By Sydney Hakes
The first weekend of March will be filled with Rockwell Kent, a familiar man to SUNY Plattsburgh. Celebrating the Spirit of Rockwell Kent mini-symposium will take place Fri. March 4 and Sat. March 5.
It’s free to the community and will include two lectures, an interactive “Wine Down” event, a tour of the Rockwell Kent Gallery and a tour of Asgaard Farm, where Kent had lived in the North Country. A detailed schedule can be found at alumni.plattsburgh.edu.
Tonya Cribb, the museum director, had many motivations and goals when putting together the mini-symposium.
“There was a major symposium about 20 years ago, so it’s been in the back of my mind to do a similar event,” Cribb said. “I always want to get more students into the museum who don’t typically spend time here. Art should be something that is cross disciplinary.”
Interdisciplinary is a concept that Cribb mentions frequently, describing the symposium as such. The topics of the two lectures display that idea, the first discussing the intersection of gender and Kent’s art and environmentalism within Greenland.
The first lecture will take place in Yokum 200 at 3 p.m. by joint speakers Jetta Rygaard and Susan Vanek, titled “Pursuing Beauty in Bewilderment at Its Profusion: Reflections on Gender and Sexuality in Rockwell Kent’s Greenland Materials.”
Vanek, who lives in Nuuk, Greenland, has been part of a research fellowship since 2012 as part of her studies as a Ph.D. student in sociocultural anthropology at SUNY Binghamton.
During that time, she has worked with many of the speakers and artists featured at the symposium, specifically Rygaard, a Ph.D. professor at the University of Greenland.
Instead of focusing on his artwork, Vanek and Rygaard analyzed Kent’s book, “Salamina,” and his portrayal of indigenous women in Greenland during his second visit to the country.
Kent described the Greenlandic women as primitive, naive and hypersexualized, even saying they did not have the worries or weight of western women.
“Many people regard Kent as a genius and a valued man for his art and writing, and while that’s true, it can also be recognized that he was a misogynist, among other things,” Vanek said. “Both of these things can co-exist and they have to or we’d be ignoring history.”
While none of the women who would have interacted with Kent are alive, Vanek and Rygaard wanted to look at the book through a critical lens. They cannot speak for the women, but they can point out the problematic writing.
Vanek also points out that Kent’s books have never been translated into Greenlandic, only in Danish in a limited addition run, so many women who live in Greenland currently have never read his work.
The second lecture by Erik Torm, “New Light on the Friendship Between Rockwell Kent and Knud Rasmussen,” will be later that night at 5 p.m. He will be speaking on the relationship between Kent and his good friend Rasmussen by looking at handwritten notes the two sent one another.
Both lectures will be available as a webinar and can be accessed on the Plattsburgh website.
The Rockwell Kent Gallery is located in the Feinberg Library and is “the most balanced and complete collection of Kent’s work in the United States,” according to the SUNY Plattsburgh website.
Scott Ferris, a graduate from SUNY Plattsburgh, is titled as one of the leading Rockwell Kent scholars. It was a title he inadvertently acquired after being asked to catalog Kent’s work for the college when he was a student in the seventies.
Since then, Ferris has gotten to know Kent on an intimate level for two people who have never met. He estimates that he has cataloged over a thousand of Kent’s paintings, illustrations and prints.
“Kent was one of the most important artists of his time,” Ferris said. “He was a household name all over the world. He did these beautiful paintings, but he also illustrated thousands of ads, he made greeting cards. He was everywhere you looked.”
Besides his art, he also authored multiple books, travel journals and letters that are on display at the Kent Gallery.
“The Kent Gallery is a rare resource and for students to not visit it or even know about it is a loss for them,” Ferris said. “Faculty should also be utilizing the various works for teaching. Kent is an interdisciplinary source whose works can be incorporated into any major. English classes can look at his writing, environmental classes can study climate change through his travel journals.”
The weekend will conclude with a tour of Asgaad Farm in Ausable Forks, where Kent lived until his death in 1971. The tour will be Sat. March 5 at 10 a.m. Buses are provided by the Center for Earth and Environmental Science department for students who don’t have their own transportation. Seats can be reserved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ferris looks at the value of Asgaard Farm through the lens of the Greenland focus of his work.
“Kent’s friend Arthur Allen visited the farm in 1928 and introduced Kent to his son who was planning a trip to Greenland,” Ferris said. “Without that farm there may not have been that meeting in which Kent would have planned to go to Greenland.”
Cribb hopes the symposium will introduce students to Kent and the free resource that is available to them at the Kent Gallery at SUNY Plattsburgh.