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Rockwell Kent papers, [circa 1840]-1993, bulk 1935-1961

Rockwell Kent papers, [circa 1840]-1993, bulk 1935-1961

Kent, Rockwell, 1882-1971

Painter, Author, Illustrator

Representative image for Rockwell Kent papers, [circa 1840]-1993, bulk 1935-1961

This site provides access to the papers of Rockwell Kent in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2008 from 106 reels of microfilm. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 160,404 images.

Funding for the processing, microfilming, and publication of the finding aid was provided by The Henry Luce Foundation. In 2008, the microfilm was digitized with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 89.8 linear feet

1 rd

Summary: The Rockwell Kent papers measure 89.8 linear feet and date from circa 1840 to 1993 with the bulk of the collection dating from 1935 to 1961. The collection provides comprehensive coverage of Kent's career as a painter, illustrator, designer, writer, lecturer, traveler, political activist, and dairy farmer.

Circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the papers are highlighted in an article by Garnett McCoy ("The Rockwell Kent Papers," in the Archives of American Art Journal, 12, no. 1 [January 1972]: 1-9), recommended reading for researchers interested in the collection. The collection is remarkably complete, for in the mid 1920s Kent began keeping carbon copies of all outgoing letters, eventually employing a secretary (who became his third wife and continued her office duties for the remainder of Kent's life).

Alphabetical Files contain Kent's personal and professional correspondence, along with business records of the dairy farm and associated enterprises; also included are printed matter on a wide variety of topics and promotional literature relating to organizations and causes of interest to him. Voluminous correspondence with his three wives, five children, and other relatives, as well as with literally hundreds of friends, both lifelong and of brief duration, illuminates Kent's private life and contributes to understanding of his complex character. Among the many correspondents of note are: his art teachers William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, and Kenneth Hayes Miller; fellow artists Tom Cleland, Arthur B. Davies, James Fitzgerald, Hugo Gellert, Harry Gottleib, Marsden Hartley, Charles Keller, and Ruth Reeves; collectors Duncan Phillips and Dan Burne Jones; critics J. E. Chamberlain and Walter Pach; and dealers Charles Daniel, Felix Wildenstein, and Macbeth Galleries. Kent corresponded with such diverse people as Arctic explorers Peter Freuchen, Knud Rasmussen, and Vilhjalmar Steffanson; composer Carl Ruggles and songwriters Lee Hays and Pete Seeger; civil rights pioneers Paul Robeson and Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois; writers Bayard Boyesen, Scott and Helen Nearing, and Louis Untermeyer; and art historian and print curator Carl Zigrosser.

Kent's interest and involvement in the labor movement are reflected in correspondence with officials and members of a wide variety and large number of unions and related organizations, among them: the Farmers' Educational and Cooperative Union of America, Farmers' Union of the New York Milk Shed, International Workers Order, National Maritime Union, and United Office and Professional Workers of America. Of special interest is his participation, often in leadership roles, in various attempts to organize artists. Files on the American Artists' Congress, Artists League of America, The Artists Union, United American Artists, and United Scenic Artists contain particularly valuable material on the movement.

A supporter of New Deal efforts to aid artists, Kent was actively interested in the various programs and often was critical of their limitations; he advocated continuing federal aid to artists after the Depression abated. Iincluded within the collection is correspondence with the Federal Arts Project, Federal Fine Arts Project, Federal Writers' Project, and the War Department, as well as correspondence with the Citizens' Committee for Government Art Projects and President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the subject.

Kent's professional correspondence documents exhibitions, sales, consignments, and reproduction of prints and paintings. He kept meticulous records of his advertising commissions and illustration work. Detailed correspondence with publishers and printers indicates Kent's involvement in the technical aspects of production and provides a good overview of the publishing industry during the mid-twentieth century.

Business records of Asgaard Farm include records of the dairy and transfer of ownership to its employees, tax and employee information, and documents concerning several related business ventures such as distributor ships for grain, feed, and farm implements.

Writings consists of notes, drafts, and completed manuscripts by Rockwell Kent, mainly articles, statements, speeches, poems, introductions, and reviews. The Kent Collection given to Friendship House, Moscow, in 1960, was augmented later by a set of his publications and the illustrated manuscripts of many of his monographs. Also included are a small number of manuscripts by other authors.

Artwork consists mainly of drawings and sketches by Kent; also included are works on paper by other artists, many of whom are unidentified, and by children.

Printed Matter consists of clippings, exhibition catalogs and announcements, brochures, broadsides, programs, and newsletters. These include items by and about Kent and his family, as well as articles written and/or illustrated by him, and reviews of his books. There is also material on a variety of subjects and causes of interest to him. Additional printed matter is included among the alphabetical files, mainly as attachments to correspondence.

