Looking for a Home in Covington

Entry begun Saturday, September 20, 5:45 am

Our Moby show was technically homeless after Cate Yellig confirmed that the exhibition space of the Covington Arts Gallery had been sold to a microbrewer entrepreneur.  But Emma Rose and I both feel hopeful after meeting on Wednesday afternoon with Gary Pilkington, adult programmer for the Covington Branch of the Kenton County Public Library.  Arriving a few minutes before our 4 pm meeting, I was impressed to see that the spacious parking lot alongside the newly renovated building was nearly full.  Our first sign that this is a vital public institution..

Middle of parking lot on afternoon of Saturday, September 20

Middle of parking lot on afternoon of Saturday, September 20

Gary met us at the reception desk and gave us a wonderful tour of the three-story building.  “Let’s start at the top,” he said.

The light-filled stairway next to the elevator took us up to the Local History and Genealogy room.  Before we entered the room, Gary said we would be welcome to show artworks on easels on the spacious elevator-and-stairway landing whose long railing overlooks the reception area below.  Immediately inside the Local History and Genealogy room was an inset display case in which we would be able to display some of our art if the staff in charge of this room approved.  The room has a number of cabinets and cases, about five feet high, already supporting some posters or artworks sitting on desktop easels.  This would be a great space for some of our photographs or drawings.  In the center of the room was a square pillar covered with horizontal slats upon which art works, or supports holding them, could be affixed.  The big window facing north (toward Cincinnati) had some space nearby where an easel for a larger work would fit comfortably.

Floor space for easels on third floor landing

Floor space for easels on third floor landing

As we were exploring this space, I was delighted to see Beth Coyle, one of my former students, behind the librarian’s desk.  She was hired  recently by the library to do local research.  I expect she will do an excellent job.  In my undergraduate class on Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville during the 2010 Spring Semester.  Beth wrote an excellent short story inspired by the plight of Pip in the “Castaway” chapter of Moby-Dick.   In my graduate class on Emily Dickinson and Henry James during the 2011 Fall Semester, she “explored the idea of what Emily Dickinson and Henry James would look like and listen to if they were alive today.”  The result was a song list of music by Streetlight Manifesto, Frank Turner, and Dead to Me for Dickinson, and one featuring Mumford & Songs, Modest Mouse, and Hanni El Ehatib for James.  In addition to playing sample of this music in class, Beth presented her drawings of Punk Dickinson and Indie James as she imagined they would look today.  I am delighted to know that her M.A. from our English program has led to a job in this library, and if we are able to have the Moby show here in April it would be wonderful to have her help and involvement.

Beth Coyle, Punk Emily

Beth Coyle, Punk Emily

Beth Coyle, Indie James

Beth Coyle, Indie James

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking down to the main floor, Emma Rose and I were naturally drawn to the brick wall on the north side of the vertical shaft.  From my quick reconnaissance on the way to the Loch Norse event last Friday, I had hoped that we could use this wall to hang large works such as Kathleen Piercefield’s larger-than-life Queequeg print and Abby Schlachter’s life-size Queequeg in her Coffin.  Gary did not think we would allowed to pound or insert a nail or a screw into the pristine brick surface.  But he did think we could probably use some of those damage-free hanging hooks which leave no mark after their adhesive surface is removed.  The smooth tiled surface lining the elevator case to the south of the stairway was a potentially attractive display space, but it was not designed for hanging.  And access to it was obstructed by the frame of the stairwell and by the beautiful rock garden that filled that side of the shaft.

Brick wall descending to main floor

Brick wall descending to main floor

On the main floor beyond the elevator, stairway, and reception desk there are ample, versatile areas for displaying art of many kinds.  Gary took us first into the large meeting room which holds up to 100 people.  This would be perfect for our two-day Marathon Reading of Moby-Dick.  The room can be reconfigured as needed, which in our case could include lining the walls with Moby artworks on easels to supplement our Marathon Reading.  At the head of the room is wide screen on which we could project artwork.  There are also display monitors on which messages could be run or videos played.  Food is allowed too, so this would be the perfect place, with the student art works still lining the walls, for the Closing Reception that will follow the Symposium on Moby-Dick and the Arts on the day after the Marathon ends.

