Entry begun Saturday, February 7, 2:50 pm
As the walls of the Reading Room kept filling with art, artworks kept making their way into other venues. On our first installation day in the Reading Room, John Campbell brought in the artist book he had made in my 2014 Spring Semester class, now destined for one of the display cases on the Third Floor. He also brought in the newest sample of the broadside he is making in honor of Claire Illouz’s visit, each of which will feature a beautiful imprint of Dickinson’s poem “I would not paint—a picture—“ (J 505) surrounded a variety of designs of John’s own invention, eventually to be supplemented by a design element to be sent by Claire from France. I love the way the broadside is beginning to look. In this early proof, the words of the poem stand out against a black ground as starkly as the white words of our catalog stand out against the black ground Emma Rose has given them. This made the sample broadside the perfect prop to display—and read from—at the most recent Loch Norse meeting at Bow Tie in Cincinnati.
I had already decided to read poem 505 at the Loch Norse meeting because of the brilliant attention it gives to all three of the arts to be featured in our Fest: painting, music, and poetry. It is also a poem about discovering one’s own artistic vocation: “Had I the Art to stun myself / With Bolts of Melody!” After I read the poem to the Bow Tie students and made a few brief comments, John followed with some words about the broadside itself—which he had mounted on the white board of the coffee house. Again it was thrilling to see the collegiality of our college students sharing their blossoming literary artistry across the river in Cincinnati.
On Friday, February 8, Emma Rose and I got everything hanging on the north wall of the Reading Room and re-installed one watercolor that had fallen from the Landscape and Garden section overnight. On Sunday we came back to finish the rest of the south wall. She brought her mother and her friend Andrew to help with the hang. We had returned the ladder we had borrowed from the Fine Arts building on Friday, so Emma Rose brought one from home. She also brought little “sticky things” to help certain works hug the wall. I could only stay for the very beginning of this hang, as I had to walk across campus to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony honoring the 2007-08 women’s basketball that had provided the perfect Epilogue to the book I had written about the previous year’s team by winning the Division II NCAA National Championship in Kearney, Nebraska. It was great to see these players seven years after their communal moment of glory. They were all as impressive as persons now as they had been on the court during their championship run in 2008.
When I returned to the Reading Room after the Hall of Fame presentations, the whole show was beautifully installed, all the works snug to the wall. The Portrait section was complete now that I had gotten Sarah Dewald’s Modern Daguerreotype back from the framer.
The 2014 photo of Sarah herself on the left side of her Modern Daguerreotype diptych related well to Jill Schlarman’s self-portrait in charcoal to its immediate left. Sarah’s reproduction of the Emily Dickinson daguerreotype on the right side of her diptych related equally well to Brian Morris’s depiction of that same daguerreotype as the negative space in his drawing to the immediate right of Sarah’s work in our show.
The Fabric section was looking great now that Heather Braley’s quilt was up with its three companions. Heather had very kindly added a removable sleeve to the back of her quilt to help us hang it, and I got to see her baby Clayton for the first time when she brought him with the quilt to the library.
I had previously known all of these fabric pieces very well, as two of them are from my collection at home, and I had placed the other two on extended loan to the reception area of our Honors House. Even so, they look much different evenly hung in good light together with each other. Now it is very easy to read the three Dickinson poems Lindsay Alley had painted in vertical lines on her white poem dress, and until now I had never fully appreciated the absolutely beautiful texture of the fabric worn by the lady we see from behind in Laura Beth Thrasher’s Henry and Emily.
The Landscape and Garden section is looking so much better now that the watercolor that had slipped to the floor has regained its place. It is amazing how one gap in a sequence can destroy an otherwise excellent installation. It is also amazing what a difference it makes when every work is snug to the wall, evenly hung, and proportionally spaced. Emma Rose’s courses in gallery installation have prepared her beautifully for such work.
On this wall, now that I could savor the installation, I particularly loved the coloristic and spatial play between Alan Johnston’s photograph of an Alaskan sunset and Emma Clixby’s sunset sculpture whose spread wings and fluted body at once suggest Emily herself, a bird, and an angel. The visual play becomes even richer when you realize that Alan’s Alaskan mountain scene is named for Dickinson’s “The Sun went down—no Man looked on,” a poem whose final words are equally applicable to Emma’s ceramic sculpture: “The Earth and I and One / A nameless Bird—a Stranger / Were Witness of the Crown—“ (J 1079).
The newest pleasure on this day was to see the fourth section of the exhibition in this room up on the wall and perfectly installed. This section depicts the Human Figure along a rich continuum from representational to abstract. Spatially and coloristically, Emma Rose’s hang engages the eye throughout, with the two large views of the female figure, by Carol Scaringelli and Camilla Apslen, framing the works by Kelsea Miskell, Matt Ruiz, and John Campbell in the middle. Carol’s mixed-media riff on Dickinson on the left gives us only a partial portrait of the face of the enraptured woman whose eager, grasping fingers reach out for beauty—in contrast to the boldness with which every letter and gesture of Camilla’s full-body figure says I took my Power in my Hand, which itself plays of beautifully against John’s adjacent, abstract depiction of Dickinson’s Bandaged Soul.
The contrast between figurative and abstract is equally striking in the two smaller works, both predominantly purple, in this section. The figurative, narrative, dramatic ambiguity of Kelsea Miskell’s I Came to buy a smile—today is a stark contrast to Matt Ruiz’s radically abstract Cleaving Mind, inspired by Dickinson’s “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind—“ (J 937). Matt’s acrylic painting immediately follows Kelsea’s mixed-media image in our catalog, but it is even better to see them right next to each other on the wall. This entire section presents a rich variety of left brains and right brains in action and interaction.
On the next day, Monday, February 9, Emma Rose and I had our last meeting with members of the four student groups who were helping us plan and organize the Marathon. It was great to meet in the exhibition space where the Marathon would be run, with the artworks now on the walls, making it easier to project how everything would be playing out a few days from now. All four groups were represented, and the electronic sign-up sheet for the Marathon was already filling up nicely. We had originally thought that each Marathon reader would use the microphone and podium that would be installed for the Thursday night lecture, but at this meeting we unanimously decided to make it more informal by deploying a half circle of comfortable chairs face-to-face with a few rows of chairs for the audience, with no microphone necessary. We verified the procedures by which two students from each group would cover each four-hour shift, one to register the readers and oversee our catalogs, the other to monitor the ten-minute time slots and the sequence of poems for the Marathon readers. We got done before we planned, so I had time to take a photo of the student reps before we left.
We left the Reading Room that day fully installed and ready for the Marathon.