Moby Dickinson

Entry begun Sunday, December 21, 7:15 am

For the last several weeks our Moby and Dickinson initiatives have been demanding equal attention, hence the title for this entry.

The newest challenge and pleasure has been laying out and editing the Dickinson catalog now that the Moby catalog is ready to print once we find the printer who can give us the quality we need at the price we can afford.  We have finally finalized the Moby cover spread, front and back, with only two tiny tweaks remaining:

Moby cover with NKU logo

The Dickinson catalog is smaller than the Moby one, 110 rather than 150 pages.  Emma Rose says designing this one has been easier because of the experience she now has with InDesign.  Again, we have both been impressed with the artwork these students have created and the artist statements in which they have expressed their intentions.  The structure of this catalog has held up well as we have laid out its successive sections.  Beginning with Quilts & Fabric Art, we move on to Portraits and the Human Subject, Landscape & Nature Scenes, Antique Assemblages, and Artist Books before concluding with Video, Public Art, Blogs, and Websites.  To give a sense of the variety of the artwork and the continuity of Emma Rose’s design, here are the current versions of the two-page spreads for Lindsay Alley’s white poem dress (inspired by “Unable are the loved to die” and other poems) and Emma Clixby’s ceramic sunset bird figure (inspired by “The sunset retired to a cloud” and “Blazing in Gold and Quenching in Purple”):

14-15 Lindsay Alley


44-45 Emma Clixby

After we had all of the artist spreads and sections blocked out and filled in, we designed the title page, wrote our two introductory essays, edited our appendices, and wrote our acknowledgments.  After all the pages were in place, we were ready to design the front and back covers and order two sample copies of the bound catalog from Blurb.  This time when Emma Rose entered her online order at the end of one of our editorial meetings, she got the message “No problems encountered,” showing how much she had learned in the short time since we ordered our first Moby samples.  We were both thrilled when the order came to her house only a day and a half later, just in time for the public preview we were to give of the Dickinson Fest at the Bow Tie Café on Mount Adams on Friday, December 12.

cover spread dickinson catalog

The December 12 meeting of Loch Norse at Bow Tie began with Kelly Moffett reading her powerful new essay about encountering Black Madonnas in a rural American monastery and in French cathedrals and catacombs.  After a break, I summarized the three-day menu of events for our Dickinson Fest on Valentine’s weekend 2015, with special emphasis on how the creative writers in the room will be able to sign up for our Marathon Reading of Dickinson’s poems.  Emma Rose then showed the crowd her sample copy of the Dickinson catalog and gave a preview of the exhibition of student art we will be installing in the Farris Reading Room of the Steely Library in advance of the Festival weekend.  I was happy to see three of our Dickinson artsts at the Bow-Tie this evening, including Caitlin Neely visiting after her first semester in the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Virginia.

To top off our presentation, Kimberly Gelbwasser, without any accompaniment, sang one of the songs she will be singing at her all-Dickinson recital on February 13.  “Good night” is one of the five new songs by Jake Heggie she will be singing that night.   It is a setting of the poem “Some say goodnight—at night— / I say goodnight by day—“ (J 1739).  Her voice is so expressive, her pitch to pure, and her understanding of the text and its implications so complete, that this rendition was entirely satisfying even without the piano accompanimen (which, however, I am eager to hear when Ingrid Keller returns from Oregon to accompany her in February).

Kimberly Gelbwasser, Emma Rose Thompson, adn Bob Wallace with Brian Morris' pencil drawing I cannot see my soul bur know 'tis there

Kimberly Gelbwasser, Emma Rose Thompson, and Bob Wallace with Brian Morris’ pencil drawing I cannot see my soul but know ’tis there

During the second break in the Bow Tie program, John Campbell, one of our Dickinson artists, gave a preview of the Tea Party that will conclude our February Fest by distributing throughout the café pieces of a freshly baked coconut cake from Emily Dickinson’s recipe.  His coconut cake was especially savored by Emma Rose’s father Thomas, a pastry chef from Panera who had come to see his daughter’s presentation this evening–who will contribute some of his own creations to the Tea Party.