Main floor meeting room, chairs facing wide screen

Main floor meeting room, chairs facing wide screen

Out in the main reading room per se, we looked first at a display case that would be perfect for Danielle Wallace’s Moby-Dick Tea Set, Nancy Vagedes’s ceramic White Whale,  Emily Hyberger’s Kedger Piece, and other 3-D works.  Throughout the room are walls and book-shelf fronts with more of those horizontal slats on which to attach or display artworks.  A very large table-top area would be great for displaying artist books and other printed materials, including the exhibition catalog we are designing for this show.  This floor also has several intimate, glassed-in conference rooms with computers and screens that would be perfect for displaying  the Moby videos and website that are part of the exhibition.  On the northwest corner of this floor Gary showed us a glassed-in computer room for Young Adults, already decorated by pull-down window shades with drawings in the Japanese Manga style, yet another space that might accommodate some of the art in our show.  Emma Rose and I both love the idea of spreading the exhibition throughout the building, and Gary would love to see that too.  This floor was full of diverse citizens reading books and using computers, another sign of an extremely vital institution.

Glass case and wall space in entrance to main reading room

Glass case and wall space in entrance to main reading room

Taking the stairs down to the Children’s  level of the library opened many new possibilities.  Right at the foot of the stairs is an alcove to the right that could serve as a unique, self-contained installation space in which we could perhaps suspend works from the frame of the stairwell as well as displaying them on free-standing easels.

Alcove at stair landing to Children's floor

Alcove at stair landing to Children’s floor

Directly in front of the stairwell is a beautiful mosaic mural with an aquatic subject whose imagery was originally drawn by local schoolchildren—another spot against which to play off some of our Moby works.  The walls of this very large room are lined with shelving above which four very large, beautiful murals are permanently installed.  One wall with lower shelves is equipped with tracks near the ceiling from which depend wires displaying artwork children have been making in the library.  Emma Rose has worked in the summer education program for children at the Cincinnati Art Museum and would love to do a program for children in connection with our Moby show if the staff would welcome it.  In the north end of this floor there is more shelf space for art display, plus windows looking out onto a landscaped courtyard children can visit in good weather.  This Children’s floor also has a small meeting room with video display and a larger room with plenty of counter space for either art works or serving food.

Aquatic mosaic mural at entrance to lower level for children

Aquatic mosaic mural at entrance to lower level for children

All in all, this public library building would be wonderful for the Moby-Dick exhibition, Marathon Reading, and Closing Reception that we envision for the weekend of April 25 – 27, 2015.  Gary likes the idea of hosting Moby Comes to Covington, but of course will have to check with his branch director and other supervisors.  One area where we do not have a perfect fit is that the library’s operating hours are shorter on the weekend than during the week.  We would like to have the Marathon Reading from 9 to 9 on both Saturday and Sunday, days on which the library is only open from 10 to 5 and 12 to 5, respectively.  They do occasionally extend their weekend hours, and if they are able to do that in our case, I  believe we will have found a wonderful home for our April exhibition and Marathon Reading.  Gary has two very intense weekends coming up with special projects, after which we will all be back in touch.

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Political Kick-Off Visit

Entry written at Riverside Marina in Dayton (KY) on Saturday, September 13, 8:00 pm

Alison Lundergan Grimes entered my Whale Ship blog in the entry “Grand Contested Election and Unbearable Loss” in April 2014.  She enters this blog on September 13, 2014, the day she came to northern Kentucky for separate events in Newport and Covington to kick-off the final stretch of her historic run to become a U. S. Senator from the state of Kentucky.  Grimes is attempting to unset the thirty-year incumbent Mitch McConnell, minority leader of the Senate, comfortably poised to become majority leader of that body should his party pick up a few additional seats in the upcoming November elections.  Should McConnell be upset by the thirty-something Grimes, he would become only the second presiding minority leader of the Senate to lose a re-election bid.

I have been canvassing for Grimes nearly every Saturday afternoon since returning from the Whale Ship voyage, so as soon as I heard that men were welcome at the luncheon held for her yesterday by the Women’s Network for Northern Kentucky, I decided to go.  The event was held at the Syndicate restaurant in Newport and had to be moved to larger and larger rooms as the numbers swelled toward the end of the week.  The Network’s luncheons usually draw about 35 people.  This one drew at least 140.  I know two leaders of the organization, Joan Gregory and Phyllis Schiff.  I probably know only about seven more of the other 140 who entirely filled the room we were in, leaving about a dozen to eat at the bar.  Grimes was opening her campaign headquarters in Lexington earlier in the day, so it was reported before we finally settled down to lunch than she would be later than expected.  Shortly before she did arrive, we moved into a much larger room that accommodated our numbers more comfortably, and our pent up energy resounded in applause when she strode into the room in a smart white jacket above a short black skirt above brown leather boots and stood before the stained glass design of woman with flowing hair at the head of the room.

