Rockwell Kent

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Rockwell Kent
Rockwell Kent.jpg
circa 1920
Born (1882-06-21)June 21, 1882
Tarrytown, New York
Died March 13, 1971(1971-03-13) (aged 88)
Plattsburgh, New York
Nationality American
Known for Painting, printmaking, illustration
Awards Lenin Peace Prize

Rockwell Kent (June 21, 1882 – March 13, 1971) was an American painter, printmaker, illustrator, and writer.

Biography[edit]

Rockwell Kent was born in Tarrytown, New York, the same year as fellow American artists George Bellows and Edward Hopper. Kent lived much of his early life in and around New York City where he attended the Horace Mann School, and moved in his mid-40s to an Adirondack farmstead that he called Asgaard where he lived and painted until his death. Kent studied with the influential painters and theorists of his day. He studied composition and design with Arthur Wesley Dow at the Art Students League in the fall of 1900, and he studied painting with William Merritt Chase each of the three summers between 1900 and 1902 after which he entered, in the fall of 1902 Robert Henri's class at the New York School of Art, which Chase had founded. During the summer of 1903 Kent was apprenticed to painter and naturalist Abbott Handerson Thayer. An undergraduate background in architecture at Columbia University prepared Kent for occasional work in the 1900s and 1910s as a draftsman and carpenter. At the Art Students League he would meet and befriend the artists Wilhelmina Weber Furlong and Thomas Furlong.[1][2]

Kent's early paintings of Mount Monadnock and New Hampshire were first shown at the Society of American Artists in New York in 1904, when Dublin Pond was purchased by Smith College. In 1905 Kent ventured to Monhegan Island, Maine, where he based himself for the next five years. His first series of paintings of Monhegan were shown in 1907 at Clausen Galleries in New York to wide critical acclaim, and they form the foundation of his lasting reputation as an early American modernist. Among those lauding Kent was critic James Huneker of the Sun (who would soon deem the paintings of The-eight to be "decidedly reactionary"). Huneker praised Kent's brushwork as athletic and his colorful dissonances as daring. In 1910, Kent helped organize the Exhibition of Independent Artists.

A transcendentalist and mystic in the tradition of Thoreau and Emerson, whose works he read, Kent found inspiration in the austerity and stark beauty of wilderness. After Monhegan, he lived for extended periods of time in Winona, Minnesota (1912–1913), Newfoundland (1914–15), Alaska (1918–19), Vermont (1919–1925), Tierra del Fuego (1922–23), Ireland (1926), and Greenland (1929; 1931–32; 1934–35). His series of land and seascapes from these often forbidding locales convey the Symbolist spirit evoking the mysteries and cosmic wonders of the natural world. "I don't want petty self-expression", Kent wrote, "I want the elemental, infinite thing; I want to paint the rhythm of eternity."

Asgaard Farm, Mountain Road, Jay, New York
"And there, westward and heavenward, to the high ridge of Whiteface, northward to the northern limit of the mountains, southward to their highest peaks, was spread the full half-circle panorama of the Adirondacks. It was as if we had never seen the mountains before."
This Is My Own, Rockwell Kent.

In the late summer of 1918, Kent and his nine-year-old son ventured to the American frontier of Alaska. Wilderness (1920), the first of Kent's several adventure memoirs, is an edited and illustrated compilation of his letters home. The New Statesman (London) described Wilderness as "easily the most remarkable book to come out of America since Leaves of Grass was published." Upon the artist's return to New York in March 1919, publishing scion George Palmer Putnam and others, including Juliana Force—assistant to Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney—implemented their avant-garde notion of incorporating the artist as "Rockwell Kent, Inc." to support him in his new Vermont homestead while he completed his paintings from Alaska for exhibition in 1920 at Knoedler Galleries in New York. Kent's small oil-on-wood-panel sketches from Alaska—uniformly horizontal studies of light and color—were exhibited at Knoedler's as "Impressions." Their artistic lineage to the small and spare oil sketches of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), which are often entitled "Arrangements," underscores Kent's admiration of Whistler as a "genius."

Approached in 1926 by publisher R. R. Donnelley to produce an illustrated edition of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast, Kent suggested Moby-Dick instead. Published in 1930 by the Lakeside Press of Chicago, the three-volume limited edition (1000 copies) filled with Kent's haunting black-and-white pen/brush and ink drawings sold out immediately; Random House produced a trade edition which was also immensely popular. A previously obscure book, Moby Dick had been rediscovered by critics in the early 1920s. The success of the Rockwell Kent illustrated edition was a factor in its becoming recognized as the classic it is today.

