Special Collections & Archives Blog

During December 2013...

A Northern Christmas, by Rockwell Kent (1941)

Thursday, December 5, 2013 4:34 pm

A Northern Christmas, by Rockwell Kent, was an American Artists Group gift book for 1941

A Northern Christmas by Rockwell Kent was an American Artists Group gift book for 1941

American artist Rockwell Kent spent Christmas 1918 in a small cabin on an island off the south coast of Alaska. More than twenty years later he recalled the experience in words and woodcut illustrations in a holiday gift book titled A Northern Christmas.

Title page from A Northern Christmas

Title page from A Northern Christmas

The small book was published by the American Artists Group, an organization founded in 1935 for the purpose of providing art for the masses and, in the process, creating a market for artists to earn a living during the difficult years of the Depression. Many prominent artists were members, including Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Thomas Hart Benton, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Max Weber, and Eugene Speicher. The American Artists Group published small monographs and offered unsigned engravings, lithographs, and woodcut prints for sale at very affordable prices. But the group was perhaps best  known for its yearly offerings of Christmas cards designed by its artists. In 1941 they also began a series of small holiday gift books, of which A Northern Christmas was the first.

Frontispiece illustration from A Northern Christmas

Frontispiece illustration from A Northern Christmas

Let it snow or rain and grow dark at midday! The better shall be our good Christmas cheer within. This is the true Christmas land. The day should be dark, the house further overshadowed by the woods, tall and black. And there in the midst of that somber, dreadful gloom the Christmas tree should blaze in glory unrivaled by moon or sun or star.

Rockwell Kent, A Northern Christmas

Cover from American Artists Group Illustrated Monograph no. 2

Cover from American Artists Group Illustrated Monograph no. 2

Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) was born and educated in New York. His first art teacher was William Merritt Chase; later he studied with Abbott Handerson Thayer, Robert Henri, and Kenneth Hayes Miller.  Kent also trained as an architectural draftsman and was an accomplished carpenter. He worked in a variety of artistic media, but he is best known for his prints and for his many illustrations for classic literary works like Candide, Leaves of Grass, The Canterbury Tales, and, perhaps most famously, Moby Dick.

Rockwell Kent's famous dust jacket design for Moby Dick (Random House trade edition, 1930)

Rockwell Kent’s famous dust jacket design for Moby Dick (Random House trade edition, 1930)

Kent also wrote and illustrated several of his own books, many of them memoirs of his extensive travels. He often sought out remote areas of untouched wilderness for artistic inspiration. In 1918-19 he spent several months in Alaska with his young son (also named Rockwell).  The resulting book, called Wilderness, was published by G. P. Putnam in 1920.

Cover illustration for Rockwell Kent's Wilderness (1920)

Cover illustration for Rockwell Kent’s Wilderness (1920)

The south coast of the mainland of Alaska is a wilderness of spruce-clad mountains whose outlying, isolated peaks are islands. On one of these we lived, a father and his eight-year-old son. . . . the man in pursuit of his profession, the boy in pursuit of what of education lay in doing things, and both in that pursuit of happiness which, with whatever right, is still what every living creature wants. . . .

Of the fullness of the days–fullness of work and thought, of play, of little happenings, of uneventful peace–we kept record. That record is a book: its name is WILDERNESS. From WILDERNESS these notes about a happy Christmas in the north are drawn.

A Northern Christmas

The Rockwell Kent Papers in the Archives of American Art include extensive correspondence between Kent and Samuel Golden of the American Artists Group. In the 1941 correspondence they discuss all aspects of the production of A Northern Christmas, beginning with the necessity of getting permission from G. P. Putnam for the use of excerpts and illustrations from Wilderness. The publisher at first demanded a rather steep fee but became more reasonable after a “sharply worded letter” from Kent. In the end, Kent insisted that Putnam’s cooperation should be acknowledged in the colophon of A Northern Christmas.

Colophon from A Northern Christmas

Colophon from A Northern Christmas

A Northern Christmas  consisted mostly of excerpts from Wilderness, along with an introduction and a few new illustrations.

From A Northern Christmas

From A Northern Christmas

For Rockwell Kent, the wilderness idyll was a welcome respite from the materialism of the modern world. In the excerpts chosen for A Northern Christmas, Kent describes, in words and pictures, the spare and simple Christmas that he and his son celebrated with their landlord, an old Swedish homesteader named Olson.  The presents are few– young Rockwell receives a pocket knife, some old National Geographic magazines, and a broken fountain pen, but he “sits on the bed looking at the things as if they were the most wonderful gifts.” The holiday proves all the more memorable for its minimalism.

Christmas menu from A Northern Christmas

Christmas menu from A Northern Christmas

The food is good and plentiful, the night is long, only the Christmas candles are short-lived and we extinguish them to save them for another time. Finally, as the night deepens, Olson leaves us amid mutual expressions of delight in one another’s friendship, and Rockwell and I tumble into bed.

