Entry begun Saturday, February 7, 11:10 am
My job was to deliver the artworks to the Reading Room. Emma Rose’s was to deploy the artworks on the walls. We had grouped the works by subject and genre in the catalog, and we were following those groupings on the Third Floor, with the artist books in the horizontal cases and most of the 3-D works and assemblages in the vertical case. That one section of the north wall in the Reading Room was perfect for the quilts and dress. But we had three other sections in the Reading Room and four kinds of subjects to fill them—those we had grouped as Portraits and the Human Subjects in one section of the catalog, and those we had grouped as Landscape and Nature Subjects in another. Fortunately, some of the artworks had elements of both portraits and the human figure, so Emma Rose selected an excellent sequence of frontal portraits for the north wall, across from a more miscellaneous depiction of the human figure on the south wall, devoting the section of the south wall across from the fabric works to landscape and nature scenes.
Once the sequence for a particular wall was chosen, Emma Rose got out the tape measure and a calculating pad while I went to the Fine Arts building to borrow a tall ladder and electric screwdriver from gallery director David Knight. The aluminum ladder was light enough for me to lift and carry, but I almost hit the head of a student who was quietly reading on a couch before I got adjusted to its length before and behind me. The Farris Reading Room has overhead tracks along the walls, into which can be inserted wires from which to hang individual artworks. As the previous show had just come down, Emma Rose had plenty of wires to work with as she began the hang. After she had measured the height and width of each individual artwork (and used the electronic screwdriver to install any hardware needed for hanging), she determined the height of the eye level (the imaginary horizontal line against which all artworks would be vertically centered). Having done this, and having done more calculations, she now ascended the ladder with the tape measure to slide the top of each wire into exactly the alignment that would place the artwork it supported in the best possible relation to its companions on either side. My role during this process was to help move the ladder and get an occasional shot of her doing her work.
Of course any task as meticulous as this lends itself to welcome interruptions. We had several the first day we got some works up on the wall, None of them more delightful than the visit from Jovana Vidojevic, who brought in her painting of black and lavender orchids for us to hang. Jovana is a double major in Economics and English who graduated in December and is returning home to Serbia in April, but she was nevertheless happy to loan her artwork to our show. I said that she could take the painting back with her when she flew home in April, as the most important thing was having it up during the Arts Fest in February, but she wanted us to exhibit it as long as the show was up, saying she had an uncle who would be happy to bring it with him when he visited Serbia in the summer. Jovana in her artist statement had explained that the black orchid, which is the largest shape in the painting, was her response to the darkness and sorrow that Dickinson saw in human life, whereas the smaller, lighter lavender orchids floating over it symbolized Dickinson’s ability to find beauty and joy in spite of the sadness. Thinking now of Jovana going back to Serbia, I wondered if the violence and bitterness of her nation’s war with with Bosnia about the time she was born had anything to do with the darkness of the black orchid. She said, no, she did not think of it that way: “It’s just the way we Serbians are, we always try to find some kind of good energy even in the darkest situations.” Someone came by as she was leaving and took a nice photo of the three of us, before there were any artworks on the walls.
Because the section with the fabric works had sorted itself out so quickly, we spent much of this day working on the sequence of portraits. Because one of these works was still out being framed, Emma Rose could not make her final, final measurements, but we were able to get the rest of the sequence laid out and begin getting a sense of how best to work the wires and hooks that would support the artworks. It is always a revelation to see how works play off against each other in color and scale, and once you see them actually on the wall, you sometimes change your mind about best sequence in which place them. When we had the four fabric pieces up for the first time, we thought that section would be hard to match, but now this one was showing itself to be equally satisfying in its ensemble as well as its individual components. In laying out this north wall of the exhibition, we also had to begin to think about how the two sections played off against each other as well as how each would compose as its own ensemble.
Although Emma Rose had plenty to think about both mathematically and aesthetically, we had one other task to attend to that first day of the hang. Now that we had gotten our 80 Dickinson catalogs from the printer, we wanted to be able to inscribe one for each of the 39 student artists before distributing them to those who lived out of town and those who would come to pick them up before or during the Marathon. I loved the opportunity to write a personal note to each of these students, some of whom I had not seen for ten years or more, but whose artworks have maintained a daily presence in my office or my home. I was very impressed with the notes Emma Rose wrote to these student artists, most of whom she had never met (since she had been in my Moby-Dick but not in my Dickinson class). Just from seeing their artworks and reading their artist statements, and then figuring out the best way to represent each one in a two-page spread in the catalog, she had come to feel as if she did know each Dickinson artist.
We did leave a few artworks from the first day up on the wall overnight. Returning to the Reading Room later in the day, I enjoyed conversing with the students who were studying at tables near them. Sitting comfortably in the couches in front of the fabric pieces were two freshmen from Ryle High School in Boone County, both of whom said they were enjoying their first year on campus very much. I also enjoyed talking with Maria from Monroe, a small town for known for its outlet stores halfway between here and Dayton, Ohio. She too is enjoying her first year at NKU and I loved the way the shape of her face is echoed by that in Nicci Mechler’s Susie’s Girl.