‘The Nautical Rockwell Kent’
One of the many woodcut prints on display.

IB/ Finnegan

‘The Nautical Rockwell Kent’

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
11/12/2015


SUFFOLK COUNTY—The Long Island Maritime Museum in West Sayville has been temporarily transformed into an art gallery featuring the work of the renowned 20th-century artist Rockwell Kent. There are 25 of his nautically-themed woodcut prints and lithographs that are featured in the exhibit as well as his rarely seen ceramics. This show, which is one that should not be missed, will only run until Dec. 3. 

Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) was a painter, but better known for woodcuts that were used to illustrate great works of literature, including the complete works of William Shakespeare and “Moby Dick.” In 2001, one of his pen and ink drawings for “Moby Dick” was honored by being used on a U.S. postage stamp.

The pieces at LIMM are from the collection of Suffolk County resident Ralf C. Nemec, who began collecting Kent pieces back in 1985. Terry Lister-Blitman, LIMM assistant director, said the museum was thrilled to be able to present the show.

“We had heard [Nemec] was looking for a place to exhibit on Long Island,” she noted. “I had heard about the artist, but once we started researching him, we became very excited. And it’s so nice to find a [famous] American artist that is from New York.” 

Kent was actually born in Tarrytown, N.Y. He attended the New York Art School and studied with artists and instructors such as Arthur Wesley Dow and American impressionist William Merritt Chase. A vast collection of his work is now located at a gallery on the campus of SUNY Plattsburgh near where the artist had once resided.

Nemec said he’s always been interested in art collection, but it was on the advice of a friend that he looked into Kent and became fascinated with his work. “His adventures and his approach to life were compelling for me,” he said, noting that those themes were evident in his work. 

“I got my first piece, and then it became a quest. It came to a point where I had a catalogue of his work,” he said, adding that of the artist’s 155 major nautical pieces, he owns 140. Although he said he has been able to find the artwork in various galleries or through other collectors, he facetiously added, “I never found any in a yard sale, though.

“[My collection] turned out to be pretty amazing, and now I have the joy of sharing it with the public,” he said.

Nemec has had his collection shown in a number of places around the country, including the well-known Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona. “Friends [on Long Island] would ask me, ‘When are you going to do something around here?’ I’ve been in touch with various institutions, but what better place to [show the artwork] than at the Long Island Maritime Museum,” he said. “It looks perfect.”

In addition to the woodblock and lithographs, several pieces of Kent’s ceramic dinnerware from Vernon Kilns in the “Moby Dick” and “Our America” patterns are also on display in the museum’s library.

Nemec said although his collection of Kent’s work is vast, he’s still not through collecting, and welcomes any information on the artist’s work by emailing him at kentophile@yahoo.com.

“This has definitely been a quest,” Nemec said. “But it has been a journey that’s worthwhile.”


The Rockwell Kent exhibit at LIMM runs through Dec. 3.

For more information about this show or LIMM, go to www.limaritime.org.