News Column

Let them eat birthday cake for Rockwell Kent

June 21, 2014

By Robin Caudell, The Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, N.Y.

June 21--PLATTSBURGH -- The Plattsburgh State Art Museum celebrates artist Rockwell Kent's 132nd birthday Saturday with a family-fun day in the Rockwell Kent Gallery.

"One of the things the museum is trying to do is to increase our number of activities for kids in the community," said Samantha Bellinger, museum educator.

"And so, we are offering this kid's event to celebrate Rockwell Kent's birthday, which is actually June 21, the day we are having it."

Children and their parents can drop in any time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Children can make a birthday hat and dishes, listen to a storyteller and go on a treasure hunt.


"We're going to be focusing on his life and really what a birthday was for him," Bellinger said. "We have a couple of photographs from one of his later birthdays that we will be sharing."

The museum staffers do not know Rockwell's preference for cake or ice cream.

"From the photographs, he looks like he's enjoying lots of music and time with his friends," Bellinger said. "So we are opening up to our friends in the community to help us celebrate him."

The son of Rockwell Kent and Sara Ann Holgate, Rockwell was born June 21, 1882, in Tarrytown. He was a painter, printmaker, illustrator, writer and activist. He studied with noted artists including Arthur Wesley Dow, William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri and apprenticed with Abbott Handerson Thayer.


Kent established Asgaard Farm in his mid-40s, and that's where AuSable Forks resident Linda Dubay met him at age 10. Her father, Ulysses "Tink" Emerson, mother Gladys, sister Joyce and brother Wayne relocated from Cambridge, NY.

"My father managed the dairy farm for Rockwell," Linda said. "He was in charge of the dairy herd, the registered Jerseys. My mother helped Sally (Shirley "Sally" Johnstone, Kent's third wife) with housework and things around the house. We had a house separate, right on the farm."

Tink did the dairying, haying, crop raising, cattle breeding and milking.

"To me as a child, we were moving a whole world away from where we were living in Cambridge," Linda said. "I would work with my father on the farm, and I did up until I was married. All three of us kids were in 4-H and showed the registered Jerseys at the fair in Westport."


The Kents occasionally invited the Emersons to festivities at their home including Christmas, New Year's and birthday parties.

"Everything was extremely tasty," Linda said. "Sally was a wonderful cook. Everything was prepared, and she still had time to sit. They would have cocktails first. And we kids would have punch or some drink that was special for us. We had a punch bowl where we could go fill up our own little cups."

Each course was wonderful, the dinners fantastic.

"The homemade bread that Sally would make was absolutely wonderful, and sometimes Rockwell would even make the bread," Linda said.


She was in junior high school before she realized Rockwell's celebrity.

"It all finally dawned this was a very famous person and a very talented artist," Linda said. "We would see him out in the field painting or see his car parked beside the road somewhere. We would always try to get a look at what he was painting. It was always wonderful to see the finished product when he was done."

In 1960, Rockwell gifted a substantial collection of his work to the people of the Soviet Union. Twenty-six works are in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

"We were invited to go to a showing to see the paintings before they went to Russia," Linda said. "So, we got to see all those paintings before they left."


Rockwell was strict, very strict.

"Everything was the same time every day," Linda said. "They had breakfast the same time every day. Meals were regular. Sally did her steno and typing notes at a certain time. She had a specified time to get the mail at the post office in town and the mailbox by the end of the road. In the morning, they got the mail at the box and took the mail home and answered what they could. They took the mail from the day before down to the post office in the afternoon, got groceries and whatever she had to get and drive back."

Sally drove a yellow, Mercury convertible.

"She tied a scarf on, and away they would fly. She was always, always a beautiful, beautiful lady."

Rockwell motored in a light-green-and-cream Chevy station wagon.

"If we were bailing hay, and we had a lot of hay out, he would want it left whether rain was coming or not," Linda said. "He wanted it left so that he could paint it."


Her first job was cutting grass with a hand mower, blades, no motor.

"The wheels made the blades spin," she said. "They had a huge lawn in the front, a tennis court and a huge lawn out back. It took me about four hours to do all of that. It was a wonderful upbringing. It was such a wonderful place to live."

Linda and her husband, Walter, live on their slice of Asgaard they purchased from Sally.

"We got land from her that was part of the farm that wasn't used," she said. "Down by the river, you couldn't do much with it for farming, per se. I worked for Sally until she died. Sally and Rockwell were very kind and generous, very concerned about people in the area and concerned about people in general."


The Kents were green before the term was coined.

"They were way ahead of their time," Linda said. "Now, we're concerned about the planet Earth. They were concerned about it way back then. We talk about the greenhouse effect now. They were already thinking about it."

There's no better place for kids than a farm and Asgaard was a unique experience for Linda and her siblings.

"Rockwell gave me a book for Christmas, 'Silent Spring,'" Linda said. "It's about preserving the environment and what would happen if we don't and all the things we need to protect, and it's all coming true."

Email Robin


WHAT: "Celebrate Rockwell Kent's Birthday Party."

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Rockwell Kent Gallery, Feinberg Library, SUNY Plattsburgh.


PHONE: Samantha Bellinger at 564-2498.


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Source: Press-Republican (Plattsburgh, NY)

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