Rockwell Kent papers, [circa 1840]-1993, bulk 1935-1961
Kent, Rockwell, 1882-1971
Chamberlain, J. E.
Chase, William Merritt
Cleland, T. M. (Thomas Maitland),
Davies, Arthur B. (Arthur Bowen)
DuBois, W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt),
Jones, Dan Burne
Miller, Kenneth Hayes
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano)
Artists League of America
Artists' Union (New York, N.Y.)
Citizens' Committee for Government Arts Projects
Farmers Union of the New York Milk Shed
Federal Art Project
Federal Writers' Project
International Workers Order
National Farmers' Union (U.S.)
National Maritime Union of America
United American Artists
United Office and Professional Workers of America
United Scenic Artists
American Artists' Congress.
Place of publication, production, or execution:
89.8 linear feet
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)
Papers suffered significant water damage after being rescued from the fire that destroyed the Kent home in 1969. A small percentage could not be salvaged, and a few items (particularly letters written in fountain pen) are faded or smeared to the point of illegibility.
Access Note / Rights:
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.
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.
Rockwell Kent papers, [circa 1840]-1993, bulk 1935-1961. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
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.
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.
Permission to quote, reproduce or publish may be needed from Plattsburgh State University of New York art museum.
Additional Rockwell Kent papers, also located at: Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.
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.
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.
A small portion of the letters and printed matter (including posters) are in Russian, some with English translations.
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.
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.
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 750 9th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001