They introduce young people to the arts and foster a sense of place for neighbors and visitors.

Telling community stories

Although the process is facilitated by a lead artist, effective murals engage people from the neighborhood in designing and painting the images. Megan, Aron, and the volunteers at Sprocket Mural Works are always asking, “What kind of mural do you want?” The most consistent answers are murals with nature, animals, people, and color — lots of color.

A mural on the side of a building, depicting gigantic flowers including red poppies, yellow coneflowers, clusters of white and purple phlox, and leaves in many shades of green.

photo courtesy of the artist

Lots of color: got it!

Since 2014, SMW has facilitated the creation of over 75 outdoor public murals, as well as over 100 smaller projects such as planter boxes, indoor murals, fire hydrants, and street sculptures. They mostly work with local artists but have also sought funding to bring in artists from other cities to inspire and enhance the skills of local artists.

Murals, like graffiti, speak to the ancient impulse to fill a blank wall with imagery that has meaning for the artist and/or the community. Public mural initiatives offer constructive and supportive opportunities for talented youth to develop (and redirect) their artistic skills. Murals beautify a city and tell important stories about its residents. Like their graffiti counterparts, murals might memorialize people and events, offer political and social commentary, and create spaces for dialogue.

A mural on the side of a building, depicting a woman athlete with short red hair. She is holding dumbells in each hand, wearing red shorts and a gray tank shirt with a large gold graphic star covering half her chest.  Line drawings of urban buildings are to her left and right.  Behind her, there are rays of gold sunlight, and a large orange disc over her shoulder on the right side.

photo courtesy of the artist

One of Aron’s murals evokes an athlete’s perseverence and strength. (click to view full-size image)

One step at a time, with courage

Aron admits, “Murals are a test of my courage. A wall often seems a mountain. It teaches me that, when facing life, one step at a time with courage rather than fear is a much more pleasant experience! I feel particularly focused through the mural process. And with all that I create, I feel so much humility, as there is much room for improvement and exploration. I am thankful to live a life where curiosity, exploration, and humility are ever present.”

Aron Rook stands on a scaffold several feet above the ground to paint the flower mural.  She is wearing black pants and tank shirt, and a red safety harness. She is very slender and has muscular arms.

photo courtesy of the artist

Aron Rook works on the flower mural from a high scaffold.

Inspiration from innocence

When asked, “Where do you get inspiration for your murals?,” Aron answers: “In the golden colors of summer’s evening, children laughing, running, rolling in the grass in a wide open field. They are like a field of lightening bugs, each one zooming around and lighting up.”

“I honor innocence, a treasure that for most is stolen, pecked at, and dulled much too soon.”
A stylized cat is silhouetted against a large orange disc, reaching up to bat at a small squid with very long trailing tentacles.  The cat outline is filled with large peony flowers and leaves.

photo courtesy of the artist

Connecting to heritage

Aron also works with wood, an artistic tradition that surrounded her as a child. She remembers her late grandfather’s carving studio, the smells of wood chips and the sheepskins that cushioned his stool, the excitement of waiting to see his completed pieces. After he passed, she inherited his pyrography (wood-burning) machine, and discovered a few articles he had written about carving. In one, he describes his process of allowing the wood to decide what form it would take.

A gourd that has been decorated (with wood-burning) as a stylized rabbit.  The round part of the gourd is its face -- with a heart-shaped nose, rather human eyes, and hash-marks indicating fur. The rabbit’s ears go up the sides of the gourd’s tall neck

photo courtesy of the artist

This piece decided that it should be a rabbit. Aron made it so.

“Working with wood brings an undeniable spiritual connection between myself, my grandfather, and his artistic essence,” she says. “I think there must be a doorway to the spirit world through the swirls of smoke...”

An elaborately decorated electric guitar body. The wooden part is decorated (with wood-burning) with black outlines of Asian-inspired koi fish. The tan plastic pick-guard part is etched (in white) with outlines of flowers and waves.

photo courtesy of the artist

Aron has put her grandfather’s pyrography machine to good use with this electric guitar body.
“I am enchanted by the realization that every piece of wood that exists today was sourced from its own ancestors, which is symbolic of my connection with my blood ancestors through time and space.”