Kent's studio at Asgaard Farm, Au Sable Forks, New York
Rockwell Kent photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1933

Less well known are Kent's talents as a jazz age humorist. As the gifted pen-and-ink draftsman "Hogarth, Jr.", Kent created a wealth of whimsical and irreverent drawings published by Vanity Fair, New York Tribune, Harper's Weekly, and the original Life. He brought his Hogarth, Jr., style to a series of richly colored reverse paintings on glass which he completed in 1918 and exhibited at Wanamaker's Department Store. (Two of these glass paintings are in the collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, part of the bequest of modernist collector Ferdinand Howald.) Further decorative work ensued intermittently: in 1939, Vernon Kilns reproduced three series of designs drawn by Kent (Moby Dick, Salamina, Our America) on its sets of contemporary china dinnerware. Among his many contributions between the world wars to the world of publishing, for both an elite and a popular audience, are his pen, brush, and ink drawings that were reproduced on the covers of the upmarket pulp magazine Adventure in 1927.[3]

Raymond Moore, founder and impresario of the Cape Playhouse and Cinema in Dennis, Massachusetts, contracted with Rockwell Kent for the design of murals for the cinema, but the work of transferring and painting the designs on the 6,400-square-foot (590 m2) span was done by Kent's collaborator Jo Mielziner (1901–1976) and a crew of stage set painters from New York City. Ostensibly staying away from the state of Massachusetts to protest the Sacco and Vanzetti executions of 1927, Kent did in fact venture to Dennis in June 1930 to spend three days on the scaffolding, making suggestions and corrections. The signatures of both Kent and Mielziner appear on opposite walls of the cinema.

As World War II approached, Kent shifted his priorities, becoming increasingly active in progressive politics. In 1937, the Section of Painting and Sculpture of the U.S. Treasury commissioned Kent, along with nine other artists, to paint two murals in the New Post Office building at the Federal Triangle in Washington, DC; the two murals are named "Mail Service in the Arctic" and "Mail Service in the Tropics." Kent included (in Inuit dialect and in tiny letters) a polemical statement in the painting, which caused some consternation.[4] In 1939, he joined the Harlem Lodge of the International Workers Order (IWO), an organization devoted to the social and economic welfare of the working public. In 1948 Kent was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member and became a full Academician in 1966.

Increasingly supportive of Soviet-American friendship, peace, and a world devoid of nuclear weapons, Kent and his identity as an American painter receded in the postwar years. He became, along with hundreds of other prominent intellectuals and creative artists, a target of those in league with Joseph McCarthy. The rise of abstract expressionism cast a further shadow over such representational painters as Hopper, Bellows, and Kent. In the 1950s, Kent was denied the right to travel abroad by the United States government; the U.S. Supreme Court in Kent v. Dulles affirmed his right to travel by declaring the ban a violation of his civil rights. After an exhibition of his work at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow in 1957–58, Kent donated several hundred of his paintings and drawings in 1960 to the Soviet peoples. He subsequently became an honorary member of the Soviet Academy of Fine Arts and was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1967. Kent specified that the prize money be given to the women and children of Vietnam, both North and South. (Fred Lewis's interview with Sally Kent, the artist's wife, in Lewis's 2005 documentary Rockwell Kent, provides clarity to the nature of Kent's intentions.)

Monhegan Incident[edit]

Painter Jamie Wyeth in the 2010s conceived a series of paintings referencing untoward occurrences on Monhegan Island. One of them was entitled Portrait of Rockwell Kent and portrays the artist in the foreground holding his palette and brush, with a tiny figure falling off a cliff in the distance. Although the scene is a wintry one and Kent was not on the island at the time, the painting nevertheless connects Kent with the mid-summer disappearance and death of 49-year-old Sally Maynard Moran, a longtime friend and model Kent sketched in the early 1920s.[5] In the summer of 1953, as her marriage to advertising executive Daniel Moran was coming to an end, Moran accepted an invitation from Kent and his wife Sally to stay at the cottage they owned on Monhegan. Although Rockwell and Sally Kent were not in residence, Kent's eldest daughter Kathleen and her two children stayed with Moran for part of her time there. On the evening of July 9, Moran went out for a walk and did not return. Three weeks later her body was found in the ocean by fishermen. The mysterious incident, for which Kent and his family were not implicated, contributed to the sale of the Kent home on Monhegan.