Miscellaneous includes biographical material, legal documents, and memorabilia. Artifacts received with papers include textile samples, a silk scarf, dinnerware, ice bucket, and rubber stamp, all featuring designs by Rockwell Kent. Also with this series are a variety of documents including a phrenological analysis of an ancestor, lists of supplies for expeditions, a hand-drawn map of an unidentified place, and technical notes regarding art materials and techniques.

Photographs includes photographs of Kent, his family and friends, travel, and art number that over one thousand. Also included here are several albums of family and travel photographs.

Biographical/Historical Note

Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) was a painter, printmaker, illustrator, designer, and commercial artist. Kent also pursued careers as as a writer, professional lecturer, and dairy farmer. He travelled extensively, and was a political activist who supported the causes of organized labor, civil liberties, civil rights, anti-Fascism, and peace and friendship with the Soviet Union.


Donated 1969 and 1971 by Mr. and Mrs. Rockwell Kent, and in 1996 by Shirley (Sally) Kent Gorton. Funding for the processing, microfilming, and publication of the finding aid was provided by The Henry Luce Foundation. Additional photos, art works and writings were donated 2001 by the Shirley Gorton Johnstone estate.

Related Materials

Additional and possibly duplicate Rockwell Kent material located at Plattsburgh State University of New York art museum. Researchers are advised to check with Plattsburgh for before publishing Kent material found in the Archives of American Art.


Funding for the processing, microfilming, and publication of the finding aid was provided by The Henry Luce Foundation. In 2008, the microfilm was digitized with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

