By Sydney Hakes
As the spring semester comes to an end, a new exhibition is just beginning its nine month run on campus. “Origins: The Evolution of an Artist and his Craft” will be running in the Kent Gallery on the second floor of Feinberg Library until August 2023.
Hand selected by Kent scholar Scott Ferris, the exhibition shows how Rockwell Kent and his work matured and grew over his early years as an artist until his death in 1971.
Ferris knows the Kent Gallery intimately, having begun cataloging and labeling Kent’s work for Feinberg Library starting in 1976. He cataloged over 1,000 paintings and went on to work for Kent’s widow, Sally, serving as director of The Rockwell Kent Legacies from 1980 to 1982.
While Ferris has had a relationship with SUNY Plattsburgh spanning 45 years, this is the first show he has put together since 2002. Despite that gap in time, Museum Director Tonya Cribb said that Ferris has “been very involved in other ways,” including donating pieces of his personal collection to the spring semester’s exhibit, “Rockwell Kent’s Greenland.” Ferris also assists the museum by connecting to other Kent scholars and collectors, and has lectured at various events.
Cribb has been thinking of ways to elevate the collection within the Plattsburgh community since she came into the position early 2019.
“Even though Rockwell Kent is one of the most popular artists of the 20th Century and it is extraordinary that SUNY Plattsburgh has this very large collection of internationally significant and recognized works, I had noted that the collections weren’t utilized or celebrated as well as they could be,” Cribb said.
Most displays in the Kent Gallery are permanent, but many more pieces are in storage. With no curator employed by the museum, Cribb invited regional scholars to pull some of the works out of storage and into a new light.
Cribb credits the idea of the exhibit to Ferris. After looking at the collection, they realized how many original sketches and preliminary drawings for his finished works they had. Ferris said he “took many trips over the summer” to develop this collection.
A gallery talk was held Dec. 2, where Cribb and Ferris spoke about the exhibit and of Kent’s life in general. The room was filled with close to 30 faculty and community members, many familiar with Ferris, referring to him by name with an unceremonious tone when Ferris was taking questions at the end.
Of the concept, Ferris said it is “a very brief introduction to an emerging artist, and a broad sampling of the creative process behind his maturing craft.”
Walking through the exhibition — to the left of the door when entering the gallery — over 60 paintings, drawings, prints, posters, letters and even books, fabrics and dinnerware can be seen. The items literally and figuratively paint a picture of Kent’s life, evolving and developing in style and subject.
Ferris pointed out some unfinished pieces, along with some that aren’t confirmed were Kent’s, but are thought to be based on the signature and style.
Ferris also made a call to faculty at the end, to not only apply what they do to the classroom, but “drag students in here.”
“This exhibition shows how to start,” Ferris said, “You can learn about yourself, no matter how advanced you are when you get here.”
“Origins” can be visited Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.