In 1922, Wharton Esherick showed a copy Rhymes of Early Jungle Folk, which he had illustrated with woodcut prints, to Harold Mason, owner of the Centaur Bookshop in Philadelphia. Impressed by what he saw, Mason asked Esherick to illustrate Walt Whitman’s Song of the Broad-Axe, which Mason published in a limited edition in 1924.
Inspired by the woodcuts, Esherick created a hand-bound prototype book of Whitman’s poem, using prints made directly from his blocks and hand-lettering it in Esherick’s own calligraphic style. Illuminated letters were used to begin paragraphs, and spaces at the end of lines were filled with blue and yellow drawings that reflect the content of the verses. The result of this labor of love was a work of art, 17 x 12 inches, with pages of handmade paper, folded and uncut.
This book is a reproduction of Esherick’s prototype, authorized by the Wharton Esherick Museum in Paoli, Pennsylvania. Though this edition is smaller than the prototype book, the original was carefully scanned and printed to provide as true a reproduction as possible. It faithfully captures the artist’s vision and skill and, for the first time, makes this wonderful work available to the general public. It will be appreciated by all admirers of Esherick, Whitman, and lovers of fine books.