Alison Grimes addressing the Women’s Network of Northern Kentucky at the Syndicate in Newport, September 13, 2014.

Alison Grimes addressing the Women’s Network of Northern Kentucky at the Syndicate in Newport, September 13, 2014.

I had loved Alison as a candidate when I saw her at the Bellevue Vets after the primary in May and love her even more now.  She is young, smart, savvy, and caring.  She believes in what she can do and has done, equally in what Mitch McConnell cannot and has not.  She worked the crowd in both venues today with honest, inspiring points, one after another.  She had a few quick hits at Mitch, but she kept it serious and addressed substantial issues.  She stressed women’s issues with the Women’s Network in Newport—after thanking them for having helped elect her as Secretary of State.  Her active support for women who suffer from domestic violence (most recently by creating an absentee ballot with which victims can vote without having to be visible to the abuser on the way to the polling place) was highly appreciated by this audience.  So was her advocacy for raising the mininimum wage, easing the loan burden for college students, and other female and family-oriented issues.  At every point, she clearly articulated positions she has consistently held on the basis of true beliefs.  In Covington, she addressed issues across the entire electorate, not just women, with equal passion and aplomb.  I feel that any opportunity for her to debate McConnell will be highly advantageous to her, which is why he has been avoiding them, with only one so far scheduled.

Alison Lundergan Grimes addressing packed house at opening of Covington campaign headquarters

Alison Lundergan Grimes addressing packed house at opening of Covington campaign headquarters

In my canvases on Saturday afternoons I have been underwhelmed by the number of others going out from our staging area in Fort Thomas—usually only one other person there during my shift to get our marching orders from Maddie.  The rousing, engaged audiences at both venues today suggests there will be a more passionate devotion to her cause, on the ground, than I have seen so far.  McConnell has all the advantages of incumbency (although in his case quite a few disadvantages too).  Grimes needs a big ground game here in northern Kentucky to overcome his likely high margins in the deeply conservative areas of eastern and western Kentucky.  I certainly think her youth and relative vitality (in contrast to him) are advantages.  So, it would seem, are her physical presence and beauty.  Her smart, attractive outfit at the Syndicate today seemed perfect for appealing to Kentucky blue bloods as well as to the state’s increasing cadre of professional woman.  McConnell had early on called her an “empty dress.”  Someone who looks as good as she can declare with particular force and effectiveness (as she did today) that “this race will show that it’s not what’s in the dress that counts, but what’s up here in the head.”

Grimes with admirers at the Women’s Network in Newport

Grimes with admirers at the Women’s Network in Newport

I was impressed at both events by the time she took to shake hands with one follower after another, graciously posing for photo after photo.  I waited for my turn in Covington and was glad I did, even though I was still wearing a large bandage from some skin cancer surgery early in the week.  The surge of energy as she spoke to her followers, spilling out into the street after, made one feel we may well have a new U. S. Senator representing our state in Washington DC in 2015.

alison covington 17 & me 2

The blogger and the candidate in Covington on September 13

My normal shift for canvassing is from 3 to 6 on Saturday afternoon.  On this Saturday the back-to-back events did not end until about 4:30 in Covington, so Maddie and the other local organizers decided to stay at the new headquarters there until 9 pm, giving us canvassers plenty of time in which to cover the ground we were assigned for the day.  I was assigned this time to Dayton, immediately upriver from Bellevue, the river town in which I live.  I worked from 4:30 to 7:30 on a beautiful fall afternoon on which many people were home, sometimes out on their porch, and generally welcoming to my visit.  At this point we are targeting voters thought to be undecided, but I found a majority of those who answered the door to be either for Grimes or against McConnell, sometimes strongly both.  These ranged from a young eighteen-year-old high-school graduate who will be voting for the first time to an octogenarian surrounded by two younger generations on the porch.  Many of those I spoke to filled out our “Commit to Vote” card and one took the extra yard sign I had in the trunk.  This will indeed be a “Grand Contested Election” like the one Ishmael alludes to in the opening chapter of Moby-Dick.  It feels good the be playing even a small part in it.

Because the Grimes organizers would be in Covington until 9, I gave myself the pleasure when I was done canvassing of driving upriver from Dayton to the Riverside Marina for dinner.  This restaurant is on a barge that moves easily up and down in response to the wakes from boats and barges passing by.  In the shade as the sun was setting behind the high bank at this turn of the river, I could enjoy the chill of the oncoming autumn night as an antidote to moments of almost fevered excitement during the day.  Just as I was about to pay the bill for my fish Hoagie and fries, the B&B riverboat floated silently upstream, its night lights just turned on in advance of the dusk, a magical grace note to an exciting day.

