Artist and Philosopher Rockwell Kent on Our Existential Wanderlust

“Wander where you will travel across the world, from every valley you see new hills begging you to climb them, from every mountain and beyond that draws you…. . . . until you stand on the last mountain on the edge of the endless sea, blocked by its end.”

“Man* is essentially a migratory animal”, as Frederick Douglass Sr. reflected in his 1887 speech on his world travels . “Looks like he’s not destined to stay anywhere forever. He’s a born traveler.”

In an era after him, Maya Angelo said “Only you are free, and you realize that you don’t belong anywhere – you belong anywhere – in any sense.”

Part of the time between the arrival of Douglas and Angelo, painter, printmaker and thinker Rockwell Kent (June 21, 1882 – March 13, 1971), a very important interaction between freedom and belonging, between nature and humanity, capturing the wilderness(Public Library) – a beautiful record of the seven months he spent with his youngest son on a remote Alaskan island through the Spanish flu pandemic and the first The dark hour of the World War, at the dawn of his creative life.

We all have a certain wanderlust fashion , being drawn to certain types of nature that are most personally relevant to us – places where we are most likely to lose ourselves and thus discover ourselves. For some, they’re grim open houses with blue skies and purple canyons. For me, they are the mossy jungles of New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest of the US. For Kent, this is the supremacy of northern Nice:

It has always been difficult for me to understand myself and why I work, love and stay. But luckily, troubles like this have found ways to take care of themselves. I came to Alaska because I like the North. I long for the snowy mountains, the desolate wasteland and the unforgiving North Sea, its hard horizon at the edge of the world, the beginning of the infinite house. The sky here is clearer and deeper, as it reveals greater wonders, more convincing for timeless thrillers than Tender Lands.

Kent spent the remaining 12 months writing a brand new entry for his journal In the foreword, he speaks again of the wanderlust of his youth – the wandering unease that shaped his mind, the spirit in which his work was born, the work of art that made him one of the most famous creators of his time – and to encourage generations of wanderers to come back:

Travel around the world and see new hills emerging from every valley, begging you to climb them, and every mountain attracting more of you. The far lands are always the most beautiful, until at last you become a stressful wanderer, never able to find a place–forever–until in the future you stand on the last mountain on the edge of the boundless sea, captivated by its finality. Prevent.

Star-Lighter , Rockwell Kent, 1919. (Available as both print and playing cards.)

We\ are half the trouble. We’re just devices that record specific parts of our unlimited in multiple ways. What we absorb from it constitutes our character, and what we pass on constitutes [our art].

Learn about the history of Rebecca Solnit’s love of travel and see Kent’s amazing reflections on wilderness, loneliness and creativity.


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