Alaska Artists: Rockwell Kent

lonely caribou in Alakan Nature

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Rockwell Kent was an adventurer who had multifaceted careers as an artist, writer, political activist and erstwhile politician, lobster fisherman, ship’s carpenter, and dairy farmer. Even within the field of art he practiced multiple mediums including oil and mural painting, watercolor, printmaking, and illustration. He also made pottery and jewelry and designed fabrics, flatware, dinnerware, and greeting cards.

Rockwell Kent's energy was boundless as he explored the world from Alaska to Russia and Greenland to Tierra del Fuego. During his lifetime he was hailed as a talented painter and printmaker and also reviled for his leftist political affiliations. Today Rockwell Kent is regarded as one of America’s most versatile and talented artists.

Born in Tarrytown, New York, June 21, 1882, Rockwell Kent was raised in genteel and cultured surroundings in his family’s multiple homes in Manhattan, on Long Island, and in the Hudson River Valley. His father, Rockwell Kent, Sr., was a partner in a renowned New York law firm and quite a businessman as well. His mother was a Manhattan socialite from a very wealthy family. In 1887 however, his father died and his mother was left to care for Rockwell and his two siblings. His aunt, a ceramic artist, encouraged young Kent’s artistic inclinations and took him on a tour of Europe when he was  thirteen. This experience would profoundly affect the budding artist.

Rockwell Kent's love of adventure books also instilled in him at a young age a thirst for exploits of his own. He was particularly fascinated by Norse and Icelandic mythology, and later in life would be drawn to wintry, northern climates like Alaska.

Kent was educated mainly in New York. He first attended the Cheshire Academy and then enrolled in the Horace Mann School where he studied mechanical drawing and woodworking and excelled in both.

In 1918-19 Kent and his nine year-old son ventured to the American frontier of Alaska. Wilderness (1920), the first of Kent's several adventure memoirs, is an edited and illustrated compilation of his letters home. Upon the artist's return to New York in 1919, publishing scion George Palmer Putnam and  Juliana Force, assistant to Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, implemented their avant-garde notion of incorporating the artist as "Rockwell Kent, Inc." to support him in his new Vermont homestead while he completed his paintings from Alaska for exhibition in 1920 at Knoedler Galleries in New York.

Kent's small oil on wood panel sketches from Alaska, uniformly horizontal studies of light and color, were exhibited at Knoedler's as "Impressions." Their artistic lineage to the small and spare oil sketches of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), which are often entitled "Arrangements," underscores Kent's admiration of Whistler as a "genius."

Approached in 1926 by publisher R. R. Donnelley to produce an illustrated edition of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast, Kent suggested Moby-Dick instead. Published in 1930 by the Lakeside Press of Chicago, the three-volume limited edition filled with Kent's haunting black-and-white pen/brush and ink drawings sold out immediately; Random House produced a trade edition which was also immensely popular. A previously obscure book, Moby Dick had been rediscovered by critics in the early 1920s. The success of the Rockwell Kent illustrated edition was a factor in its becoming recognized as the classic it is today.

Johnny AculiakEdwin Tappan Adney| George Twok Aden AhgupukAlvin Eli Amason| Saradell Ard|   Belmore Browne| Vincent ColyerJules Bernard DahlagerLockwood De Forest| Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh| William Franklin Draper| | Henry Wood Elliott| John Fehringer| Claire Fejes| Louis Agassiz Fuertes| Magnus Colcord Heurlin| Norman Jackson| Rockwell Kent| Sydney Mortimer Laurence| Fred Machetanz| Marvin Mangus| Milo Minock| James Kivetoruk Moses| Rie MunozJoseph Henry Sharp| James Everett Stuart| John Webber| Kesler Woodward|


Rockwell Kent painting of an Alaska Night

Rockwell Kent Alaska painting

Alaska's Tribes:

Below is a full list of the different Alaska Native cultures. Within each culture are many different tribes.

Learn more about Alaskan tribes

Aleut Athabascan Eyak
Haida Inuit Tlingit
Tsimshian Yupik