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


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