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Portland Museum of Art Presents Weston: Leaves of Grass

The Portland Museum of Art presents Weston: Leaves of Grass open December 30, 2010 – March 13, 2011.

In early 1941, Edward Weston was approached by the Limited Editions Club of New York and invited to make photographs to illustrate its deluxe edition of Walt Whitman’s epic poem Leaves of Grass. Although he balked at the suggestion, the opportunity the project offered to travel cross-country and visit parts of the U.S. that were new to him convinced Weston to undertake it.

Edward Weston United States, 1886 – 1958 Tree in Snow, Tennessee, 1941 gelatin silver print 7 5/8 x 9 5/8 inches Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Bosto

Weston: Leaves of Grass, will feature 53 photographs by Edward Weston that follow the route of his cross-country trip. The photographs are exceptionally wide-ranging with particular emphasis on the man-altered landscape rather than images of untouched nature.

Edward Weston’s concern was how to capture Whitman’s spirit without slavishly depicting his words. Since it was first published in 1855, Walt Whitman’s book, Leaves of Grass, has appeared in many editions and increased in size. The first volume contained only 12 poems, but by the time of Whitman’s death in 1892, it had grown to more than 400 lyric poems that touch on all aspects of American life-the landscape, the variety and energy of its people, the Civil War, racial and sexual relations, and last but not least, Walt Whitman’s expansive personality.

The Leaves of Grass trip lasted almost 10 months, covering 24 states and nearly 25,000 miles.Organized to reflect the route that Weston and his wife, Charis Wilson, took when they drove cross country, the exhibition will begin with photographs of California and end with works taken on the East Coast that include two Maine images taken in Kennebunkport, one of the Wedding Cake House and the other of a schooner docked in the harbor. The majority of the photographs however, cover the southern states as they drove from Boulder Dam in Nevada, through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Appalachian chain. References to America as a great industrial giant will be shown as well as the homes of humble artisans. In addition to landscapes, Weston took portraits of native Americans and Hispanics, and photographed the architecture of elaborate Catholic cemeteries in New Orleans and simple Baptist churches in the Louisiana countryside.

Over the course of the project Weston managed to produce some of the most compelling images of his later career that took his photography in a new and important direction. Like Whitman’s epic poems, they draw us into the history of this nation, the beauty of its landscape, and the forthrightness of its ordinary citizens.

Before undertaking the Limited Editions commision, Weston wrote of the Whitman project to a friend: “I do believe…I can and will do the best work of my life. Of course I will never please everyone with my America-wouldn’t try to.”

This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Museum Information
The Portland Museum of Art is located at Seven Congress Square in downtown Portland. The Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday. Memorial Day through Columbus Day, the Museum is open on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museum admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with I.D., $4 for youth ages 6 to 17, and children under 6 are free. The Museum is free on Friday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Museum Cafe and Store. For more information, call (207) 775-6148. Web site

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