While all of this advance work for the Dickinson Fest was going on, Emma Rose and I were making multiple visits to the local printer from whom we hope to be able to order the Moby catalog and, if that works out, the Dickinson one too.  This printer has given us a quote much lower than the price from Blurb, which would allow us to provide one copy for each student artist and have some left over for visitors to the exhibition, the Marathon, and the Symposium in April.  To get the quality he needs in reproducing the art work in our catalog, our salesperson has had to send our project to a site in California with a high quality toner printer. The cover looked very nice on the first sample that came back from there, but the color throughout the catalog was problematic, especially the blues, too heavy to the purple side.  Equally problematic was the fact that four pages fell out of this sample, bound copy before I could finish proofing the first twenty-four pages.  Emma Rose and I have returned several times to discuss binding solutions and learn the intricacies involved in making color adjustments, and we remain hopeful that a newly printed and bound sample, due on December 30, will give us what we need.  December 30 is also the due date for our first local sample of the Dickinson catalog, which we had proofed and edited thoroughly from the Blurb sample we had received just before the Bow Tie event, taking our newly revised file to the local printer on Friday, December 19.

moby catalog and loose pages

Sample Moby catalog whose pages fell out

Although the catalogs have necessarily been our top priority, we have also had to begin designing the poster, press release, website, and other publicity materials that we will need to finalize and distribute as soon as we return for the new semester that begins on January 13. We met last week with Michael Providenti, who will be overseeing our installation of the Dickinson exhibition in the Steely Library, and I met with Rock Neely, our contact at Gateway Community College who is setting up meetings in January to determine whether we will be able to use their new gallery space for part of our Moby show in April.  I also had an encouraging meeting with a curator here in the region who had been actively interested in mounting a show of Moby-Dick artists to coincide with the Cincinnati Opera production of Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick in June 2016.  He is still interested even though the opera production has been postponed, and on December 9 he came out to our campus to take a close look at original artworks by Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici in the Honors House and the Steely Library Archive.  It was an excellent visit, and a show featuring these two artists is still a possibility even in the absence of the opera.  In January Matt Kish will be driving down from Dayton to see the exhibition space and plan some of the ways he would be able to fill it should the show come about.

For local readers of this Blog who want to learn more about Matt Kish, there is a wonderful feature about him and his work in the December 2014 issue of Cincinnati Magazine.  It includes a full-page illustration of his alter-ego as the Lone Harpooner.  If we are able to get the Gateway space for part of our Moby show in April, Matt has already arranged for the Lone Harpooner to lead our procession from one venue to the other on the afternoon of Sunday, April 26.

kish as lonely harpoooner

Photo by Jeremy Kramer posted here with permission


In advance of the December 9 visit by the local curator, I had to sort out and gather together the 45 new “metallic” Moby-Dick prints that Robert Del Tredici has created, and sent to my Bellevue home in groups of 13, 17, and 15 since visiting our campus one year ago.  When we examined them in the Archive, the visiting curator was impressed. So was our NKU archivist Lois Hamill.  Within a week of that meeting she and Del Tradici, who lives in Montreal, had reached an agreement by which he would donate all 45 of these new Moby prints on Fuji Pearl paper to the NKU Archive—to which I delivered them Thursday, December 18.  So, even though the opera is not coming to Cincinnati in 2016, the expectation that it was to come has already had some positive results.  We are planning to have an exhibition of Moby-Dick art from from the Archive collection in conjunction with the Moby exhibition, marathon, and symposium in April 2015, and now will have even more to choose from..

rdt to archive 12-18-14 3

45 metallic Moby-Dick prints by Robert Del Tredici on their way to the NKU Archive

The last sentence above would have concluded this entry had I not made an exciting discovery this afternoon during a return visit to the site of a house overlooking the city of Cincnnati that Frederick Douglass had visited in 1850.  Armed this time with an 1857 blueprint I had found of the site in the Cincinnati Historical Society Library two weeks ago, I was able to confirm that this substantial building I had seen once before, currently occupied by four different families, had been the actual home of two anti-slavery activists who had entertained Frederick Douglass in this very dwelling in 1850.  The current occupants of one quadrant of the structure immediately identified the house in which they are now living as the one in the blueprint.  When they generously invited me to explore an attic space up some narrow stairs behind a kitchen wall, I climbed up into in enclosed space illuminated only by a skylight invisible from the outside of the house.  Its thick brick walls, dark wood-slat ceiling, attached storage rooom, and primitive sink with antique plumbing would have been well-suited for hiding fugitive slaves or housing domestic servants.  I am grateful to the current residents for allowing me to post a sample photo in this blog, and I hope to learn more about this site before the book I am writing on Douglass in Cincinnati is published.

attic sink and skylight 12-21-14


Here, Now, and in the Future

Entry begun Wednesday, December 3, 7:45 am

Jake’s visit turned out great.  I got to go to a private rehearsal of the Great Scott opera on Sunday, November 23, two days before highlights were presented at the public conclusion of the Opera Fusion workshop.  On Sunday night I got to follow a copy of the libretto as the roles were being performed consecutively for the first time.  This private rehearsal was an off-the-record event, so I cannot write much about it here other than to say that the eight singers performed beautifully accompanied by two pianos and conducted by Evan Rogister in the presence of composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally, as each heard the current version of their newest creation sung through for the first time, each at a table right in front of the singers, stage director Jack O’Brian sharing McNally’s table.  (Heggie and McNally had previously collaborated on the opera Dead Man Walking.)

