The Rockwell Kent papers measure 88.0 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.
Scope and Content Note:
The Rockwell Kent papers measure 88 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).
Series 1: 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. The Kent papers include 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.
Series 2: 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.
Series 3: 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.
Series 4: 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.
Series 5: 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.
Series 6: 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.
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)
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.
In 1969, Rockwell Kent donated his papers to the Archives of American Art; textile samples were received in 1979, and his widow gave additional papers in 1971 and 1996. Letters to Rockwell Kent from wives Frances and Sally, sealed during Sally Kent Gorton's lifetime, became available for research after her death in 2000, and further material was donated to the Archives of American Art in 2001 by the Estate of Sally Kent [Shirley Johnstone] Gorton.
The microfilm of this collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website. Use of material not microfilmed or digitized requires an appointment.
Lee Ya-Ching Papers, NASM.2008.0009, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.
Hugo Gellert papers, 1916-1986. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945 Search this
1 Sound disc (33 1/3 RPM)
1 Cubic foot (4 boxes)
Papers document Katherine Joseph's career as staff photographer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. The papers contain negatives and prints taken in Mexico, and some photographs of a White House event in 1938, featuring Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; and images of American workers on the home front during World War II.
Scope and Contents:
The collection consists of negatives and photographs from Ms. Joseph's career as staff photographer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. There are also images taken in Mexico, and some photographs of a White House event in 1938, featuring Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; images of American workers on the home front during World War II; correspondence and travel notes.
Series 1, Historical Background, 1941, undated, consists of correspondence and travel notes from a photojournalistic trip to Mexico in 1941.
The correspondence is organized into three sections, Tayoltita in Northwest Mexico, the 1941 Colima, Mexico earthquake, and Thelma Goldman. In addition to the correspondence there are typescript captions for some of the photographs and annotated drafts of travel notes detailing the Mexico trip.
Series 2, Photographic Negatives and Prints, [1941?] and undated, consists of negatives and prints for garment workers and the photojournalistic trip to Mexico. The negatives and prints are housed together in 4" x 5" envelope enclosures. Captions and other information about the negative/print is provided on the envelope. The majority of negatives and prints are undated, and there is no arrangement.
Series 3, Photographic Prints, 1938, 1941 and undated, is further divided into four subseries topically: Subseries 1, International Ladies Garment Workers Union; Subseries 2, Labor; Subseries 3, Mexico and Subseries 4, Subjects. The photographs are 8" x 10" black-and-whites taken by Katherine Joseph and some by Harry Rubenstein, another journalist. The photographs are arranged topically. Some of the photographs have captions and/or annotations, and almost all bear a stamp "photo by Katherine Joseph."
Series 4, "Pins and Needles" (audio disc), 1962, consists of one (1) 33 1/3 RPM audio disc from the Pins and Needles twenty-fifth anniversary. Pins and Needles was originally produced by the Cultural Division of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union under the leadership of Louis Schaffer. The music and lyrics for Pins and Needles was composed by Harold Rome in 1936–1937. The revue had its public debut on November 27, 1937 at the New York Labor Stage, which had been created when the ILGWU leased the Princess Theater and renovated the space for union cultural performances. Because of their factory jobs, cast and crew could rehearse only at night and on weekends, and initial performances were presented only on Friday and Saturday nights. The original cast was made up of cutters, basters, and sewing machine operators. Pins and Needles satirized current events and cultural trends from a pro-union standpoint. Pins and Needles went on to become the longest-running musical of the 1930s, with 1108 New York performances and multiple national tours.
The collection is divided into five series.
Series 1: Historical Background, 1941, undated
Series 2: Photographic Negatives and Prints, 1941 and undated
Series 3: Photographic Prints, 1938, 1941 and undated
Subseries 3.1: International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), undated
Subseries 3.2: Labor, undated
Subseries 3.3: Mexico, undated
Subseries 3.4: Subjects, 1938, 1941, 1944 and undated
Series 4: Photographic Prints and Negatives, 1938-1944
Series 5: Sound Recording, 1962
Biographical / Historical:
Katherine Joseph (1909-1990) was active as a professional photographer from approximately 1937 to 1944. Much of her time was spent as a staff photographer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) in New York City. Her photographs documented workers on the shop floors and union, community, political, and cultural activities. One of Joseph's most notable assignments was a 1938 visit to the White House where she photographed the cast of ILGWU's Broadway revue, "Pins and Needles," performed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the invitation of Eleanor Roosevelt. After the Second World War, Joseph left her photographic career to look after her family. In 1941, Joseph undertook a photojournalistic tour of Mexico with two friends, Thelma Goldman, and Andrée Vilas Graham, made possible by the gift of a Willys-Overland Americar to Joseph and her two friends as part of of publicity campaign for the Americar.
Willys-Overland Motors, was an American automobile company founded by John North Willys in 1908 and best known for its design and production of military Jeeps during World War II.
The Americar that Joseph and her friends drove to Mexico was a powder blue Model 441 which they nicknamed "Willy.". Their south-of-the-border road trip held only one obligation, to send back to the United States photographs featuring themselves and "Willy" against the Mexico landscape. Katherine Joseph took photographs and Thelma Goldman and Andrée Vilas-Graham wrote about their travels using a portable typewriter. When the women arrived in Mexico City they secured press passes from the Minister of Information.
Joseph returned to New York as America was gearing up to enter the war and resumed working for the ILGWU in 1942. Her New York images from this period chronicle the Home Front contributions of the garment industry to the war effort. In July 1944 Joseph covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where Franklin D. Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth-term nomination and Harry S. Truman was chosen as his running mate over the incumbent vice-president, Henry Wallace. This was to be Joseph's last professional assignment before, like millions of American women, she gave up her career to devote herself to family life.
Materials at Other Organizations
A master's thesis written by Suzanne Herzberg is available through the University of Southern California's Digital Library. The thesis does not form part of the Katherine Joseph Papers held by the Archives Center, National Museum of American History. Author retains sole copyright; use of copyrighted material requires author's permission.
Herzberg, Suzanne. "Photo by Katherine Joseph." (master's thesis, University of Southern California, 2002), 217 pages.
Hertzberg, Suzanne. Katherine Joseph Photographing an Era of Social Significance. Bergamot Books, 2016.
When Katherine Joseph died in 1990, her daughter discovered a trove of memorabilia from her mother's life as a Roosevelt-era photographer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Ms. Joseph's photographs celebrate the golden age of organized labor, from her iconic image of the ILGWU's Pins and Needles White House performance to her sensitive portraits of men and women at work. Her images from a 1941 journey to Mexico reveal a nation caught in the high-stakes political crossfire between the superpowers of the day. She photographed marketplaces, artists' colonies, and Acapulco's posh set as well as a secret gold mine, a historic labor convention, American movie stars on a "Goodwill Fiesta" tour, and a devastating earthquake. Returning to New York, Ms. Joseph documented labor's home front efforts and the historic 1944 Democratic Convention that put Harry Truman on the ballot. Hertzberg's book tells a remarkable story that preserves a legacy of historical, artistic, and feminist significance.
Materials in National Museum of American History, Division of Political History (now Division of Political and Military History
Division holds some materials related to the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union
Donated by Suzanne Hertzberg and Richard Hertzberg, daughter and son of Katherine Joseph, February 20, 2007.
The collection is open for research.
Copyright held by donor. Written permission required prior to obtaining reproductions. Consult with Archives Center staff for contact information. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.