Legacy[edit]

When Kent died, The New York Times described him as "... a thoughtful, troublesome, profoundly independent, odd and kind man who made an imperishable contribution to the art of bookmaking in the United States." This cursory summing-up of an American life has been superseded by richer, more accurate accounts of the scope of the artist's influential life as a painter and writer. More balanced reappraisals of the artist's life and work have been mounted, most recently, by The Rooms in St. John's, Newfoundland, where the exhibition Pointed North: Rockwell Kent in Newfoundland and Labrador was curated by Caroline Stone during the Summer of 2014. Other recent exhibitions include the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery and Owen D. Young Library at St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY) in the autumn of 2012; the Farnsworth Art Museum (Rockland, ME) during the spring through autumn of 2012; the Bennington Museum, in Vermont during the summer of 2012; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the spring through summer of 2012. An exhibition marking the centennial of Kent's time in Winona, MN, took place there in 2013. Among the many notes of increasing awareness of Kent's contributions to American culture is the reproduction of one of Kent's pen-and-ink drawings from Moby Dick on a U.S. postage stamp, part of the 2001 commemorative panel celebrating such American illustrators as Maxfield Parrish, Frederic Remington, and Norman Rockwell.

Recently, prominent American and Canadian writers have found much gold to mine in Kent's improbable life of adventure and accomplishment. The year he spent in Newfoundland, for example, is fictionally (and very loosely) recalled by Canadian writer Michael Winter in The Big Why, his 2004 Winterset Award-winning novel. And certain qualities of the protagonist of Russell Banks's 2008 novel The Reserve are inspired by aspects of Kent's complex personality. Kent is also a protagonist in Steve Martin's 2010 novel An Object of Beauty, and is the subject of a chapter in Douglas Brinkley's 2011 history The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom: 1879–1960.

The Archives of American Art is the repository for Kent's voluminous correspondence.[6]

Works[edit]

Bookplate designed by Rockwell Kent
Bookplate illustration by Kent
Bookplate by Kent for the Rochester Branch of the New York Public Library
Cape Cinema Interior with murals by Rockwell Kent and Jo Mielziner, Dennis, Massachusetts.

Written and illustrated by Rockwell Kent[edit]

Kent was a prolific writer whose adventure memoirs and autobiographies include:

  • Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska — Memoir of the fall and winter of 1918/19 painting and exploring with his eldest son on Fox Island in Resurrection Bay, Alaska (1920);
  • Voyaging Southwards from the Strait of Magellan – Memoir of 1922–23 travels in and around Tierra del Fuego (1924);
  • Drawings by Rockwell Kent: A Portfolio of Prints, 28 black and white prints, Flying Stag Press, New York (1924);
  • N by E — Memoir of the summer 1929 voyage to (and shipwreck on the rocks of) Greenland (1930);
  • Rockwellkentiana – Few words and many pictures by Rockwell Kent and Carl Zigrosser, A bibliography and list of prints, Harcourt, Brace & Co. (1933);
  • Salamina – Memoir of his first Arctic winter (1931–32) painting and exploring while based in the tiny settlement of Illorsuit, Greenland (1935);
  • This is My Own – autobiography, focusing on the years 1928–1939 in Au Sable Forks, Adirondacks (1940);
  • It's Me, O Lord – full-scale autobiography (1955);
  • Of Men and Mountains Ausable Forks: Asgaard Press, 1959, printed by the press of A. Colish, Mount, Vernon, NY.;
  • Greenland Journal – the author's original diaries from Igdlorssuit, Greenland, 1962, New York, Ivan Obolensky;
  • After Long Years Ausable Forks: Asgaard Press, 1968, printed by the press of A. Colish, Mount Vernon, edn. of 250 copies, signed by the author.

Illustrated by Rockwell Kent[edit]

Murals by or designed by Rockwell Kent[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Biography of Wilhelmina Weber Furlong: The Treasured Collection of Golden Heart Farm by Clint B. Weber, ISBN 0-9851601-0-1ISBN 978-0-9851601-0-4
  2. ^ Professor Emeritus James K. Kettlewell: Harvard, Skidmore College, Curator The Hyde Collection. Foreword to The Treasured Collection of Golden Heart Farm: ISBN 0-9851601-0-1ISBN 978-0-9851601-0-4
  3. ^ "if it were distinguished for nothing else, "Adventure" would stand apart from rival "pulps".... because it was once entirely illustrated by Rockwell Kent.." No. 1 Pulp – Time Time, October 21, 1935. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
  4. ^ Current Biography 1942, pp447-49; The mural depicts a mailman delivering letters to Puerto Ricans, and the message was written on one of the letters (from Alaska). For the record, the statement was "Puerto-Ricomiunun ilapticnum! Ke ha chimmeulakut engayscaacut. Amna ketchimmi attunim chiuli waptictun itticleoraatigut!", which translated to "To the people of Puerto Rico, our friends! Go ahead. Let us change chiefs. That alone can make us free!" Though the press coverage generated consternation as well as amusement, the mural could not be altered until after Kent was issued a government check for his $3,000 fee, after which that part of the mural was painted over.
  5. ^ "Monhegan cold case heats up 60 years later," Bill Nemitz, Portland Press Herald, December 1, 2013
  6. ^ "Detailed description of the Rockwell Kent papers, [circa 1840]-1993, bulk 1935–1961 – Digitized Collection". Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved March 24, 2012. 