B&B Riverboat floating by Riverside Marina on evening of September 13

B&B Riverboat floating by Riverside Marina on evening of September 13

Alison interviewed on departure from Covington

Alison interviewed on departure from Covington

When I brought my packet back to the Covington headquarters shortly before 9, Maddie and her colleagues were indeed still at work.  Before Alison had climbed into her black SUV for the next campaign stop in the afternoon, she had answered a long series of probing questions from a local reporter, protected by a serious security person who probably wondered who this guy with a camera was hanging around to take pictures. Actually, the crowds had been so tight all day, this had been my first chance to get a photo of her standing tall in those leather boots.  I hope in November we can welcome her back for a victory party.

Kick-Off Events

Entry begun in Bellevue, Sunday, September 14, at 8:30 am

High-school and college football season is finally here in northern Kentucky.  Clear, fair days and crisp, cool nights.  My kickoff events this week have been mostly artistic and in the future.

The biggest development is that Claire Illouz, the Moby-Dick book artist from France who created the limited-edition Whiteness book we have in our NKU Archive, is not only coming through northern Kentucky again on her way back from the Codex Book Fair in California in February 2015.  No, in addition, she has actually followed up on my suggestion a year ago and is now in the process of completing an Emily Dickinson artist book.  I had heard a few weeks ago from Sam Otter in Berkeley that the 2015 Book Fair will occur one week before my Valentine Weekend Emily Dickinson Festival, which had raised the possibility that Claire could attend our Dickinson event on the way home to France and even participate in some way.

In the email I received from Prague last week, where Claire has been visiting her daughter, she told me of her progress with the Dickinson artist book and said she would be happy to present it, perhaps with commentary from me about the poems she has incorporated, on any occasion I would be able to arrange.  The ideal event, I had thought, would be some kick-off event on the evening of Thursday, February 12, before the Marathon Reading of Dickinson’s poetry began the next morning.  Now, that might be quite possible.  It was very exciting to think about Claire’s studio, about an hour’s drive from Paris, where I had visited her in the summer of 2011, as the source of an artist book on Dickinson.

Claire Illouz presenting her Whiteness book to my Spring 2011 class in Moby-Dick & the Arts

Claire Illouz presenting her Whiteness book to my Spring 2011 class in Moby-Dick & the Arts

Before hearing from Claire last week, John Campbell and I had proposed to Board of the Friends of the Steely Library that we would try to involve Claire in the Dickinson Valentine’s Festival if she would be able to come for some kind of kick-off event on the evening of February 12.  At that meeting, the Board voted to fund the Reception for Student Artists we are planning between the Marathon Reading and the Song Recital on the evening of February 13.   John had been very much involved in Claire’s previous visits to Cincinnati and northern Kentucky in 2011 and 2013, and he will now begin in earnest to try to set up some kind of printmaking workshop for Claire over Valentine’s weekend similar to those he had arranged for her at the Art Academy in Cincinnati and the NKU print room in February 2013.  John Campbell is a printmaker himself, and during this past Spring Semester he audited my class in Dickinson & the Arts and created an artist book that he exhibited this summer at the Cincinnati Public Library in a group exhibition by the Cincinnati Book Arts Society, of which he is a former president.

Claire Illouz (with NKU printmaking instructor Andrea Knarr) at workshop for NKU students in 2013

Claire Illouz (with NKU printmaking instructor Andrea Knarr) at workshop for NKU students in 2013

Now that Claire has agreed to do a kick-off event for us on February 12, 2015, John and I would also like to include a local Moby-Dick artist who has herself turned to Emily Dickinson at my suggestion.  Kathleen Piercefield, a great admirer of Claire Illouz, was a student in my Spring 2004 class in Moby & the Arts.  During and after that class she has created a prodigious variety of prints in response to Melville’s novel (including the image of the White Whale that is the banner for this web site). In July of this year, Kathleen exhibited her first response to the life and work of Emily Dickinson at the Campbell County Public Library in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.  Her studio in Dry Ridge, twenty-five miles to the south, is currently undergoing renovation, but Kathleen expects to have some additional Dickinson works available by the time of our Valentine’s festivities in 2015.  However it all plays out, she had Claire will together give us a wonderful kickoff to the Valentine’s weekend in which the Marathon Reading, Student Reception, and Song Recital on Friday will be followed by the Marathon Reading, Panel of Student Artists, and Emily Dickinson Tea Party on Saturday.