Jake Heggie at front table at Sunday night rehearsal

Jake Heggie at front table at Sunday night rehearsal

It was a rainy night as I walked to the rehearsal space in Music Hall, and I was glad to meet in the elevator Keith Cerny and other executives from the Dallas Opera who are commissioning Great Scott for its Dallas premiere next October, with Joyce DiDonato in the leading role. I had gotten to know Keith and some of his colleagues when attending the Dallas premiere of Jake’s Moby-Dick opera in 2010, followed by a visit to Denton in 2013 to celebrate the publication of my book on the opera by the University of North Texas Press.  That book featured over two hundred photos by Dallas Opera photographer Karen Almond, including some she had taken at the Moby-Dick workshop in San Francisco in 2009.  I had been delighted to hear that Karen was coming to Cincinnati to photograph the Great Scott! workshop, and I had a wonderful reunion with her on Saturday night, bringing her over to the Kentucky side of the river to have dinner and meet my wife Joan for the first time.

With Karen Almond at book release party in Denton, Texas, in April 2013

With Karen Almond at book release party in Denton, Texas, in April 2013

The public performance of highlights from Great Scott! at Memorial Hall on Tuesday, November 25, was a delight.  The public venue and the energy from the audience made for a very stimulating evening.  I loved Renée Rapier in the role of Arden Scott that Joyce DiDonato will premiere in Dallas.  Jake hosted the evening and graciously showcased two current College Conservatory of Music students from a master class earlier in the week before introducing the night’s highlights from Great Scott!  I came to the event with Kimberly Gelbwasser, the NKU soprano who will be singing Jake’s five most recent Dickinson songs at our concert in February, and Douglass Pew, the NKU composer who is writing three brand-new Dickinson songs for Kimberly’s concert.  I love hearing music with musicians, and Kimberly is a good friend of Emily Albrink, the soprano who had the role of Tatyana Bakst in the Great Scott! workshop—and who certainly made the most of it on the Memorial Hall stage.  I hope I can get down to Dallas for the premiere in October.

Jake thanking the cast after the workshop performance at Memorial Hall

Jake thanking the cast after the workshop performance at Memorial Hall

Jake was as gracious after the performance as he was with the singers on stage, agreeing to take a four-way selfie with Kimberly, Doug, and me before heading down to the reception.  He was energized by his week in Cincinnati and says he now knows “exactly” where to go with the rest of the opera.  After he got home, I sent him a link to my blog entry about his coaching session with Kimberly to ask if I had his permission to post it.  He was happy to have it posted and he was “grateful” that I had been moved to tears when Kimberly had sung “That I did always love” to his accompaniment.  For him, my tears meant “that—for that moment—we were all one with Emily’s great passion, power and imagination—and that she was alive again in the room.  That is so powerful to me.  I love that we know when that is happening—and we are all so keenly aware when it is not!”

Jake thanking the cast after the workshop performance at Memorial Hall

Jake’s selfie with Doug Pew, myself, and Kimberly 

Jake and I did receive some bad news about a week before the Cincinnati workshop.  Artistic director Evans Mirageas had called each of us to say that the Cincinnati Opera will not be able to produce Moby-Dick as expected in June 2016.  The reasons for this decision were logistical and financial and currently unavoidable.  Moby-Dick will almost certainly come to Cincinnati at a later date—if not in the original Dallas production, then new production with a new design that would allow it to travel to a number of companies who have wished to stage it but were not able to.  This new development, which may eventually result in two different versions of the opera being performed in different venues, is probably a very healthy one for the longevity of the work itself, but it is certainly a deep disappointment for Cincinnati here and now.  When I shared this news with the museums and galleries who were actively interested in mounting Moby-Dick exhibitions in connection with the June 2016 production, I was glad to hear that several are still considering doing their shows anyway.  That would be great, especially since some of my local Moby artists are creating some great work right now with 2016 in mind.