Rockwell Kent was an American author, painter, and illustrator who received both fame and infamy during his lifetime. Kent was born to very wealthy parents in Tarrytown, New York in 1882. Kents father then died when he was five years old, and the family then had to live off of the help of their relatives. He learned to speak German perfectly during his childhood, which would later cause him to be accused of being a Nazi spy. He was forced by his family to study architecture at Columbia University, although he would drop out after two years. He then studied art at the New York School of Art for one year where he was influenced by Robert Henri and the Ash Can School of artists, who were famous for their realistic depictions of the squalid conditions of people living in New York City. Kent is very well known for being one of the earliest American modernist painters, and his reputation for daring brushwork and use of color still follows him to this day. Kent would eventually die in 1971, after achieving notoriety for his work as a painter, author, and illustrator.
Rockwell Kents first private art show was at Clausen Galleries in New York in 1907. His first show opened with much critical acclaim. He would achieve some fame for his art, although it was his associations with such radical journals as The Masses in the period soon afterthat would later result in his getting into trouble again. It was these associations with radicals and his staunch left wing activism that would later result in his being blacklisted by Joe McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities under the suspicion that he was a communist.
In 1918, Rockwell Kent spent the winter on Fox Island in Alaska, and he would eventually publish a book about his experiences entitled Wilderness A Journey of Quiet Adventure in Alaska. The book would eventually become a best seller and a favorite among New York society. In the 1920s and 1930s, Kent would again achieve fame for his illustrations. In 1930, a three volume edition of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was published which featured Kents black and white illustrations, which seemed to perfectly capture the feeling and mood of the novel. This version would immediately sell out and revive the once forgotten about novel. In fact, many critics believe it was the success of the Rockwell Kent illustrated version that caused the book to be recognized as a classic today.