Kathleen Piercefield with print of Emily Dickinson at Fort Thomas Public Library, July 2014

Kathleen Piercefield with her Emily Dickinson portrait print at Fort Thomas Public Library, July 2014

This week also brought new ideas for a kick-off event for the Moby Comes to Covington exhibition in April 2015.  I had mentioned both the Dickinson and Moby-Dick events to Mark Niekurk, director of the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement at NKU, and he had begun to think about having a kick-off event at the Cincinnati Art Museum on Friday, April 24, the evening before the Marathon Reading of Moby-Dick would begin in the exhibition space in Covington (whatever space that would turn out to be).  Mark had helped to organize a very successful Symposium on Machiavelli at the Art Museum last year featuring  Bill Landon, the chair of the History Department at NKU and his visiting mentor from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and he thought something similar involving Moby-Dick might be a good successor to that.  I welcomed the idea, and thought the best way to approach it would be to see if the guest speakers who were coming for our Symposium at NKU on Moby-Dick and Visual Art on April 27, most of whom wanted to take in much of the Marathon Reading on April 25 and 26, would be willing to come a day earlier for a kick-off event on April 24.

Cincinnati Art Museum ready for an evening event

Cincinnati Art Museum ready for an evening event

During the course of this week, the guest speakers all agreed.  If the the details work out at the Art Museum as Mark hopes, we will have a 90-minute Symposium on the evening of April 24 addressing some variation on the question, “Why does Moby-Dick matter today?”  The speakers will be Elizabeth Schultz, author of Unpainted to the Last; Sam Otter, editor of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies; Matt Kish, artist and author of Moby-Dick in Pictures; and Emma Rose Thompson, student co-curator of Moby Comes to Covington and designer of the accompanying catalog that we are in the process of editing right now (its working title is Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish: Moby-Dick Art by Students at Northern Kentucky University).

In yesterday’s newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a long feature on Cameron Kitchen, the newly appointed director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, under the heading, “Education is the top priority for Art Museum’s new director.”  Kitchen believes that the museum “must be a public service organization, not just an arts organization” (September 13, 2014, A6).” So, if Mark’s proposal gets as far as his desk, we should have a good shot at having it accepted.  In our meeting on Wednesday, Emma Rose and I decided to make Piercefield’s diptych print Moby Dick: a mighty mildness the wrap-around cover of our catalog if we can acquire an image with sufficient resolution.  The white body of the whale would provide a fine ground for the text of the front and back covers.  A few days later I decided to make the same image the banner image for this blog.

Kathleen Piercefield, Moby Dick: a mighty mildness, mixed-media print mounted on two canvas panels

Kathleen Piercefield, Moby Dick: a mighty mildness, mixed-media print mounted on two canvas panels

As we were getting confirmations from the speakers for the projected Moby kick-off event on April 24, we finally got some definitive news about the status of the Moby Comes to Covington exhibition.  In a phone conversation with Cate Yellig, director of the Covington Arts Gallery, I learned that the building housing the gallery at 20 West Seventh Street in which our April exhibition was scheduled has indeed been sold by the city to the developers of a microbrewery.  Cate was already in the process of moving to her new gallery at 2 West Pike Street, a white walled space whose irregular shape is definitely too narrow for either our Moby-Dick exhibition or Marathon Reading.  Cate authorized me to begin seeking out other possible venues that might better meet our needs.  Coincidentally, one of the Board members of the Friends of Steely Library to whom we had mentioned this possible development at the meeting on Monday had suggested that the newly renovated Kenton County Public Library in Covington might be a good venue for the exhibition if we had to find a new site.

Immediately after speaking with Cate I called Julia Allegrini, director of the library.  From the way I described our show over the phone, she said she thought it would very successfully address their mission of public outreach and imaginative enrichment in a powerful way.  She invited me to meet with Gary Pilkington, her “logistics” specialist, to see what would be feasible.  I telephoned him later in the day, and he also seemed to think we had the potential for an excellent fit.  Emma Rose and I will be meeting with him at 3 pm next Wednesday afternoon, in the final hour of our weekly planning meeting.

