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Rockwell Kent: The Once Most Popular American Artist

October 15 – December 14, 2012

blue day by rockwell kent, o/c

Rockwell Kent, Blue Day, ca. 1935-37, oil on canvas,
Collection of Deborah and Edward Shein

Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), an artist who resided most of his adult life at Asgaard Farm in New York's Adirondack Mountains, was one of the most noted figures of his time, so much so that The New Yorker quipped, “That day will mark a precedent, which brings no news of Rockwell Kent.”

Kent's prominence as an artist and author, cavalier adventurer and socio-political activist made him a pressroom darling. Who during the day was not familiar with his paintings of the Adirondacks, Maine, Alaska and Greenland, or his illustrations for Moby-Dick, The Complete Works of Shakespeare and Beowulf? And who was not aware of his barnstorming for civil rights and unions, or his equally vigorous protests against Fascism, Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Vietnam War?

Concurrent exhibitions at St. Lawrence University’s Richard F. Brush Art Gallery and Owen D. Young Library re-introduce key areas of Kent’s multi-faceted career as a painter and printmaker. Early paintings in the exhibition, such as Blue Monday, with its impressionistic brushwork and simple three-plane composition, identify the young artist’s roots as a student of William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. Such works also anticipate Kent's modernistic propensity to reduce compositional elements in later paintings like Blue Day (Greenland).

A select group of books emphasizes Kent's preeminence as one of the finest illustrators of his time, and his text—original manuscripts included—epitomizes his adventurous spirit and the reason why the public was so captivated by him. While socio-political posters and pamphlets in the exhibitions define his ethos and compassion for the common man, prints and original drawings illustrate his mastery of chiaroscuro and an ability to rework original imagery into commercial greeting cards, advertisements, seals and pottery.

rockwell kent lithograph

Rockwell Kent, The Smith Act, 1951,
lithograph, ed. 100, SLU 2012.11

Rockwell Kent: The Once Most Popular Artist includes nearly 75 works in a variety of media, introducing every aspect of the artist’s life to an audience that will include visitors from across northern New York, Vermont, and southern Ontario and Quebec—in addition to the students and faculty of the four colleges and universities that reside within a ten-mile radius of Canton, New York.

Curated by Kent specialist Scott R. Ferris, author of Rockwell Kent’s Forgotten Landscapes and The View from Asgaard: Rockwell Kent’s Adirondack Legacy, these exhibitions are presented in part as the result of recent acquisitions by the University. In addition, paintings from Brown University (Providence, RI) and the Warner Library (Tarrytown, NY) will be on display, as well as a painted blanket chest from the Adirondack Museum (Blue Mountain Lake, NY).

The Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University oversees an ambitious schedule of rotating exhibitions and educational programs as well as a permanent collection of nearly 8,000 art objects and artifacts. The Libraries' Special Collections and Vance Archives consist of over 9,000 rare books, 175 manuscript collections and the University’s historical records.

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