Sterling Hundley (BFA ’98), associate professor of communication arts, was invited to a spectacular birthday party on June 1—but the “guest of honor” was the monumental American poet Walt Whitman, who was born 200 years ago on May 31, 1819. To mark the occasion, the Library of Congress invited Hundley and author Robert Burleigh to discuss their latest book O Captain, My Captain: Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War and stick around for an interview and book signing. Hundley’s powerful illustrations evoke the dramatic moments in Whitman’s life, and his relationship with America’s 16th president.
The Fairfax County Times interviewed Hundley and Burleigh to learn more about their work.
Why did you use mainly dark colors for this book?
HUNDLEY: This story needed visuals that would amplify the mood and emotion of this most tumultuous time. The palette was chosen for that reason. Each assignment and new piece presents an opportunity to use all of the tools at our disposal–mark making, design, scale, pattern, tone, concept, narrative, and many other fundamental aspects in picture making to amplify the sentiment of the story and communicate the message.
How did Walt Whitman touch you personally?
HUNDLEY: I was taken by his humility and humanity. I imagine that Walt Whitman was as lost and powerless as any of us, as we are faced with catastrophic fears and challenges. He chose to look into the tumult and take action that would ease human suffering. There was tremendous courage in doing that which needed to be done. It came at a great sacrifice to his physical and mental health. Yet, for those that he spoke to, gave to, and responded to directly, he was often the difference between hope and despair.