Kenton County Public Library, 5th and Scott, Covington, KY

Kenton County Public Library, 5th and Scott, Covington, KY

I had visited the renovated library once, but not with an eye to exhibiting up to 100 artworks there.  I got the perfect opportunity for a preview on Friday night when I picked up Kimberly Gelbwasser, who will sing the Dickinson songs at our Valentine’s recital in February, for the kick-off event of our English department’s once-a-month Loch Norse Literary Reading at the Bow Tie Café on Mount Adams in Cincinnati.  Kimberly lives literally across the street from the Covington Public Library.  I was bringing her to the Loch Norse event because she was to be reading (and singing) some of the Toni Morrison songs she will be performing at NKU on October 2 in a setting by Andre Previn for soprano, cello, and piano.

I was to help her kick off the open mic part of the evening by reading “Steering Out of the Haven,” adapted from an entry in my Whale Ship blog.  Our presentations would follow that of the featured speaker for the evening, Jessica Hinman, our new Associate Professor in the English department who, like Kimberly, coincidentally, we have just hired from Eastern New Mexico.  Jessica is a specialist in creative non-fiction. She opened the program by reading delightfully from a forthcoming book about her life as a touring violinist whose job was to pretend to be playing the music that the live concert audience is listening to.  This went well with my story about steering a whale ship that was actually being towed by a tug boat.  It also fit when Kimberly began singing the refrain of Previn’s setting of Morrison’s poem “Stones” but doing this, necessarily, without the piano and cello music that will be accompanying her in the actual concert on October 2.

This Loch Norse kick-off was a wonderful way to end a rich and eventful week.  I had decided to wear the clothes I’d worn on the whale ship for the short reading from my blog, including the head strap with the GoPro camera I had worn when climbing the rigging.  Kimberly got a picture of me reading.  I wish I’d gotten one of her singing.  That will have to wait until October 2 when she has her full accompaniment from members of the Corbett Trio.

Whale ship veteran reading "Steering out of the Have" at Loch Norse open mic

Whale ship veteran reading “Steering out of the Haven” at Loch Norse open mic

For now, I will end this entry with the photo I took of Kimberly last Sunday, September 5, in front of the mural on the Covington flood wall depicting the real-life story that inspired Morrison’s Beloved.  In the mural designed and painted by Robert Dafford, Margaret Garner is crossing the Ohio River in Covington when it was frozen over on January 26, 1856, escaping with her husband Robert, his parents, and Margaret’s four children from the Maplewood Plantation in Richwood, Kentucky (not far from today’s Northern Kentucky / Cincinnati airport) where she had been enslaved to Archibald Gaines.  The Garner party crossed safely to the home of a relative on the Cincinnati side, but they were tracked down the next morning by Gaines and a federal marshal before they could escape north on the Underground Railroad.  Their arrival prompted Margaret to kill one of her young daughters to keep her from being returned to slavery, making her, more than a century later, the “Beloved” of Morrison’s novel.

My photo of Kimberly Gelbwasser with the Margaret Garner floodwall mural in Covington

My photo of Kimberly Gelbwasser with the Margaret Garner floodwall mural in Covington

Part 2. PLANNING THE EXHIBITIONS, MARATHONS, AND CATALOGS

Whatever will eventuate from our Dickinson and Moby-Dick initiatives during the 2015 Spring Semester had its origin half-way through the class on Moby-Dick and the Arts I taught during the 2013 Spring Semester.  Emma Rose Thompson was a sophomore Art History major in that class.  One week after Spring Break, when students submitted their proposals for their final projects, she submitted something I had not previously seen.  She wanted to create a scale model of a hypothetical art exhibition.  She wanted to design the kind of exhibition space in which visitors could get a sense of what she and her classmates had been learning during the first half of the course.  During those weeks, students had read Moby-Dick and Elizabeth Schultz’s Unpainted to the Last, discussed each book in class, kept a log in response to Moby-Dick, and presented an analytical paper relating one of the artworks in the Schultz book to Moby-Dick itself.

For a long time I had been hoping to exhibit artworks my students had creatred in response to Moby-Dick in the Main Gallery of our Fine Arts building.  More recently, when I began teaching a course in Emily Dickinson and the Arts, I began to dream of a comparable exhibition of student artworks created in response to Dickinson’s poetry.  A few days after Emma Rose had turned in her proposal, I happened to see her in the stacks of the Steely Library.  On the spur of the moment, I asked if she would possibly be interested in helping me curate a Moby exhibition of the kind I was contemplating, and maybe a Dickinson one too.  She liked the idea, and said yes.  By the time she presented her final project at the end of the semester, we had already begun our search for a venue for each show.

