Walt Whitman’s 

Prose and Poetry in Products and Advertisements

OPENS JANUARY 16th, 2019

As part of our Bicentennial Celebration, we are pairing with esteemed Walt Whitman collector, Ed S. Centeno, by curating an exhibition featuring various cultural artifacts, commercial products, fine arts, and advertisements which depict segments of Walt Whitman’s prose and poetry. Mr. Centeno’s 33 years of collecting Walt Whitman related items has been “rewarding, challenging, and inspirational.” Ed never intended to exhibit nor lecture about his collection; nevertheless, he discovered that there is an audience interested in his passion. Many people are curious to see what he collects, and they are interested in understanding why.

The primary focus of Ed’s collection is the commercialization of Whitman’s name, image, and body of works in memorabilia, commercial products, advertisements, fine arts, and digital formats. His purpose in collecting is to enrich the knowledge of the past, to preserve and perpetuate this aspect of collecting to future generations, and to acquaint himself with the phenomenon of Whitman’s popularity.

Surprisingly, this commercialization began as early as the 1880’s and Walt was not entirely opposed to having his image associated with products and services. Upon seeing the earliest advertisements, Whitman laughed and said, “that is fame, giving the hat a little more height and it would not be such an offense…” Whitman received no monetary compensation for the usage of his name or image. Since the 1880s, Walt Whitman’s image, poetry and name have been used in advertising food products, beverages, music, movies, social media, art, books, political and social awareness efforts, theater productions, and many, many more.

Up until the mid-1960s, corporate America invoked Whitman with high reverence due to his iconic literary stature and fame through advertisements and commercial products having no connection to his persona or body of works. From the 1970s and beyond, Whitman’s persona took an entirely different perspective in mass media (TV, radio, internet, movies). Today’s Whitman is more ambiguous, daring, complex, and playful.

Ed Centeno’s fascination with the advertisements, posters, commercial products, and private art commissions depicting fragments of Whitman’s prose and poetry humbly began while researching material for an article about American poets on stamps. To his astonishment, Centeno learned that the Walt Whitman House in Camden, New Jersey was only miles from where he lived as a teenager. While getting reacquainted with Whitman’s poetry and reading several biographies, Ed discovered that Walt was depicted on cigar boxes (ironically, he never smoked), wine, beer, gift cards, insurance advertisements, postcards, postage stamps, etc. There are also places and structures named after him—the Walt Whitman Bridge, high schools, shopping mall, parks, apartment building, housing projects, bookstores, etc.

Ed’s collection clearly demonstrates the significance and resonance of Walt Whitman’s literary contribution in modern society, the importance of his high stature in commercialization, and the impact of his fame among collectors.

This exhibit will be presented in the intimate setting of our  Gathering House from January 16 – April 7 with a  special Members Only Preview and Reception on Sunday, January 13 from 2pm – 5pm.

Please join us!

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