A Northern Christmas

Rockwell Kent wrote and illustrated a very different gift book for the American Artists Group the next year. The 1942 book, called On Earth Peace, is a rather bleak wartime fable about a Jazz Age princess humbled by loss and privation.

Cover illustration for On Earth Peace, Rockwell Kent's gift book for 1942

Cover illustration for On Earth Peace, Rockwell Kent’s gift book for 1942

Kent’s popularity as an artist waned somewhat after the war. His style fell out of fashion in the age of abstract expressionism, and his ongoing involvement in  socialist causes aroused suspicion in the Red-baiting 1950s. At one point Kent’s passport was revoked, and he sued to have it reinstated. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favor, a landmark decision that made it more difficult for the government to curtail a citizen’s right to travel.  Kent continued to work for progressive causes and tried to promote improved relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Typed letter to Lynwood Giacomini, signed by Rockwell Kent

Typed letter to Lynwood Giacomini, signed by Rockwell Kent

The items pictured here are all held by ZSR Library’s Special Collections. The library has a sizeable collection of Rockwell Kent books, most of them previously owned by publisher Lynwood Giacomini, whose collection of American literature was purchased by the library in 1976. Giacomini kept up a friendly correspondence with many authors, and his collection includes a few typed letters from Rockwell Kent.

The ABC’s of Special Collections and Archives: B is for…

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 3:18 pm

B is for…

The North Carolina Baptist Historical Collection

The Biblical Recorder

The NC Baptist Historical Collection is one of the largest collections in Wake Forest’s Special Collections and Archives. This collection documents North Carolina Baptist churches, institution, and individuals. It contains various materials on Southern, Missionary, Primitive, African-American, Union, and Alliance of Baptist churches. It includes over 16,000 books, periodicals, association annuals, and other printed materials as well as church records, association minutes, and church vertical files. Patrons may also find more than 1,000 biographical folders containing information as well as photographs on Baptist pastors and Wake Forest alumni. This collection serves at a repository for records from North Carolina Baptist churches and institutions as well as for the Alliance of Baptists and the Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina archives. However, that’s not all someone can find in this collection. This collection holds a complete set of the print version of the Biblical Recorder, which is the official journal of the North Carolina Baptist Convention. It was published biweekly and in existence since 1833.
To see what else is in this expansive collection, check out the finding aid for North Carolina Baptist Historical Collection or the Ethel Taylor Crittenden Collection in Baptist History.

B is also for…Bill J. Leonard

Bill Leonard playing the carillon

Bill Leonard playing the carillon

Bill Leonard was the founding dean of the WFU Divinity School and is the James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies. He is also a professor of church history, author of Baptist history writings, and an ordained Baptist minister. He received his education form Texas Wesleyan University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Boston University, and Franklin College. He’s recognized for his work in American, Southern and Baptist religious studies and he is the author and editor of 17 books including The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist and Baptist Ways: A History.
This collection includes some of his personal and professional papers, sermons, and research materials. It also includes research materials for books and lectures, professional papers and correspondence collected during his tenure at Southern Baptist Seminary, Samford University, and Wake Forest University. A major portion of the collection contains materials relevant to the controversy and split of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1970s and 1980s. The collection also contains his correspondence files with letters from President Jimmy Carter, Walter Harrelson, James Dunn, Glenn Hinson, and many notable figures of the Southern Baptist Convention. There are also some audio recordings of his sermons as well as lectures by such prominent theologians as Jurgen Moltmann.
To find out more about this notable Wake Forest professor, check out the finding aid for Bill J. Leonard and visit Special Collections and Archives to see materials.

And B is for… “Bibi” by R.B. Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936)

Title page

Title page

R.B. or Robert Bontine was a Scottish adventurer, writer, and political radical. He was the son of a Scottish laird and a half-Spanish mother. He was educated at Harrow School and in Brussels. During his adult life he was a rancher in Argentina, a traveller, a socialist Liberal MP (1886-92), and in 1892 a parliamentary candidate for the Scottish Labor Party, a party that he was a co-founder of. He was also elected president of the National Party of Scotland in 1928. He published various works on Latin American history, stories on Scotland, and travel books.

Author's signature and notation that this copy is #251 in a printing of 250

Author’s signature and notation that this copy is #251 in a printing of 250

His short work “Bibi” is a rare find. A editor’s note in the work states “This edition of “Bibi” is limited to 250 copies, numbered and signed by the author” The copy that Special Collections and Archives holds also has a handwritten note underneath the editor’s note that reads “251. Out of series.” The work was published in London by William Heinemann Ltd. in 1929. The work includes a prologue and the story itself is only 19 pages long.

Prologue

Prologue

In this work, Graham writes an episode of the life of Bibi. Bibi is the son of an English family living in Tangier who becomes a follower of Islam. The story is a quick read and very intriguing, and also not the only work of Graham’s that you can find in the Rare Books collection.
To find out more about Bibi or to read more of R.B. Cunninghame Graham’s works visit Special Collections and Archives.

Stay tuned for C…

This ABC’s of Special Collections blog post was written by student assistant Brittany Newberry.


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