Walt Whitman`s Leaves of Grass 150th Anniversary
By Ed Centeno
My obsession with Walt Whitman started 18 years ago while preparing a philatelic article for the Gay/Lesbian History Stamp Club newsletter. To my surprise I learned Whitman had lived in the same city whereI grew up—Camden, NJ—after returning from Washington DC in 1884, staying with his brother and his brother’s wife before purchasing a two story wooden house in a working neighborhood. (The house was inspirational to Marsden Hartley, as well, who in 1905 painted the house as homage to Whitman.)
Walter (Walt) Whitman was born May 31, 1819, the second of eight children in West Hills, Long Island. At the age of four, the entire family moved to Brooklyn due to the high demand for carpentry work. Walt left school by the time he was eleven and became an apprentice at a local newspaper. Later as printer, editor, journalist and publisher he became aware of the need for a literary voice for the common people.
During this period of his life he developed a free verse style of poetry and with the help of the Rome Brothers printers of Brooklyn, Whitman self-publish Leaves of Grass on July 4, 1855. This unique book brought poetry to the common people, thus embarking him on a personal literary journey of national significance. With the publication of this revolutionary book, Whitman finally answered Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1843 essay calling “for an original national poet, one who would sing of the new country with a new voice.”
Two major exhibits are planned to celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary of the first printing of Leaves of Grass: South Street Seaport Museum, New York City, Whitman and the Promise of America, July-December 2005; and Central Connecticut State University in New Britain CT, Images of Walt Whitman: The Commercialization of an American Original. Images of Walt Whitman, is drawn from my collection of colorful and amusing items embodying Walt Whitman’s name and image in commercial advertising. The intention is not to make a critical appraisal of his work, but rather a whimsical approach to Walt Whitman as a phenomenon.
Among the items in my collection are philatelic material, buttons, posters, pop art, advertisements, postcards, paintings, cartoons, photographs, booksellers’ catalogs, sheet music, matchbooks, periodicals and labels.
A web site is
available for additional information about these events. Visit these
http://library.ccsu.edu/lib/archives/Whitman/index.html and www.gay-lesbianpostcard.com
I commissioned three works of art in 2005 to commemorate the anniversary from these three wonderful artists: Miguel Tio, Howard Cruse and Michael Willhoite.
This portrait of American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was commissioned last year for the sesquicentenniaI celebration of the first publication of Leaves of Grass. Two elements were requested by my patron Ed Centeno; portray a young Whitman and depict “the book,” Leaves of Grass. After research of Whitman's writing, several biographies, images in Ed Centeno’s collection and the internet, something click! I was inspired by the 35 year old “Christ likeness” circa 1854 daguerreotype (Bayley-Whitman Collection, Ohio Wesleyan University) image of Walt. Working from my personal interpretation, Walt emanating from a manuscript, an original letter from Walt to William Sloan Kennedy, his close friend and fellow author, about his first book was silkscreened on the canvas. The pair of young hands represents a generation having been inspired and influenced by the vastness of Whitman’s contribution: I am flabbergasted by the ubiquity of Whitman—his work translated to numerous languages and scored to music, his name appropriated for streets and plazas; his image on postage stamps, milk bottles and advertisements. The blade of grass in my painting is all seven revised editions of his great contribution to America poetry, Leaves of Grass. I am sure anyone who has read Leaves of Grass, and looked at a batch of grass has been reminded of Whitman’s poetry.
I live in New York City, my web site is: www.migueltio.com
Howard’s comic strips and humorous illustrations have appeared in Playboy, The Village Voice, Artforum International, Harpoon, Heavy Metal, Starlog, and The Advocate—the comic strip Wendel introduced in 1983. Seven books have been published on his work: Wendel (1986), Dancin’ Nekkid with the Angels (1987), Wendel on the Rebound (1989), Early Barefootz (1990), and Wendel All Together (2001), the acclaimed Stuck Rubber Baby, with introduction by Tony Kushner (1995, Paradox Press, div. DC Comics) and The Swimmer with a Rope in His Teeth, with Jeanne E. Shaffer (Prometheus Books, 2004). Howard relocated to North Adams, Massachusetts where he married Eddie Sedarbaum, his partner of 26 years.
Learn more about Howard at www.howardcruse.com
Michael lives in Boston and is the author and illustrator of such famous children’s book and gay milestones as Daddy’s Roommate (1990, Lambda Literary Award), Families: A Coloring Book (1991), Members of the Tribe (1993), Daddy’s Wedding (1996), and Now for My Next Trick—Cartoons from the Washington Blade (1996). These and four other books were all published by Alyson Books.
Ed Centeno is a 43-year-old Puerto Rican hombre with an obsession for Walt Whitman. My other half of 23 years thinks I'm a bit crazy having an entire library in our house devoted to this man. Besides Whitman I also have a small collection of 14,000 postcards depicting: male nudes, AIDS awareness, social and political queer issues, sporting and cultural queer events, etc....I also collect stamps with the same topical theme. Not an artist, but in love with art.”