Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rockwell Kent

I am working up to a series of posts on the neglected subject of the history of illustration. I'm toiling away on a diverse set of projects at the moment–excited about 'em all–so can't guarantee the timeliness of those posts, but I'm thinking about it quite a bit.

Last week I hit on the idea of using birthdays to prod me to post bits of things here and there. I flagged Flagg on this basis (see previous post).

Next up on the calendar is the ever-surprising Rockwell Kent. The engraver-painter-writer-political agitator entered the world on the summer solstice, or yesterday. To be specific, June 21, 1882. (See what I mean about timeliness?)

I won't attempt to encapsulate the career, which was a complicated affair. But his book illustrations played a big part in that career, including having a hand in Moby-Dick's re-emergence in American letters.

A few years ago I picked up an estate sale copy of Kent's Paul Bunyan, which features full-page illustrations. But the initial caps he created for the chapter beginnings are really something. On the spectrum between letter form and picture they hang out decidedly toward the latter.

There are a ton of them, and some strain to be understood. But the best of them are fabulous, including the "S" shown above.

They're ingenious, and appropriate to the content.

When I imagine having to design and execute these things, it makes me tired. Thinking them up sounds fun, but banging them out must have been a chore!

Visually speaking I have tended to associate Paul Bunyan with the Disney short of the same name, primarly due to the backgrounds, some by the great Eyvind Earle. This slide courtesy of Dave Maupin, a student in my Commercial Modernism class last semester who's also interning for me this summer. So Dave dug out the Disney slide for a research report last April, and also scanned some of these Rockwell Kent images less than a week ago. I have the Bunyan short on a DVD. As I recall the short is a bit boring, but a great deal of fun to look at. Maybe we'll dig it out this summer and get some screen caps.

Here's another Earle background from that film.

More to come...

Images: Rockwell Kent, selected illustrations and initial capitals, Paul Bunyan, by Esther Shepard and designed by Rockwell Kent, Harcourt Brace, 1924; Kent, Early November: North Greenland, oil on canvas, 1933; Eyvind Earle, backgrounds for Paul Bunyan, animated short, Walt Disney Studios, 1958.

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