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History Behind Rockwell Kent Gallery

(DoNorth/Griffin Kelly) The bronze walls and subdued lighting welcome you to peruse Kent’s collection of landscape paintings. These pieces inform you not only of who the artist Kent was but also of his call for adventure. His paintings take you around the world from the cliffs of Ireland to the mountains of Alaska and from the coast of South America to the rural North Country of New York.  Filled with oil paintings, illustrations, prints, bookplates and ceramics, The Rockwell Kent Gallery of the Plattsburgh State Art Museum offers a way to see the world in a single room. The gallery’s…

(DoNorth/Griffin Kelly)

The bronze walls and subdued lighting welcome you to peruse Kent’s collection of landscape paintings. These pieces inform you not only of who the artist Kent was but also of his call for adventure. His paintings take you around the world from the cliffs of Ireland to the mountains of Alaska and from the coast of South America to the rural North Country of New York.  Filled with oil paintings, illustrations, prints, bookplates and ceramics, The Rockwell Kent Gallery of the Plattsburgh State Art Museum offers a way to see the world in a single room. The gallery’s 5,000 items are the most complete assortment of the great 20th century artist.

“Highways” is a testament of Kent’s ability to paint isolation and the unseen beauty of the wilderness. Multiple sets of footprints and sled tracks litter the snow before a mountain range in Greenland. Off in the distance, you spot a musher and his dog traveling along the frozen highway. From there, the gallery takes you through every part of the world Kent painted. Newfoundland inspired “House of Dread,” which shows somber silhouettes at their cliff side cottage. At the southernmost tip of Chile, Kent painted “Admiralty Sound, Tierra de Fuego,” a cool colored landscape depicting the archipelago.

An important phase in Kent’s career was his time as owner of Asgaard Farm & Dairy in Au Sable, New York. Here, Kent painted pieces that reflect his interest in secluded homes and the countryside. “December Eighth” shows a family devastated over a young man leaving for World War II in the wake of the Attack on Pearl Harbor. Three women sit on their stoop in dismay as a fourth woman waves to a spec all the way down the road that is a soon to be soldier.

“He was drawn to remote places, where it’s just him and the subject he was working on,” independent scholar Jake Wien says. Wien says Kent’s art was for the common man.

While Kent’s landscape pieces raised him to prominence and fame, the gallery showcases multiple phases of his life and career says Cecilia Esposito, Museum Director of the Plattsburgh State Museum. “He was such a prolific artist. He represents one of the key artists of his time and American realism.”

Next, you see Kent’s work in fine china. The various plates, cups and teapots depict images of sailing ships, maps of the U.S. and booming cities. Be sure to notice how the handles on all the cups and teapots are upside down — a unique twist on contemporary dinnerware. However, the china pieces weren’t big sellers and Kent always blamed the upside down handles.

After the interesting yet unfortunate china, stop and view Kent’s book illustrations. Kent illustrated many classic pieces of literature such as “The Canterbury Tales”, a collection of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales and, most important, “Moby Dick”. Herman Melville’s masterpiece, which had fallen into obscurity, garnered much success after Kent’s illustrated edition hit bookstore shelves. The gallery holds an original copy of Kent’s “Moby Dick” as one of its most prized pieces.

Before you check out, be sure to stop at the visitor’s desk, where you can purchase Kent inspired gifts and memorabilia such as “Moby Dick” T-shirts, post cards featuring some of Kent’s greatest works and multiple books, including “N by E”, “Voyaging” and “A Northern Christmas.”

One thing that made Kent stand out from his contemporaries was that he had a wide appeal.  “I don’t think that you need to know anything about him to really appreciate his work,” says Don E. Roberts, publisher of the Rockwell Kent Review. “The gallery has a little bit of everything, they have it all and the university should be really proud.”

 Issue 6: Winter/Spring 2016

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