Emma Rose presenting the scale model of her imaginary exhibition to her classmates at the end of the 2013 Spring Semester

Emma Rose presenting the scale model of her hypothetical exhibition to her classmates at the end of the 2013 Spring Semester

Our ideal venues would have been the Main Gallery of the Fine Arts building for the Moby show and the smaller Main Floor Gallery across the hall for the Dickinson show.  We were disappointed when our proposal was turned down by the Exhibition Committee of the Fine Arts department, but we felt confident that we could eventually find a venue for each show, and that has turned out to be the case.  We are as curious as anyone else about how it will all turn out.

Whale Ship / Gold Ship

Airport update at home in Bellevue, Kentucky, Wednesday, September 10, 11:30 am

After writing the above entry, I wanted to learn more, if I could, about the artist Tony Berlant.  A search on the web led me to the site of the LA Louver Gallery in Los Angeles, where he had recently exhibited brightly colored paintings on metallic surfaces, still anchored with brads.  Further research led me to his home page and to a gallery I hoped might forward to him an email message from me about my experience at the airport.  They did.  And Tony Berlant sent me an email a day later inviting me to give him a call in his Santa Monica studio.  How different from trying to do original, cross-country research in the 1980s.

I called at 11:30 the next morning, Eastern time, figuring if it was too early at 8:30 California time I could leave a message on his studio phone, inviting him to call me at a time convenient to him.  I was a little surprised that he answered at that early hour in his studio.  It was early, he said.  This was “my first call today,” but I did not wake him up and he was happy to chat.  How interesting that chat was.

Detail of the "gold" in Berlant's Gold Ship

Detail of the “gold” in Berlant’s Gold Ship

No, it was not a whale ship.  He had been thinking of the “gold” ships sailing in and out of San Francisco at the time of the Gold Rush.  No, that was not necessarily a whale in the water whose whiteness had immediately made me think of Moby Dick.  Berlant had actually been thinking of prehistoric creatures in the sea, of the mystery of the sea as perceived and imagined by humans, the color white therefore being accidental and not intended as symbolic of Melville’s whale.  No, he had not even seen the harpoons I saw pointing at Moby in the water as harpoons.  They were just dark lines in the water for him.

Detail of what I saw as a harpoon pointing at a white whale

Detail of what I saw as harpoons pointing at a white whale

Tony was happy that a visitor to the airport such as I had seen so much, even though it was not intended, in the collage he had completed so long ago.  He was glad it was still at the airport, though he could not remember at which gate.  My interpretations were actually very compatible with his intentions, for his goal as a semi-abstract artist is to create images that will inspire a variety of associations in viewers.  He had created this work at the time of the initial AIDS crisis, and he had been surprised when some members of gay community had seen the gold flames of candle-like shapes he had painted inside the vertical cables of the Golden Gate bridge as memorial candles for those who had died, even though that was not his intention.

What some saw as memorial candles to AIDS with in the vertical cables of the Gold Gate Bridge

What some saw as memorial candles to AIDS victims within the vertical cables of the Gold Gate Bridge

Ah, yes, Berlant had read Moby-Dick in high school.  He had enjoyed it as a story then, but not nearly as much when he read it long after creating Dancing on the Brink of the World for the San Francisco Airport.  He could see why I saw what I did in his imagery.  He is even now surprised, in retrospect, that he did not make any of those associations at the time.  “You can say,” he told me near the end of our highly enjoyable conversation, “that I now find it quite remarkable that I was not aware of any of those associations at the time.”  He seems to work free of specific associations so as to make viewers free to make associations of their own, therefore occasionally surprising even himself in what he sees in what he has done.  I am very grateful he invited me to give him a call.

Airport Whale Ship

New entry begun at San Francisco airport, August 30, 11:00 am

Whale ship mural seen from my working desk in Terminal 1 of San Francisco Airport

Whale ship mural seen from my working desk in Terminal 1 of San Francisco Airport

I was proofing Emily Hyberger’s Kedger Piece from my Fall 2003 Douglass and Melville class when I glanced across the corridor of Terminal 1 (I am writing on a table at Max’s Eatz and Fresh Bakery) and saw what looked like a whale ship in some kind of collaged mural directly across from my table.  The ship reminded me of some of the ones Tony de los Reyes had painted (and smeared over with red bister) in the Moby-Dick show I had seen in Santa Barbara a few years ago.  I took a photo of the ship before I went back to editing, taking care to show the edge of the table at which I am working in the foreground.  I also waited until some people were walking by to give a sense of scale.

