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Rockwell Kent Festival in February (11/28/2012)
By Sarah Squires

The life and art of Rockwell Kent has never been celebrated, or remembered, in quite this way. From February 6 to 10, 2013, “Rockwell Kent in Winona: A Centennial Celebration” will bring the famed artist to life with an original play, symposium featuring Kent experts, exhibits of his work and many other activities.

A unique collaboration among generous donors, a group of committed volunteers, local universities, and museums has made the festival possible. The celebration will feature events and exhibits at a variety of sites across the city. The Minnesota Marine Art Museum will display 57 pieces of Kent’s original artwork, on loan from State University of New York at Plattsburgh, as well as a private collector. The Winona County History Center, Winona State University, and the Winona Public Library will also feature exhibits that showcase Kent’s work, and Theatre du Mississippi will stage performances of an original play by Lynn Nankivil based on Kent’s time in Winona 100 years ago.

There is plenty more in store for the festival, including a study of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, led by Emilio DeGrazia, throughout the month of January. Kent’s pen-and-ink illustrations were featured in the 1930 edition of the classic novel, in a very different medium from his usual oil paint, but thdy paid the bills and helped the artist make a name for himself.

Festival organizer Taff Roberts said the centennial celebration is about more than just Kent’s artwork. “This is an opportunity to celebrate our history,” he said. Kent spent a year and a half in Winona overseeing the construction of twin mansions at Briarcombe, and 1913 was one of the busiest and most prosperous times in Winona’s history. “This is the centennial history of Winona. I am looking forward to the festival as a chance to celebrate the work and life of this remarkable artist and explorer. Mostly, it is to help people to see, to observe his artwork and, hopefully, find some beauty and understanding in his paintings.”

One of the most anticipated events during the festival will be three performances of Nankivil’s play, “Angels in the Trees: Rockwell Kent in Winona.” The performances will be at the historic Masonic Theater on February 8 at 7:30 p.m., February 9 at 7:30 p.m. and February 10 at 2 p.m. The 10-character play features Kent and his young family, as well as German painter Alex Geckler, who worked with Kent during his time in Winona. Kent, a lover of German culture and the working class, met and befriended many workers with German and Polish roots while he was the foreman overseeing the construction of the Pleasant Valley mansions.

“I think the play is going to be huge,” said Roberts. “The play is going to connect with the East Side of Winona and the German and Polish traditions.”

Roberts said that people will be traveling to the festival from across the country to see the play and all of the other festival events, including the symposium with Kent experts Frederick Lewis, Henry Adams, Beth Christensen, Richard West and Roberts himself. Lewis’ captivating documentary “Rockwell Kent” will also be shown several times during the festival.

The Winona County Historical Society will host an exhibition called “Rockwell Kent in Winona” from February 1 to March 31, and the Winona Public Library will feature a display of Kent’s illustrated books in the Bell Art Room Rotunda, where Kent’s work was displayed during an art show in June 1913.

The Winona Post will continue to explore the life and art of Rockwell Kent in the coming months, along with more details of the upcoming celebration. Roberts said right now is the time for residents to help spread the word about the festival, to let friends and relatives know that February is the time to visit Winona for the unique centennial event. Volunteers are still needed for the celebration, and donors are welcome to help enhance the events. To learn more about the festival or find out how to help, visit rockwellkentwinona.org. 


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