We are very proud of the fact that Walt Whitman not only lived and worked in Brooklyn but that he had a direct connection to this institution in its early days as a library. This past Saturday we had a fabulous opportunity to celebrate Whitman and our past with representatives from the Whitman Project and Woodside Press.
The Whitman Project included Associate Artistic Director Greg Trupiano; Associate Artistic Director Lon Black; Nicole Mitchell; and Hakim Williams. Both Greg and Lon read eloquently from Whitman’s writings about witnessing the early days of the Brooklyn Apprentice’s Library and the Brooklyn Institute. Their readings from “Brooklyniana,” Leaves of Grass, and Specimen Days beautifully captured Whitman’s fond memories of the sites and sounds of Brooklyn. They also read excerpts from books that were in the Library at the time Whitman was acting librarian in 1835, including titles such as The History of Printing in America by Isaiah Thomas, published in 1810, and An historical … view of the United States of America by William Winterbotham. Mezzo-soprano Nicole Mitchell graced us with her beautiful renditions of “Oh! Susannah” and “Ode,” set to the music of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Hakim Williams passionately recited Whitman’s words from his texts, including “Old Brooklyn Days” and “Brooklyniana” including a wonderful description of Francis Guy’s A Snow Scene in Brooklyn in the Olden Times which describes in detail the painting in the Brooklyn Museum collection. Mr. Hakim’s reading of “Early Typesetting Experience” by Whitman set the stage for the next part of the program which focused on a poem entitled “Pictures.”
Andrew Birsh and Davin Kuntze from Woodside Press, a traditional letterpress printing shop in The Brooklyn Navy Yard, premiered their new book featuring a poem by Walt Whitman. They created a small edition of Pictures: A Poem by Walt Whitman, which is available directly from the Press. When time allows and the inspiration is there, they publish and print fine-press editions that illuminate their capabilities with classic typography, letterpress presswork, and bookbinding by hand. The beautiful letterpress chapbook is set in Linotype Baskerville, hand-sewn and printed on Magnani Avorio paper and was designed and printed for Woodside Press by Davin Kuntze. The book has a very magical quality—we were all convinced that Walt Whitman had been overseeing the production of the book, which matches the colors and ink that were used in the original 1927 edition. Mr. Kuntze had not seen the edition that is in the Brooklyn Museum Library collection and we were all amazed on Saturday when we got our book out to compare to the new Woodside Press edition. There is an uncanny likeness to the original!
We all agreed that Walt Whitman is still with us in spirit as he had been in the days when he lived in Brooklyn oh so long ago. A comforting thought in today’s world. Here’s the program PDF if you’d like to see it.
Deirdre Lawrence has been the Principal Librarian at the Brooklyn Museum since late 1983. Before coming to the Brooklyn Museum, she was Associate Librarian at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She received her M. L. S. from Pratt Institute in 1979 and has studied art history on the graduate level. At the Brooklyn Museum she has established the Museum Archives and implemented many projects to preserve and make accessible the research collections. Deirdre has overseen a major renovation project, implementation of an online catalog and several collaborative projects with other libraries. She has written articles on the collections and lectured frequently on the research collections held in the Libraries and Archives as well as Brooklyn Museum history. Deirdre has curated several exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere. She is a visiting professor at Pratt’s School of Information and Library Science and serves as a board member at the Center for Book Arts in New York.