A Finding Aid to the Rockwell Kent Papers,
circa 1840-1993
, bulk 1935-1961
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), an energetic and multitalented man, pursued many interests and careers during his very long and active life. At various times he was an architect, draftsman, carpenter, unskilled laborer, painter, illustrator, printmaker, commercial artist, designer, traveler/explorer, writer, professional lecturer, dairy farmer, and political activist.
While studying architecture at Columbia University, Kent enrolled in William Merritt Chase's summer school at Shinnecock Hills, Long Island. He then redirected his career ambitions toward painting and continued to study with Chase in New York. Kent spent a summer working and living with Abbott H. Thayer in Dublin, New Hampshire, and attended the New York School of Art, where Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller were his teachers.
Critically and financially, Kent was a successful artist. He was very well known for his illustration work--particularly limited editions of the classics, bookplates, and Christmas cards. He was a prolific printmaker, and his prints and paintings were acquired by many major museums and private collectors. During the post-World War II era, Kent's political sympathies resulted in the loss of commissions, and his adherence to artistic conservatism and outspoken opposition to modern art led to disfavor within art circles. After many years of declining reputation in this country and unsuccessful attempts to find a home for the Kent Collection, Kent gave his unsold paintings--the majority of his oeuvre--to the Soviet Union, where he continued to be immensely popular.
An avid traveler, Kent was especially fascinated by remote, Arctic lands and often stayed for extended periods of time to paint, write, and become acquainted with the local inhabitants. Between 1918 and 1935, he wrote and illustrated several popular books about his experiences in Alaska, Tierra del Fuego, and Greenland. In the 1930s and 1940s, Kent was much in demand as a lecturer, making several nationwide tours under the management of a professional lecture bureau; he spoke mainly about his travels, but among his standard lectures were some on "art for the people."
In 1927, Kent purchased Asgaard Farm at AuSable Forks, New York, in the Adirondacks, where he lived for the remainder of his life, operating a modern dairy farm on a modest scale for many years.
As a young man, Kent met Rufus Weeks, became committed to social justice, and joined the Socialist Party. Throughout his life, he supported left-wing causes and was a member or officer of many organizations promoting world peace and harmonious relations with the Soviet Union, civil rights, civil liberties, antifascism, and organized labor. Kent was frequently featured as a celebrity sponsor or speaker at fund-raising events for these causes. In 1948, he ran unsuccessfully as the American Labor Party's candidate for Congress. Kent's unpopular political views eventually led to the dissolution of his dairy business, resulted in a summons to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and prompted the U.S. State Department to deny him a passport, an action that subsequently was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kent wrote two autobiographies,
This Is My Own
(1940) and
It's Me, O Lord
(1955). In 1969, he was the subject of an oral history interview conducted by Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art.
born, Tarrytown, New York
death of Rockwell Kent, Sr.
attended Cheshire Academy
toured Europe with Aunt Jo
attended Horace Mann School, New York City
studied architecture at Columbia University
attended William Merritt Chase's summer school, Shinnecock Hills, Long Island
studied with William Merritt Chase, New York City
first sale of a painting
met Rufus Weeks and attended first Socialist meeting
lived and worked with Abbott H. Thayer, Dublin, New Hampshire
first painting trip to Monhegan Island, Maine
first one-man show, Claussen Galleries, New York City
marriage to Kathleen Whiting
studied with Robert Henri
joined Socialist Party
birth of Rockwell, III
ran Monhegan Summer School of Art
first trip to Newfoundland
helped to organize first Independent Exhibition
birth of Kathleen
moved to Winona, Minnesota
birth of Clara
settled in Newfoundland
deported from Newfoundland
birth of Barbara
served as full-time organizer and administrator of Independent Exhibition
in Alaska with son Rocky
purchased Egypt Farm, Arlington, Vermont
incorporated self
publication of
birth of Gordon
traveled to Tierra del Fuego
publication of
trip to France
divorced from Kathleen
marriage to Frances Lee
traveled to Ireland
purchased Asgaard Farm, AuSable, New York
editor of
Creative Art
helped organize National Gallery of Contemporary Art, Washington, D.C.
sailed to Greenland on
publication of
N by E
returned to Greenland
final trip to Greenland
publication of
trip to Puerto Rico
trip to Brazil
Post Office Department mural commission and controversy over Eskimo-language message interpreted as encouraging Puerto Rican independence
divorced from Frances
General Electric Co. mural commission for New York World's Fair
publication of
This Is My Own
marriage to Shirley Johnstone (Sally)
solo exhibition,
Know and Defend America,
at Wildenstein Galleries, New York City
elected to Executive Committee of American Labor Party
congressional candidate, American Labor Party
transferred ownership of dairy to remaining employees after boycott resulting from support of Wallace for president
attended World Congress for Peace, Paris
denied U.S. passport; lawsuit, appeals, and Supreme Court decision reinstating right to travel
testified before House Un-American Activities Committee
publication of
It's Me, O Lord
one-man show at Hermitage Museum, Leningrad
publication of
Of Men and Mountains
gift of Kent Collection to Friendship House, Moscow
exhibition at Pushkin Museum, Moscow
publication of
Greenland Journal
elected to Academy of Arts of the USSR
awarded Lenin Peace Prize, Moscow
oral history interview, Archives of American Art
home at Asgaard destroyed by fire; papers survived with some water and smoke damage
first installment of Rockwell Kent Papers donated to Archives of American Art
died, Plattsburgh, New York
gift of additional Rockwell Kent Papers to Archives of American Art
gift of textile samples to the Archives of American Art
gift of additional Rockwell Kent Papers to Archives of American Art
death of Sally [Shirley Johnstone] Kent Gorton
previously sealed correspondence of wives Frances and Sally (Series 1) opened to researchers
gift of additional Rockwell Kent papers to the Archives of American Art from the Estate of Sally Kent [Shirley Johnstone] Gorton
The collection is arranged into six series. Series 1 is arranged alphabetically. The arrangement of the remaining series is explained in each series description. Note that sealed materials that became available in 2000 were microfilmed separately on reels 5740-5741, but have integrated into this finding aid.
Series 1: Alphabetical Files, circa 1900-1971, undated (Reels 5153-5249, 5256, 5740-5741)
Series 2: Writings, 1906-1978, undated (Reels 5249-5252, 5741)
Series 3: Art Work, 1910-1972, undated (Reels 5252, 5741)
Series 4: Printed Matter, 1905-1993, undated (Reels 5252-5254)
Series 5: Miscellaneous, 1859-1969, undated (Reels 5254, 5741)
Series 6: Photographs, circa 1840-1970, undated (Reels 5254-5255, 5741)
Donated 1969 and 1971 by Mr. and Mrs. Rockwell Kent, and in 1996 by Shirley (Sally) Kent Gorton. Funding for the processing, microfilming, and publication of the finding aid was provided by The Henry Luce Foundation. Additional photos, art works and writings were donated 2001 by the Shirley Gorton Johnstone estate.
Processing Information
The collection was processed by Catherine Stover and Lisa Lynch in 1998 and microfilmed on reels 5153-5256. Sealed materials that became available in 2000 were microfilmed separately on reels 5740-5741. Funding for the processing, microfilming, and publication of the finding aid was provided by The Henry Luce Foundation. The finding aid was modified during EAD conversion by Stephanie Ashley in 2002. In 2008, the microfilm was digitized with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The microfilm of this collection was digitized in 2008 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Researchers should note that the legibility of some materials is poor due to the microfilm quality.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

Restrictions on Use

Permission to quote, reproduce or publish may be needed from Plattsburgh State University of New York art museum.

How to Cite This Collection

Rockwell Kent papers, [circa 1840]-1993, bulk 1935-1961. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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