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Wien, Jake Milgram, Vital Passage: The Newfoundland Epic of Rockwell Kent, including a Catalogue Raisonne of Kent's Newfoundland Works. The Rooms, St. John's, Newfoundland, 2014.
  • Rightmire, Robert, "The Greeting Cards of Rockwell Kent." Picturia Press, Portland, ME, 2013.
  • Ferris, Scott R., "Rockwell Kent: The Once Most Popular American Artist." St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY. Autumn 2012.
  • Franklin, Jamie, "Rockwell Kent's 'Egypt': Shadow and Light in Vermont." Antiques & Fine Art (cover story), Summer 2012.
  • Franklin, Jamie and Jake Milgram Wien, Rockwell Kent's 'Egypt': Shadow and Light in Vermont. Bennington Museum, Vermont, 2012.
  • Komanecky, Michael, "Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent and Monhegan." Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME, 2012.
  • O'Hara, Virginia, "Intrepid and Inventive: Illustrations by Rockwell Kent," Brandywine River Museum, DE, 2009.
  • Rightmire, Robert, A Descriptive List of the Greeting Card Art of Rockwell Kent, The Kent Collector, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, Spring 2007 through current issue, a 15-part series.
  • Wien, Jake Milgram, Rockwell Kent: Visionary Works from Greenland. Lighthouse Center for the Arts, Tequesta, Florida, March 3 – April 30, 2008 (color brochure with essay).
  • Ferris, Scott R., "The Evolving Legacy of Rockwell Kent," FineArtConnoisseur, January–February 2008.
  • Rightmire, Robert, " A Newly Discovered Rockwell Kent Porfolio" (The PON portfolio), The Kent Collector, Vol. XXX, No. 2, Summer, 2006, pp. 15–17
  • Wien, Jake Milgram, "The Archetypal Landscapes of Rockwell Kent." Antiques & Fine Art, Late Summer 2005.
  • Rightmire, Robert "Every American An Art Patron," The Kent Collector, Vol. XXIX, No. 3, Fall/Winter, 2003, pp. 13–18.
  • Ferris, Scott R., "In Review: Rockwell Kent: The Mythic and the Modern." Review of the exhibition and catalog, "Rockwell Kent: The Mythic and the Modern." 2005.
  • Wien, Jake Milgram, Rockwell Kent: The Mythic and the Modern. Hudson Hills Press in association with the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art, 2005.
  • Wien, Jake Milgram, "Rockwell Kent's Reverse Paintings on Glass," The Magazine Antiques (cover story), July 2005.
  • Wien, Jake Milgram, "Rockwell Kent's Canterbury Pilgrims" in Chaucer Illustrated: Five Hundred Years of The Canterbury Tales in Pictures, Oak Knoll Press and British Library, 2003.
  • Ferris, Scott R., "In Review: The Prints of Rockwell Kent: A Catalogue Raisonné." Review of the 2002 revised edition of "The Prints of Rockwell Kent: A Catalogue Raisonne," by Robert Rightmire.
  • Roberts, Don. Rockwell Kent: The Art of the Bookplate. San Francisco: Fair Oaks Press, 2003
  • Ferris, Scott R., "In the Presence of Light," included as foreword to new edition of Salamina, Wesleyan University Press, 2003.
  • Rightmire, Robert, Dan Burne Jones, "The Prints of Rockwell Kent," revised edition, Alan Wolfsy Fine Arts, 2002
  • Wien, Jake Milgram, "Rockwell Kent and Hollywood," Archives of American Art Journal, 2002, Volume 42, Numbers 3–4.
  • Ferris, Scott R., "The Artistic Heritage of Rockwell Kent," "American Art Review," October 2002.
  • Rightmire, Robert, "Rockwell Kent's Author's Edition," The Kent Collector, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, Summer 2002, pp. 14–15
  • Wien, Jake Milgram, "Rockwell Kent's First Print," Print Quarterly (London), Vol. 18 No. 3, September 2001.
  • Rightmire, Robert, "Going, Going, Gone, Rockwell Kent Soars at Auction," Portland (magazine), Vol. 15, No. 6, Sept. 2000, pp. 11–13
