Rockwell Kent is famous as an early American modernist painter, printmaker, illustrator, writer, sailor and adventurer. Like many artists he did commercial and decorative work in order to earn money and pay the bills. The Cooper Hewitt Library has some examples of this commercial work – designing dinnerware, murals, bookplates, and this interior design and color guide, illustrated with watercolors and photographs. The booklet is ultimately about selling and buying Sherwin-Williams paint and wallcoverings, but the narrative text reflects his philosophy on furnishing and decorating in a humorous anecdotal style. He built or fixed up houses to live in with his family all over the world and his goal was always to “First own a house. Then make that house be HOME.” Good architecture, good taste in decoration is what makes an honest, comfortable, and peaceful atmosphere. Having traveled extensively and seen all kinds of habitations- tents, caves, mansions and palaces, having slept in the King of Bulgaria’s bed in his many travels, style and period did not impress him, and he disdained modernism (chrome and steel).
The Cooper Hewitt Museum Drawings & Prints Department has drawings for interiors by Rockwell Kent (Drawing, Wall Elevation Design for Bedroom or Dressing Room, 1920s) and the Textiles Department has in its collection Rockwell Kent designed fabric (Textile, Harvest Time, 1949–50).
In this home decorator’s guide, Kent states that “Being a painter by profession and one in who in his work employs color for effect, I have shown a few color schemes that might, in their right place, be good to live with.” In a small abandoned house in Newfoundland: “Old lilac bushes stood around the house; their background was the bay; lilac and blue. The house pure white! The doors I painted peacock green all except one which, for the fun of it, I painted pink.”
This booklet offers color schemes for both interiors and exteriors, with paint color guides, and includes wallpapers produced by Sherwin Williams.
“The houses shown in this book may help a little, the color charts will help a lot, while the painting instructions printed on the last page of this book may be accepted, kept, and followed as the gospel of good practice in painting.”
Elizabeth Broman is a Reference Librarian at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library.
One thought on “Rockwell Kent: Interior Decorator??”
Scott R Ferris on July 6, 2019 at 8:30 am
Thank you for your article, Ms. Broman. If you ever find yourself in north-central New York, stop by: I have a number of works by RK that you may be interested in seeing.