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

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.
1882
born, Tarrytown, New York
1887
death of Rockwell Kent, Sr.
1894-1896
attended Cheshire Academy
1895
toured Europe with Aunt Jo
1896
attended Horace Mann School, New York City
1900-1902
studied architecture at Columbia University
1900-1902
attended William Merritt Chase's summer school, Shinnecock Hills, Long Island
1903
studied with William Merritt Chase, New York City
1904
first sale of a painting
1904
met Rufus Weeks and attended first Socialist meeting
1905
lived and worked with Abbott H. Thayer, Dublin, New Hampshire
1905
first painting trip to Monhegan Island, Maine
1907
first one-man show, Claussen Galleries, New York City
1908
marriage to Kathleen Whiting
1908
studied with Robert Henri
1908
joined Socialist Party
1909
birth of Rockwell, III
1910
ran Monhegan Summer School of Art
1910
first trip to Newfoundland
1910
helped to organize first Independent Exhibition
1911
birth of Kathleen
1912
moved to Winona, Minnesota
1913
birth of Clara
1914
settled in Newfoundland
1915
deported from Newfoundland
1915
birth of Barbara
1917
served as full-time organizer and administrator of Independent Exhibition
1918-1919
in Alaska with son Rocky
1919
purchased Egypt Farm, Arlington, Vermont
1919
incorporated self
1920
publication of Wilderness
1920
birth of Gordon
1922
traveled to Tierra del Fuego
1924
publication of Voyaging
1925
trip to France
1925
divorced from Kathleen
1926
marriage to Frances Lee
1926
traveled to Ireland
1927
purchased Asgaard Farm, AuSable, New York
1927
editor of Creative Art
1927
helped organize National Gallery of Contemporary Art, Washington, D.C.
1929
sailed to Greenland on Direction
1930
publication of N by E
1932-1933
returned to Greenland
1934-1935
final trip to Greenland
1935
publication of Salamina
1936
trip to Puerto Rico
1937
trip to Brazil
1937-1938
Post Office Department mural commission and controversy over Eskimo-language message interpreted as encouraging Puerto Rican independence
1939
divorced from Frances
1939
General Electric Co. mural commission for New York World's Fair
1940
publication of This Is My Own
1940
marriage to Shirley Johnstone (Sally)
1942
solo exhibition, Know and Defend America, at Wildenstein Galleries, New York City
1946
elected to Executive Committee of American Labor Party
1948
congressional candidate, American Labor Party
1948
transferred ownership of dairy to remaining employees after boycott resulting from support of Wallace for president
1949
attended World Congress for Peace, Paris
1950-1958
denied U.S. passport; lawsuit, appeals, and Supreme Court decision reinstating right to travel
1953
testified before House Un-American Activities Committee
1955
publication of It's Me, O Lord
1958
one-man show at Hermitage Museum, Leningrad
1959
publication of Of Men and Mountains
1960
gift of Kent Collection to Friendship House, Moscow
1960
exhibition at Pushkin Museum, Moscow
1963
publication of Greenland Journal
1966
elected to Academy of Arts of the USSR
1967
awarded Lenin Peace Prize, Moscow
1969
oral history interview, Archives of American Art
1969
home at Asgaard destroyed by fire; papers survived with some water and smoke damage
1969
first installment of Rockwell Kent Papers donated to Archives of American Art
1971
died, Plattsburgh, New York
1971
gift of additional Rockwell Kent Papers to Archives of American Art
1979
gift of textile samples to the Archives of American Art
1996
gift of additional Rockwell Kent Papers to Archives of American Art
2000
death of Sally [Shirley Johnstone] Kent Gorton
2000
previously sealed correspondence of wives Frances and Sally (Series 1) opened to researchers
2001
gift of additional Rockwell Kent papers to the Archives of American Art from the Estate of Sally Kent [Shirley Johnstone] Gorton