  • Ferris, Scott R., "The Stormy Petrel of American Art," "Smithsonian," August 2000.
  • Rightmire, Robert, "Rockwell Kent and the Modern Library," The Kent Collector, Vol. XXVI, No. 2, Summer, 2000, pp. 15–17.
  • Rightmire, Robert, "The Drawings of Rockwell Kent, the Reproductions Reconsidered," The Kent Collector, Vol. XXIV, No.1, Spring, 2000, pp. 10–12
  • Ferris, Scott R. and Caroline M. Welsh, "The View from Asgaard: Rockwell Kent's Adirondack Legacy," Adirondack Museum, 1999.
  • Rightmire, Robert, "Godspeed, the Birth of the Kent Collector," The Kent Collector, Vol. XXV, No.3, Fall/Winter, 1999, pp.6–7.
  • Ferris, Scott R. and Ellen Pearce, "Rockwell Kent's Forgotten Landscapes," Down East Books, 1998.
  • Rightmire, Robert, "Hogarth, Jr. Taken Seriously," The Kent Collector, Vol.XXIV, No.3, Summer 1998, p. 6
  • Rightmire, Robert, "The Yearbook Art of Rockwell Kent," The Kent Collector, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, Fall, 1997, pp. 10–13.
  • Wien, Jake Milgram, "His Mind on Fire: Rockwell Kent's Amorous Letters to Hildegarde Hirsch and Ernesta Drinker Bullitt, 1916–1925," Columbia Library Columns, Vol. 46, No. 2, Autumn 1997.
  • Rightmire, Robert, "I Hated War" (The Seven Ages of Man), The Kent Collector, Vol. XXII, No.3, Spring, 1996, pp. 3–4.
  • Rightmire, Robert "Rockwell Kent: The 'Best' Printmaker?", The Kent Collector, Vol. XXII, No. 1, Summer, 1995, pp.12–13
  • West, Richard V., "An Enkindled Eye": The Paintings of Rockwell Kent, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1985.
  • Traxel, David, An American Saga: The Life and Times of Rockwell Kent. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.
  • Johnson, Fridolf. Rockwell Kent: An Anthology of His Works. New York: Alfred K. Knopf, 1982.
  • Johnson, Fridolf. The Illustrations of Rockwell Kent: 231 examples from Books, Magazines, and Advertising Art. New York: Dover Publications, 1976.
  • Jones, Dan Burne. The Prints of Rockwell Kent: A Catalogue Raisonné. University of Chicago Press, 1975.
  • Priess, David. "Rockwell Kent", American Artist 36, no. 364 (November 1972).
  • American Book Collector Special Rockwell Kent Number, Vol. XIV, No. 10, Summer 1964.
  • Arens, Egmont. "Rockwell Kent-Illustrator". The Book Collector's Packet. 1.9 (1932).
  • Capra, Doug. "Foreword." Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska by Rockwell Kent. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1996.
  • Capra, Doug. "And Now the World Again: Rockwell Kent vs. Seward, Alaska.: The Kent Collector. Vol. XII, No. 3, Winter, 1985, pp. 10.
  • Capra, Doug. "Rockwell Kent's Final Alaskan Trip." The Kent Collector. Vol. XVI, No. 3, Winter, 1989, pp. 3–15.
  • Capra, Doug. "Roasting the Mails Instead of the Horses." (Kent in Alaska). The Kent Collector. Vol. XII, No. 2, Fall, 1985, pp. 1–7.
  • Capra, Doug. "Pets and Paradise: Olson of the Deep Experience." (Kent in Alaska). The Kent Collector. Vol. XII, No. 2, Fall, 1985, pp. 8–14.
  • Capra, Doug. "Rockwell Kent's Northern Christmas." The Kent Collector. Vol. XI, No. 2, Fall, 1994, pp. 3–8.
  • Capra, Doug. "May the Waters of Resurrection Bay Caress Their Bodies." The Kent Collector. Vol. XXXI, No. 2, Spring 2005, pp. 5–10.
  • Capra, Doug. "A Frightened But Brave Boy: Young Rockwell in Alaska." The Kent Collector. Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, Spring 2008, pp. 5–11.
  • The Biography of Wilhelmina Weber Furlong: The Treasured Collection of Golden Heart Farm by Clint B. Weber, ISBN 0-9851601-0-1ISBN 978-0-9851601-0-4

External links[edit]