In The Stacks: Rockwell Kent at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art March 27, 2014 – Posted in: Illustration, In the Stacks – Tags: rockwell kent
Portrait by Carl Van Vechten
For this installment of In The Stacks we sample a part of the extensive archive of Rockwell Kent’s papers that reside at the Smithsonian.
Kent traveled widely and wrote, painted and drew about his experiences. From Alaska to Greenland to Moscow, Kent and his family immersed themselves in the cultures they visited with each trip providing Kent a plethora of artistic fodder.
In 1918 it was a trip to Alaska with his son that brought us the memoir Wilderness which the The New Statesman called “easily the most remarkable book to come out of America since Leaves of Grass was published.”
Kent in animal skins with spear
Then in the mid-1920’s the publisher R. R. Donnelley asked Kent if he would have an interest in illustrating an edition of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast. Kent had a better idea, how about illustrating Moby-Dick instead.
The rest is history. It was first published in 1930 in a three-volume limited edition of 1000 copies by the Lakeside Press of Chicago, which sold out immediately, and then followed by a trade edition from Random House.
The book became and remains a high-spot of 20th century illustration.
Silk scarf with original illustration for Moby Dick, 1947.
The advent of WWII got Kent more and more into progressive politics. Though he created a series of war posters he would eventually become a peace monger and ardent anti-nuke supporter.
Kent at the opening of an exhibition of his war posters, 1942
Kent’s left-leaning views would eventually land him on Joseph McCarthy’s hit list. He was also prohibited from traveling abroad, a ban which he fought all the way to the Supreme Court and won!
Next up for Kent was trying to ease the tensions between the U.S. and Soviet governments. In 1960 he donated hundreds of pieces of his work to the Soviet people.
Kent signing copies of the Russian edition of Moby Dick in Moscow
His efforts culminated in being award the Lenin Peace Prize in 1967. As for the prize money – he donated it to the ‘women and children of Vietnam, both North and South.”
Kent accepting the Lenin Peace Prize, 1967
At home with his wife reading one of his books, Greenland Journal.
Previously on In The Stacks:
William Burroughs Through the Lens of Allen Ginsberg
Leslie Jones at the Boston Public Library
The Getty Museum opens up
The Tokyo Sightseeing Photo Club
First Visit to The New Digital Library of America
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
Playing Cards at the Beinecke
National Library of Ireland
The Astor Free Library at the NYPL
Women’s Travel Diaries at Duke University
Charles Darwin’s Library
The National Archives
Columbia University, From Homer to Howl
Private Libraries at the Museum of the City of New York
Los Angeles Public Library
Boston Public Library