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The Rockwell Kent collections at SLU consist of over 100 pieces of correspondence, prints, books, drawings and ephemera.  (Photo: Special Collections)
The Rockwell Kent collections at SLU consist of over 100 pieces of correspondence, prints, books, drawings and ephemera. (Photo: Special Collections)

Rockwell Kent as gifted printmaker, book artist, author

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Part of an exhibition of Rockwell Kent's work at St. Lawrence University explores his literary side. Kent was one of America's most famous 20th century artists, and owned a dairy farm in the eastern Adirondacks. Two exhibits of his work are on display through December 15 in St. Lawrence's Brush Art Gallery and the Owen D. Young Library's Special Collections.

Rockwell Kent: The Once Most Popular American Artist is a display of dozens of works in a variety of media. Kent's prominence as an artist, author, adventurer and socio-political activist made him a media phenomenon. He died in 1971.

In this second of a two-part series of conversations, Todd Moe toured the exhibit in Special Collections in the ODY Library. He spoke with Cathy Tedford, Brush Art Gallery Director and Special Collections Curator and Archivist Mark McMurray about the university's collection of Kent correspondence, original prints, books and other ephemera -- including some recent acquisitions.

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Todd Moe
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McMurray says there was a gap in St. Lawrence’s Rockwell Kent collection until the recent acquisitions. St. Lawrence University acquired prints spanning from mid 1920s through the late 1940s, which McMurray said created a great cross-section of Kent’s work. There are also two lithographs, and wood cut engravings which Tedford believes are beautifully rendered-- delicate but strong. Many books and letters are also in the collection.

Tedford had always wanted to do a Rockwell Kent exhibit. When she brought the idea to McMurray he jumped at the opportunity. She believes the exhibit “appeals to North Country audiences, but it’s also national and international in scope.”

Kent had a significant career a book illustrator; it was a regular source of income for him. The collection has the first book Kent did illustrations for, <em>Architec-Tonics: The Tales of Tom Thumbtack</em>.

Kent also established himself as a travel writer, and McMurray says his book <em>North By East</em>, is a great story about sailing to Greenland. It has wonderful engravings, and he recommends it for anyone’s home collection. Kent wrote, illustrated, and designed his travel books, doing everything but the actual publishing.

Tedford says the collection dovetails with some of the programs St. Lawrence offers, such as the Adirondack program, where students live and learn in the wilderness. McMurray believes both St. Lawrence’s and SUNY Plattsburgh’s collections complement each other.

Tedfrod described Kent as prolific.. McMurray says, “You can approach Kent on so many different level, he was a travel writer, commercial illustrator, a print maker, a number of several different things.”

There are a variety of approaches someone can take to Kent, McMurray says. He can be used to study the Adirondacks, or sustainable agriculture, or politics, or his literature and illustrations. A large portion of the collection has been digitized so people can access it from any computer.

The collection also includes a number of letters which came up for sale on the west coast a couple months after the university’s main acquisitions, and show the pastoral side of Kent. The letters are to his sister-in-law, who owned the adjoining farm to Kent. Kent’s letters to her concern such farming matters as crop rotation, and changing manure strategies.

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