Live Oak, with Moss by Walt Whitman. A Restorative Edition. Edited & with an afterword by Steven Olsen-Smith, assembled & printed by Rutherford Witthus, with images by Roger L. Crossgrove, and a forward by Richard Tayson. Rutherford Witthus, 2012. Wapole New Hampshire.
You can find more of Rutherford Witthus’ work here.
Full green goatskin leather clamshell box. The box trays are covered in canapetta cloth, and the outside B tray, which is exposed when the box is closed, is lined with handmade corn paper from Hook Pottery Paper in Indiana. The bottoms of the trays are lined with Hahnemuhle Ingres paper. A portfolio covered with the canapetta cloth accompanies the book. The covers have a carbon frame with a gold dot; with lacunose inlays, one of which has an image transfer of one of the images by Roger L. Crossgrove; title in gold; single gilt rule on the board edges.
This particular printing of this book, with its illustrations, called for a conceptual and contemporary design (you can see some images of the book here). The 12 poems in the Live Oak poem sequence were divided up and dispersed into the Calamus sequence of poems in an attempt to hide their true meaning. In the same way, I created lacunose panels which are dispersed among the span of the boards and spine, along with the image transfer of the man walking in deep thought. This is done to represent what Walt Whitman did with the poem sequence, however, it is noticeable that they all belong together, making up a scene of the man pondering underneath an oak tree, with moss.
The Live Oak sequence explores much darker themes than what Walt Whitman is generally known for. The hopelessness in a failed relationship. The woefulness in the internal battle of which is most important, one’s art or one’s love. Depression. And then once these poems were written and then scattered among other poems to try to hide their meaning, he further censors them to dilute the true meaning and attempt to make their new placement less apparent.
For these reasons I chose processes of lacunose and image transfer as the main design elements. The lacunose process involves adhering together layers and layers of leather, of different thicknesses and colors, and once it is dry, sanding down through the top layers to reveal the layers underneath. This involved hiding the tree trunk, the roots, the branches with moss among layers of leather, and then sanding through to expose the intended, yet still partly concealed, image. The image transfer is a bit more directly applicable to the concept: taking something (in this case an image) that is initially one direction, and permanently reversing it—which the artwork accompanying the text and notebooks explores.
I had the great fortune of collaborating with Ed Centeno, for whom this box is made, on the design. It was very helpful in guiding the direction of the design, color scheme, and themes explored in making this box, as well as the subject—the man deep in thought underneath an oak tree.
After completing the Live Oak, With Moss box I spent some time comparing these two Walt Whitman boxes I have made, how incredibly different they are. The Leaf of Faces box is made to reflect the fun and congenial atmosphere of the typographic reading of Leaf of Faces, along with the proud & celebratory tone which is often associated with Whitman, while the Live Oak, With Moss is written in a hopelessness and melancholy state, which is what I tried to capture in the design and explore the darkness in his plight for “manly love”. And though the two boxes are quite different, I think that there is a continuity in them not only because they are work from the same hands, but also that they are trying to show different aspects of the same man.