Just now, after editing the two-page spread for Camilla Asplen’s Moby-Dick Cookbook from my Spring 2004 class in Moby-Dick & the Arts, I looked up and saw the White Whale, Moby Dick, in the lower left corner of that collage across from my table.  The whale was facing in the direction of the ship.  In his presence, the water now seemed to be filled with the wreckage of whaleboats, including harpoons pointing in the direction of the whale.  These reminded me of the corrosive harpoon embedded in the flesh of the old bull whale who is tortured, before being killed, in chapter 81 of Moby-Dick (“The Pequod meets the Virgin”).  The artist clearly knew Moby-Dick very well, something you can also see in the long horizontal extension of this collage to the immediate right of the whale ship, whose whale-like shapes are not only suggested in the water beneath the city of San Francisco and the tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, but in the huge, elongated blue whale shape anchoring the shoreline of the city itself (see photo at top of this entry).

White Whale in lower left corner of San Francisco Airport mural

White Whale in lower left corner of San Francisco Airport mural

I had first seen the white whale while a woman talking on her cell phone had her suitcase sitting in front of it.  I gestured, and she kindly moved it without any break in her phone call, glad to hear afterward the story of the mural next to her.  The label mounted near Gate 25 of Terminal 1 indicated that the artist was Tony Berlant and the title of the artwork was Dancing on the Brink of the World.  Berlant had created this work “with found metal on wood with brads.”  The work had been commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Airport Commission and completed in 1986-87 (the years in which Frank Stella was creating the first metallic reliefs in his Moby-Dick series).  Berlant was born in 1941, three years before I was, and I had never heard of him or his work during the two decades in which I have been pursuing Moby-Dick art.  How wonderful to see this work by accident, as I was waiting for my plane to Phoenix, while working on a catalog of Moby-Dick artwork by my students in Northern Kentucky.

You can see the edges of the found metal and the heads of the brads very clearly when you are up close to Berlant’s work.  Similarly, you can see the edges of the fragments of the broken plate from which Emily Hyberger had created her Kedger Piece for my class in Douglass and Melville in 2003.  From this broken plate she had assembled a seascape whose black whale ship is sailing through a dark sea whose choppy waves also suggest the shapes of whales.  The white edges of the whale-ship shape clearly show the dividing line between the pristine white of the original plate shape and the black that had been painted over its inner suface before Emily had broken it to make something of its found pieces.

Emily Hyberger presenting her Kedger Piece to the class in December 2003

Emily Hyberger presenting her Kedger Piece to the class in December 2003

Emily explained in her artist statement that “one of the pieces had some white showing that looked like a whale’s tail, and I went with it.  I made a white whale right behind the ship, like it was following it.  It wasn’t planned, but I really liked the finished product.  It made me think of the chapter in Moby-Dick . . . where Melville talks about the whale’s tail coming out of the water, pointing toward the heavens.”  The heavens in the night sky of Emily’s Kedger Piece, painted on wood, include “the consellation for Cetus, the whale.”

Heading Home

Entry written at San Francisco airport, August 30, 10:05 am

Yesterday I walked to Peete’s Coffee Shop at College and Alcatraz in Berkeley hoping I could find somebody who could help me find the incoming email messages on my iPhone. Somehow, I was only able to activate the “Entire Mailbox” mode.  Some guy, very busy passing confidential messages on his cell phone, kindly took a moment to explain that all I had to do was to press the “Received” bar on the screen to reclassify all 4000 messages in my machine in chronological order.  I was so happy he did this.  First, I learned that one of my recent graduate students who had undergone open-heart surgery had now recovered enough to begin sending email messages again.  Second, I heard from Kimberly that she and Ingrid had “set” the program for the Dickinson Valentine’s recital.  In addition to the 12 songs by Copland and the 5 by Heggie, they would be singing three by Andre Pevin.  I can’t imagine anything more delightful to look forward to.

My visit with my aunt ended well.  We had a long talk in her enclosed garden after she had watered the plants.  I can’t get over the beauty of her roses and dahlias.  This morning the creamy yellow roses were again resplendent at least an hour before the morning sun touched them directly.  The morning light was cutting across the tops of two tall cypresses and flooding the stuccoed facade of a neighbor’s house above and beyond the garden.  The sharp light high above the orange dahlias rising tall through the loaded branches of Afton’s espaliered apple tree created a Florentine scene worthy of Cezanne’s geometries of space and light.  On to Phoenix in about an hour.  On the plane, free time to proof a little more of Emma Rose’s spreads for the Moby catalog.

Afton’s creamy yellow roses still in shade on morning of August 30

Afton’s creamy yellow roses still in shade on morning of August 30