Her grandfather’s influence has become more intertwined in Aron’s artwork throughout her artistic journey, and she regrets not learning more from him before he passed away. So she recently reached out to wood carver Jim Hiser for help in developing her skill.

Based in Carlisle, PA, Jim is a sought-after carving teacher, not only locally but nationally. He is the current President of the Caricature Carvers of America, former President of the Conewago Carvers, and former President of the West Shore Woodcarvers.

In Jim’s work, Aron has found an opportunity to link to her Korean heritage. “Sculpting wood holds a prominent place among Korean and Pennsylvanian folk art crafts,” she says. “Jim’s style and skillset in creating expressive characters is evocative of a central theme within Talchum (pronounced tahl-choom), a Korean folk theater that uses only music and masked performers to express the suppressed emotions of Koreans.”

Three Talchum masks hang on a wire grid. The mask at left appears to be a woman, with shoulder-length hair and a horizontal roll of twined hair across the top. Quarter-sized red dots are painted on cheeks and forehead, and the center of the lips are painted the same red. Her eyes are closed and she seems to be smiling.  The center mask is of a laughing man with prominent eyebrows and eyes squinched shut.  The mask at right is of a bald man with wide-open eyes and wide-open semi-smiling mouth.

photo from Wikimedia Commons

Talchum masks at Hahoe Folk Village in Andong, Gyeongsangbukdo, South Korea.

Talchum masks are hand carved, each one a unique representation of the emotion being expressed by the performer. No one in the local Korean community knows this art form. But as a caricature carver, Jim has the sensibilities to capture these exaggerated expressions in wood.

Two wood-carvings, each of a man.  At left is a butler wearing a tuxedo and red bow tie, with a white towel over one arm. He is holding a wine bottle in one hand and pointing to its label with the other hand.  The label says ‘Two Buck Chuck’, a reference to a bargain brand of wine.  The butler is frowning in a disparaging way.  At right is a cowboy wearing a ten-gallon hat, boots, bluejeans, a gun belt, and a tan shirt with a red calico bandanna around his neck.  He is unshaven, hands on his hips, and is cutting his eyes to the right with a suspicious expression.

photo courtesy of Jim Hiser

Two of Jim Hiser’s caricature woodcarvings: "Snooty" (left) and "Tex" (right)

In 2022, Jim and Aron applied for and received an apprenticeship grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. The apprenticeship will move Aron toward her goal of carving the expressive masks of Talchum. “Through learning the practice and process of carving facial expressions,” she adds, “I feel there is a unique opportunity to intersect and connect with my Korean and adoptive ancestors.”

A sense of purpose

Aron shares that art has given her a companion through much of her life. “There were times when I would cry into my sketchbook about things I wasn’t able to share with others. It is something that I can contribute in this lifetime and gives me a sense of purpose.”

A black-and-white work inspired by historic woodcut illustrations. In the top left corner, a bird  seems to be falling from the sky, with wings stretched up but its back facing the ground.  It is drawn against a round disc that seems to rise a bit out of the paper.  In the bottom left corner, a bird is face-down on the ground with wings outstretched, within a disc that looks like a spotlight on a stage.  At right is a monster of some kind, holding the grounded bird in a tentacle and reaching an arm toward the falling bird.  It seems to be holding a third bird against its body.

image courtesy of the artist

She acknowledges that she is a pretty shy person and that art can be a significant tool of connection, communication, and documentation of the human experience. It has been since the beginning of humanity.

“It’s important that the arts are available to everyone, for themselves and also for the collective. It’s important that there is funding for the arts in schools. The arts ... can teach problem solving, help in processing trauma, and, if verbal communication is not natural, the arts can be a voice.”

Aron would love to connect with artists of all disciplines. You can find her:
On Instagram @ Artist Aron Rook
On Facebook @ Aron Rook
By email: AronRookArtist@gmail.com

Aron stands in front of a white garage door, facing the camera, with one arm holding a decorated snowboard that’s a foot taller than she is.  It is decorated from top to bottom with a stylized tree. L eaves and fruit cover the top two feet of the board, roots and soil cover the bottom three feet, and a twisted trunk connects them.  Aron is a slim Asian woman, wearing a snug black crop top, black leggings, large black boots, and a knee-length jacket of thin, drapey, mauve fabric.

photo courtesy of the artist

Aron stands beside a snowboard she decorated.