by Stephen J. Gertz
A near-complete portfolio of twenty-five (out of a probable twenty-nine) poster-sized linocuts of exceptional rarity that honor America's magnum poet, Walt Whitman, by master printmaker Paul Peter Piech, who devoted his artistic output to themes of social justice, politics, and pacifism, has recently surfaced and is being offered by a rare book dealer in Virginia, United States.
Published in a small limited edition of twenty-five sets, only one complete copy is recorded by OCLC/KVK in institutional holdings worldwide, at University of Iowa. Only one other record exists for the series, at Harvard's Houghton Library, yet their copy is woefully incomplete with only three linocuts present. This set, then, is the most complete seen in many years; they are scarce in any state, astonishingly so to possess so many prints in the series. Many if not most of the sets have, presumably, been broken up to individually sell the linocuts.
Piech (1920-1996) "was born in Brooklyn in 1920, the son of Ukrainian immigrants looking for a new way of life in America. From their tough example Piech learnt both to work hard and to speak out when it mattered. His books and posters confront the viewer with the need for global responsibility and co-operation...
"...Piech studied at the Cooper Union College of Art, New York. In 1937 he went to work as a graphic artist at Studio Dorland, an international advertising agency located in Berlin, under Herbert Bayer... Between 1951 and 1968 Piech worked as an artistic director for W.S. Crawfords Advertising" (The Independent), having remained in Wales after service during WWII to marry and settle down.
In 1959, Piech established the Taurus Press and began his rise as one of the foremost artists of his generation to incorporate themes of social justice and pacifism. His background in advertising design led to a boldly graphic and urgent, poster-like style to his linocuts, his preferred medium.
From 1969 until his death in 1996 he freelanced as a graphic designer while teaching as several prestigious art schools.
Printer and writer Kenneth Hardacre described the firmly insistent determination of Piech's output as that of "a man whose need to communicate his faith and his fears was so pressing that it often appeared to be impatient with the very means he had chosen for expressing that need." The intensity of his work is palpable.
These dramatic linocuts boldly sing Whitman electric, trumpeting justice triumphant, uncompromising liberty and equality, the justification of candor, the justification of pride, and the universal truth of nature.__________
PIECH, Paul Peter. In Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Walt Whitman's Death. [Willowdene, Herts. (U.K.): Taurus Press, 1992]. Limited to twenty five sets, this being No. 15. Twenty-five (of 29?) pencil signed and dated linocuts, each 25 x 18 inches (64 x 45 cm) and numbered 15 of 25.
Portfolio images courtesy of Lorne Bair Rare Books, with our thanks.