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Americans Who Tell the Truth :: Walt Whitman

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Robert Shetterly's portrait of Walt Whitman
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“This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown.”
(Preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass)
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Walt Whitman
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90 of 100
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American Poet (1819—1892)

“I had pinned this credo of Walt Whitman to my studio wall many years ago because it represented to me the essential democratic impulse, something I liked to keep in mind while painting. Overwhelmed by anger at the attitude and manner that our government adopted after 9/11, I wanted to honor Whitman's words by painting his portrait. It was an effort to invoke his ghost in order to define to myself what was honest, humane and necessary for the survival of us all. It was an effort to define America's heart in terms of compassion, not aggression. Whitman was the first portrait” (Robert Shetterly).

Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island (near Huntington), New York, and moved to Brooklyn four years later. This self-described “mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself” (Song of Myself) knew a variety of occupations during his formative years: drifter, printer, teacher, reporter, editor, novelist. The celebrated “melting pot” of New York during the turbulent 1840's provided him an education in diversity and democratic values. When he was 36 he published Leaves of Grass, consisting of 12 long, untitled poems, which he revised and expanded throughout his life. During the Civil War he helped to nurse and comfort the wounded. His elegy for Abraham Lincoln, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, is but one of several enduring masterpieces. Whitman died in Camden, New Jersey in 1892.

No subject was off limits to Whitman. He celebrated the body and all its functions as exuberantly as he did the spirit, and his human subjects were not the lofty beings of myth and romance but flesh-and-blood men and women of the humblest kind. He also broke the formal constraints of poetry in his time by writing in unrhymed, unmetrical verse. Ralph Waldo Emerson acknowledged Whitman's new poetic voice as “the most wonderful gift…the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.”

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See the full set of Robert Shetterly's portraits at www.americanswhotellthetruth.org.

Tools for Teaching: see the acompanying curriculum materials with suggestions on how to use the portraits and biographies of these American truth-tellers in your classroom.
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BUY THE BOOK AND GREETING CARDS FROM THE YES! STORE:
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Americans Who Tell the Truth ::

Robert Shetterly's series highlights Americans past and present whose dignity, courage, and honesty have shaped this country.

This beautiful coffee-table book is an eloquent collection of portraits and stirring words of these brave citizens from all walks of life.
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Card Sets ::

A special YES! selection of Greeting Cards from the series in sets of 8 (with envelopes).

Sets feature high quality prints of the portraits, complete with quotes and biographies.

Posters also available from the artist.
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