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Rockwell Kent Collection

A description of the collection at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Kent, Rockwell, 1882-1971
Title: Rockwell Kent Collection
Inclusive Dates: 1927, 1949, undated
Quantity: 1 folder (SC)
Abstract: Wood engravings, including limited edition wood engraving entitled "August Twenty-Third" protesting the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti; correspondence
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) was an American artist and illustrator; both his work and his personal life were strongly influenced by his antipathy towards social injustice.

Born June 21, 1882 in Tarrytown Heights, New York, Kent studied architecture at Columbia University and painting with Robert Henri, William Merritt Chase, and Abbott H. Thayer (though he worked as a lobsterman, carpenter, contractor, and dairy farmer as well). In 1905 his first painting was shown at the National Academy of Design. In 1916 he set himself up as a corporation and sold shares to his friends to finance his passage to Alaska, where his oil paintings and drawings established his reputation.

Kent quickly became known as one of America's foremost illustrators, providing artwork for editions of Moby Dick, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Leaves of Grass, and Faust, among others. In addition to painting, Kent produced wood engravings and lithographs and published several books of monologues and incidental writings. He wrote and illustrated several books based on his travels to Alaska, Tierra del Fuego and Greenland. Kent served as a consulting editor for The Colophon and edited a periodical devoted to contemporary trends, Creative Art. Later in life he wrote and illustrated two autobiographies, This Is My Own and It's Me, O Lord

Kent's strong antipathy towards social injustice influenced both his art and his personal life. He was one of many artists and intellectuals who protested the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti and he served as president of the International Workers Order, a Communist-affiliated, ethnically organized fraternal order. In 1938 the U.S. Post Office asked him to paint a mural in their headquarters in Washington, DC; Kent included (in Inuit dialect and in tiny letters) an antigovernment statement in the painting, which caused some consternation. In 1953 he refused to answer the accusation that he was a member of the Communist Party. As a consequence of his outspoken leftist beliefs, his reputation in the United States declined somewhat in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1960 Kent donated several hundred paintings and drawings to the Soviet Union, which responded by making him an honorary member of their academy of Fine Arts and awarding him the Lenin Peace Prize in 1967. Kent donated the prize money to the people of North Vietnam.

Rockwell Kent died March 13, 1971. The New York Times described him as "...a thoughtful, troublesome, profoundly independent, odd and kind man who made an imperishable contribution to the art of bookmaking in the United States."

(Sources: Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002; World Authors 1900-1950, 1996 © The H. W. Wilson Company)

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Rockwell Kent Collection consists of several wood engravings by Kent and a letter.

Of particular interest in the limited edition print of a wood engraving entitled "August Twenty-Third" (1927). Kent's first overtly political engraving, this piece represents "...the artist's protest against the judicial murder and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in Massachusetts on August 23rd, 1927." (Kent, Rockwell. Rockwellkentiana. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1933) The engraving shows three heads (Justice, Sacco, and Vanzetti) on a pike, with three crosses representing Golgotha in the background. The American Institute of Graphic Arts selected it as one of its 50 Prints of the Year in 1927. This is a limited edition (one of 150).

The letter, "Dear Ned," thanks the recipient for some record albums and promises to send several prints for an auction "for the cause." It also mentions Roosevelt's "sell-out of the Spanish people" via his refusal to lift an embargo.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


Kent, Rockwell, 1882-1971.

Associated Titles

August Twenty-Third.


Radicalism in art.
Sacco-Vanzetti Trial, Dedham, Mass., 1921.

Genres and Forms

Wood engravings.



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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Rockwell Kent Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Portions purchased, 2006, with funds provided by Library Associates. Portions transferred from Rare Books, 2009.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: MRR
Date: 30 Jun 2006
Revision history: 17 Aug 2006 - changed title per KM (MRR); 20 Oct 2009 - additions, changed title (MRC)

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SC 218 "August Twenty-Third," others 1927, undated
SC 218 "Dear Ned" 1949

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