Autumn Harvest

Entry begun Saturday, October 18, 8:55 am

In addition to the Moby artists we saw at the KNOW Theatre last week, Emma Rose and I have been getting emails from others with comments and corrections on their catalog entries.  Many of the responses have included good news, some of which I’ll sample here.  I had lost track of Michelle Cruey (now Cravens), but I got back in touch with her through her classmate Elizabeth Menning from my Fall 2006 Douglass and Melville class.  Michelle in turn put me back in touch with her older brother Brian, the member of my 1996 class on Melville and the Arts who had transferred to NYU the next year.  I had last seen Brian at a Frank Stella Moby-Dick show in New York more than a decade ago.  I was delighted to learn from him, after Michelle got us reconnected, that he is now living on a farm in Berkshire County, Massachusetts—as was Melville when writing Moby-Dick in 1850-51.  Michelle lives on a farm south of NKU in Grant County, Kentucky, and has taught Language Arts for seven years in adjacent Gallatin County.

Elizabeth Menning (now Vande Water) is in her seventh year of teaching Literature and choreographing musical theater productions at Campbell County High School to the south of our campus.  Her first child Sam was a newborn when she brought him to our Moby-Dick Marathon at Gallerie Zaum in 2009.  Now Sam is five years old and has a three-year old brother Joey; their two-month-old sister Clare was born in August.  Elizabeth (Liz) sent a seasonal family photo along with her editorial suggestions.

Liz and Chris Vande Water with daughter Clare and sons Joey and Sam

Liz and Chris Vande Water with daughter Clare and sons Joey and Sam

Jessica Slone from my Fall 2009 Douglass and Melville class accompanied her editorial comments with a photo of her seven-month-old “pumpkin” Gavin.

Gavin Slone preparing for his first Halloween

Gavin Slone preparing for his first Halloween

Our student artists and alums have had high praise for Emma Rose’s catalog design, terms such as “fabulous,” “awesome,” and “fantastic” being typical.  Their responses have voiced considerable nostalgia for their classmates, and appreciation for the class itself (“came at just the right time in my life,” “helped me decide to be a teacher”).  Some were delighted to see that their artist statements still held up very well; others were keenly aware of how much their writing has improved since their early college years.  When Emma Rose and I were beginning to design the catalog, I had expected that we would have to shorten most of the artist statements to conserve space.  But her design skill, and our 8 x 10 landscape format, have enabled us to reprint the complete statement from almost every student artist.  Our presentation of the statement that the late Fred North had written in 1994 evoked a long email from his daughter Tara Wright North that has touched me deeply and brought Fred alive for me in a new way.

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As I have mentioned elsewhere, Fred was the art major in my 1994 class in Melville and the Arts who asked if he could do a painting rather than a research paper as his final project.  The two paintings he created in response to the “Lee-Shore” chapter in Moby-Dick were so impressive that I have given the creative option to all subsequent students, whether they were art majors or not.  I had last seen Tara and her mother Helen at our exhibition at Gallerie Zaum in Newport in November 2009, several years after Fred had died.  I had first met Tara as a little girl in February 1996, when she and Fred had accompanied that year’s Moby class on the excursion to see the exhibition Unpainted to the Last at Northwestern University (see the photo at the upper right of Emma Rose’s two-page spread for Fred).

When it was time to send proofs to the Moby artists in the catalog, I was delighted to see that the phone number I had for Tara from 2009 was still a good one.  When she answered, she said she was still working as an art therapist in Louisville, and she gave me an email address to which I could send our current catalog entry for her father.  In the email she sent in response to that entry, she thought Emma Rose’s layout for the catalog was “absolutely awesome.”  She had “no corrections” for the text and “those pictures are great.” After indicating that “it was really nice to read my dad’s artist statement for the piece,” Tara responded to that statement with a meditation about her relationship with her father, the career she has chosen, and how deeply these dynamics are interrelated.  She had been a sophomore art major in 2005, struggling with what her vocation would be.

“It tickled me to remember back when I was an undergrad, and he and I would debate about the age-old question: ‘what is good art?’  We had such different views.  His was more focused on fine art with training and blah blah blah.  Mine was more along the lines that art is in everything and blah blah blah.  His was more on the product, and mine more on the process.  [But] in his statement about this artwork you are showing in April, [he wrote about] ‘unexpected serendipity,’ letting go and ‘letting god.’  Those were some of our last conversations and loving debates.  Maybe just perhaps I won that particular debate, judging by your last exhibition of your students’ work including papa’s [at Gallery Zaum in 2009].

“I just want to say that giving the choice to your students to finish their final in art of any form, and in whatever media, I think is ground breaking.  We all have different ways of communicating or expressing just how we have been moved by what has been taught, learned, or experienced.  This freedom makes their Moby-Dick experience more personal and better comprehended by viewers.  As you stated on the phone, not all of your students are art majors or visual artists, but each of their works—be it research paper, poetry, pottery, painting, drawing, or interpretive dance (not sure if you have gotten that one yet)—all express the emotion they experienced while reading the book.  As you have given them the gift to do so, it is wonderful to see you celebrate my dad’s memory in sparking this project.

“Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to look at the catalog and to see his artist statement.  It went in hand with you saying papa would be proud of my work as an art therapist.  Reading that he let go of his preconceived ideas to make a piece of ‘fine art’ makes me so happy.  Because that is what I strive for each day at work, to teach people to let go of their idea of ‘good art’ and let the process take over, let the feeling be expressed without judgment.  It is nice to know that papa was able to feel free and just express himself, and you gave him that.  Hearing from you and reading what he wrote reassures me that he is and would be proud of me, and you have given me that. Thank you.  I can’t wait to see you in April, and let me know if you need any help.”

I am grateful that Tara has allowed me to include her email in this blog entry, and I do have some plans for her in Apirl.  Since she did not know if anyone had as yet done an interpretive dance as a final project in response to Moby-Dick, I was happy to be able to send her Emma Rose’s current two-page spread for the dance Elizabeth Menning had choreographed and performed as an exploration of Ahab during the Fall 2006 semester.

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