Cleveland Rockwell
(1837 - 1907)

 

Born in Youngstown, Ohio on November 24, 1837, Cleveland Rockwell, the son of a successful lawyer, received early training in art and engineering. When he was 17, he attended preparatory school in Troy, New York and by 1856 he was a sophomore at the University of the City of New York, now New York University.

The same year he was appointed to the U.S. Coast Survey, whose services were lent to the Union Army during the Civil War. Rockwell received high praise for his accuracy and by December 1863, he was commissioned Captain of Engineers. Returning to civilian life in 1865, he remained with the Coast Survey for a brief mapping tour in Columbia, South America.

On May 1, 1867, Rockwell was promoted to Assistant in the Coast Survey and received a transfer to San Francisco. He surveyed around the Bay Area and made his first trip to the mouth of the Columbia in May 1868. He was 32 when he married 14 year old Cornelia Flemming Russell in San Francisco in 1873. Rockwell’s sister Matilda had married much earlier to a man named George Kent and they lived in New York City. George and Matilda Kent’s grandson was the artist Rockwell Kent (1882-1971).

Rockwell continued to survey on the Columbia River with occasional assignments in California until, in 1878 he became Chief of the Northwest Section and moved to Portland with Cornelia. By 1879 they were living in Albina, which later became part of Portland, possibly aboard the Coast Survey sloop Kincheloe, which was moored there. He worked in various parts of Oregon and traveled to Alaska and British Columbia. In 1887-1889 he conducted a survey of the Oregon coast, and after additional work in Southern California he retired to Portland in June, 1892. Later that year he again traveled to Alaska and his watercolors painted there are some of the finest representations of 19th century Southeast Alaska.

Rockwell painted actively before and after moving to Portland, although still employed by the USCS. He exhibited with the San Francisco Art Association in 1873, 1874, 1877 and 1883, although catalogs are missing from some years when he certainly exhibited. He was a founding member of the Portland Art Club in 1885 and he exhibited at the annual Portland Mechanic Fairs.

Rockwell was well known in Portland due to his survey work on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers and he and Cornelia were listed in the Portland Blue Book from 1890 on. In 1893 he was listed on the boards of directors of three banks. After retirement, he was able to enjoy his passion for fishing, gave private art lessons, painted, and lived the good life. His hand was steady, and he continued to produce exceptional watercolors until his death from pneumonia on March 22, 1907.

Cleveland Rockwell lived in the natural world he painted and knew it intimately. He had measured and climbed many of the mountains he painted. He had spent days and weeks at sea and knew the varying sea conditions and changing light from dusk until dawn. One doesn’t have to ask, “What did the artist have in mind.” He showed us.

Rockwell’s paintings are in the permanent collections of Seattle Art Museum; Oakland Museum of California; Anchorage Museum; Oregon Historical Society; Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Frye Museum, Seattle; Rockwell Museum, Corning; Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane; and the Yale Art Gallery.

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