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.
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.