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William Kent

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William Kent (1919-2012) was a wood sculptor and print maker. He was a carver of monumental sculptures in wood and stone and a prolific print-maker. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1919, and graduated from Northwestern University. Following service in the US Navy in WWII, he attended Yale School of Music to study Music Theory and Composition with the world-famous composer Paul Hindemith, and became an accomplished pianist.

 

While at Yale he became interested in art, and began to teach himself to paint, and then to sculpt large whimsical household objects in clay, stone and wood. Completely self-taught as a visual artist, Kent began to sculpt in the late 1940s and early 50s, and by 1963 had developed a unique method of printmaking, involving etching into huge sheets of slate, to make mono-prints on rice paper and fabric, all of this done alone and without a printing press.

 

From 1962 to 1965 he had solo exhibitions at the Castellane Gallery, Madison Avenue, NYC, and at other museum and gallery exhibitions along the East Coast. His sculptures and prints were critically acclaimed, and purchased by museums and collectors.

 

As the care-taker of the John Slade Ely House in the 1950s, his proposal to its Trustees to show art work year-round, in addition to community groups, was accepted, and he became its first Resident Curator in 1959. It is known that from the early 1950s, he was a friend of such New York artists as Jackson Pollock, Willem DeKooning, and William Skardon.  His exhibitions at Castellane Gallery in NYC were successful, but  in 1964, his satiric prints in the ancient Greek-vase style were considered too radical by the Trustees of the Ely House and he was summarily dismissed from his post. 

That year, Kent moved to a small house with a large barn in Durham, CT, where he was able to survive by the sales of his art, supplemented by a job in a Middletown box factory.

 

After his NYC gallery closed abruptly in February, 1967, cutting off this source of income, he gradually sank into a depression, and cut himself off from local and New York friends,as a recluse, and devoted himself entirely to his art, sometimes working in near-total isolation and poverty, for the next half-century. Attempts in later years to find another New York gallery were unsuccessful, as POP art, where his work had seemed to fit in, was on the decline, and his out-of-style carvings, and angry prints had been out of view of the NYC art scene for too many years.

 

He carved slates and made prints from 1963-1976, then returned to carving monumental wood sculptures, completing 226 of them between 1977-2012. In the late 1990s, his artwork resurfaced with successful solo shows of his prints and wood sculptures at the Monique Knowlton Gallery, NYC, 1997; the York Square Cinema Gallery, New Haven, 2000; the  Chase/Freedman Gallery, West Harford, 2003; a retrospective at Kehler Liddell  Gallery in Westville, CT, 2009; and Gallery RIVAA, Roosevelt Island, NYC, 2016.  

 

Four years before his death, the artist formed the William Kent Charitable Foundation WilliamKentFoundation.org, for the purpose of helping artists over the age of 60 years of age with financial difficulties, a state in which he frequently found himself over the years.

 

William Kent  was working on his wood carving 227th sculpture two days before he died. At his death 2,000 prints, and 226 of the over 800 sculptures carved in his lifetime, remain in his large Durham barn studio. William passed away at his home in Durham, CT on August 16, 2012; he was 93.  

 

Learn more at WilliamKentFoundation.org

Bio composed by Joan Baer. Edited and presented by Johnes Ruta

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