Thursday, April 22, 2010

Curator Patricia Junker talks about her love for Whitman

I love Walt Whitman—love his poetry, his magnificent face, his love for Abraham Lincoln and his beautiful and mournful elegy, “When Lilacs Last in the Door Yard Bloomed.” My husband and I planted a lilac bush in our own dooryard last spring, to have a physical reminder of Whitman’s poem and through it, to remember our own connections to lost loved ones.

Few figures had as much impact on American culture as Whitman. He was in the 1860s and he remains still the voice of the modern age in America. He was revered on both sides of the Atlantic as an original, his poetry giving lie to the notion that modernism came to America only from European artists and writers in the first years of the 20th century.

Few lived as nobly as he did. I see a noble life in his majestic face. Photographers did, too, no doubt, for Whitman was photographed dozens of times in the years following the first publication of his Leaves of Grass in 1855. I am fascinated by photographs of him. It surprised me to find that we have this print in our small photography collection.

I value this image of Whitman as a touchstone, and I believe that others would, too.

- Patricia Junker, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art

Frank P. Harned, Walt Whitman, 1887; Albumen print, 6 1/2 x 4 in., Mary Arrington Small Estate Acquisition Fund and Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, 99.63

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