The Old Print Shop

Rockwell Kent


Artist, author and political activist Rockwell Kent was born in Tarrytown Heights, New York in 1882. During his lifetime, Kent worked as an illustrator, draftsman, painter, printmaker, lobsterman, dairy farmer and ship’s carpenter. His lithographs, paintings, and woodcuts often depicted the bleak and rugged aspects of nature and its harsh climates.

Kent attended the Horace Mann School in New York City and studied architecture at Columbia University. He studied art under William Merritt Chase at the Shinnecock Hills School and, later at the New York School under Kenneth Hayes Miller and Robert Henri. He also worked as an apprentice to Abbott Thayer in Dublin, New Hampshire. Encouraged by Henri, Kent went to Monhegan Island to paint on his own. Kent wrote and illustrated a number of books, including “Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska”, published in 1920.

Kent practiced political activism, championing social causes from the 1930s, until his death. He insisted that he was not affiliated with the Communist Party, but he consistently supported radical causes, which contributed to a decline in his artistic popularity throughout the 1940s and 1950s. When his passport was revoked by the State Department in the latter decade, Kent sued for its reinstatement and emerged victorious in a landmark Supreme Court Case. His popularity grew in the Soviet Union and in 1957 half a million Russians attended an exhibition of his work. To show his appreciation, he donated eighty paintings and eight hundred prints and drawings to the Russian people. Kent was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1967.

His experience as a builder and carpenter served him well as he began experimenting with the graphic process. Kent usually made preliminary studies for detail or composition, before starting a print. Nothing in his work is vague or accidental and his expression was clear and deliberate. His studio was always efficient: clean and orderly with nothing out of place. Kent reached the height of his popularity during the 1930s when the magazine “Prints” conducted a survey on the practitioners of graphic art in the United States and Kent came out far ahead of the other artists as the most successful printmaker in the country. Kent's work was denounced during the 1940s for political reasons, as he began to espouse unpopular leftist causes. Rockwell Kent died in 1971.  -  IFPDA