In the community

Obituary from the Enterprise, for the week of January 31, 2024: Drex Mathew Brooks

Drex Mathew Brooks 

Dec 14, 1952- Feb 1, 2023

Drex Mathew Brooks, 70, well known landscape photographer and author, died at home in Grangeville, ID on February 1, 2023. His death ended a 12-year battle with thymic carcinoma. 

Drex was born in Seattle, WA on December 14, 1952. He attended schools in Yakima, WA, Juntura, OR, and Vale, OR. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography at Oregon State University in 1977 and his Master of Fine Arts in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1980. He was one of two RISD graduates to receive a fellowship to travel in Europe and photograph. In 1987, Drex taught photography at the University of Colorado. In 1988 he became a Professor of Art at Weber State University in Ogden, UT, and eventually became the Art department chair. It was at this time he was married to Amy Adams. Drex was respected by colleagues and students as both a fine photographer, and an equally fine teacher, who inspired his photography students to excel. 

 While living in Denver, he began researching and visiting historical Native American sites to photograph. As his search expanded geographically, it evolved into a five-year photography project throughout all of the 48 adjoining states. 

In 1988 and 1992, Drex received a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship in support of the “Sweet Medicine” photography project, named for a sacred prophet in Cheyenne oral history. He won a mid-career NEA grant in 1988 and was among 30 photographers to receive the endowment’s highest honor in 1992. He also earned a Utah Arts Council Fellowship in 1991. He was a visiting artist/lecturer at Auburn University in Alabama. 

A book of his photographs, “Sweet Medicine”, was published by the National Museum of American Art and the University of New Mexico Press In 1995. In addition to the photographs, the book includes significant historical context. About 100 black-and-white photographs from the collection were published. Many of the “Sweet Medicine” photographs are exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the country. Drex gave a portion of the profits from his book to the American Indian College fund.

Drex was one of two U.S. photographers to receive an award to work in France in 1993. He participated in a residency program at the La Napoule Foundation on the southern coast of France. He met with artists chosen worldwide to work on creative projects. The award recognizes Drex for his collection of landscape photographs taken across the country. 

Drex remained active as a photographer until the end of his life, taking frequent forays around central Idaho and eastern Washington to photograph and was still selling prints to galleries and museums.  

Drex was preceded in death by his parents, Leslie and Mildred Brooks. He is survived by his sister, Lori Brooks Henderson (Terry) and numerous dear friends and colleagues.

During his lifetime, Drex was known as a complicated and interesting man, an unrepentant rowdy, a traveling photographer, and an author. He excelled at growing flowers, collecting and polishing rocks, outsmarting fish, and never speaking of his cancer. Some of his happiest times were trading memories across the fire over a bottle of Wild Turkey and catching rare, west slope greenback cutthroat trout with his vintage bamboo fly rod. He loved many cats throughout his life, and dogs too.

At the end, he struggled to catch his breath and said he didn’t think he’d be around much longer. He died in his studio, early in the morning, while brewing himself a pot of coffee.

Everyone who remembers Drex is asked to celebrate his life in their own way- raising a glass of their favorite drink around a fire, growing flowers, reading a great book, chasing cutthroat, or admiring the beauty of the landscape in his memory, would be quite appropriate. 

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