Entry begun Sunday, March 22, 1:30 pm
This Friday was as stimulating, in its way, as Thursday had been. David Shaerf is a filmmaker now at Oakland University outside Detroit. I have met him several times at the Moby-Dick Marathon in New Bedford, which he has visited as part of his project to create a major documentary film on the importance of Moby-Dick in twenty-first-century culture. During this past summer, he visited New Bedford while the whale ship Charles W. Morgan was in town, and he recorded the gallery talk I gave on the exhibition I had curated on The Art of Seeing Whales. David had hoped to interview me then, along with some of my other Melville colleagues there, but it turned out that he did not have time to sit down with us all. I had mentioned that we would be having a Moby-Dick Marathon in Northern Kentucky in April 2105, concurrent with an exhibition of student artwork inspired by the novel, so he said he would try to come for that. And now, on Friday, March 20, here he was, with this technical assistant Adam Gould, having driven down from Michigan the day before to scout the various venues at which he was to be be filming during our four-day Moby Fest in April.
Here on Friday morning I met David and Adam at their hotel and drove them to our campus. On this day they were traveling light, with no equipment other than David’s smart phone. We went first to my office in Landrum Hall, which holds many of the Moby-Dick artworks that will be in the Covington exhibition. I had sent David a catalog in advance, and as soon as he and Adam entered the office they began recognizing works on the wall. David has been working on his Moby project for years, but I was very impressed that Adam was equally interested in the artwork and had an equally strong instrinct for it, something that is not always true of technical specialists.
We were soon joined by Emma Rose, whom they would be interviewing the next day about her work on our Moby project, and also by Aaron Zlatkin, a student from my 1996-97 Moby class who will be one of the panelists in the pedagogical session in the April 27 Symposium. Aaron is very experienced in both video and audio recording, having recently completed his M. A. in our College of Informatics, where he is an equipment manager and an adjunct professor of audio. He volunteered to meet up with David and Adam today to share his experience of the various recording venues on campus—as well as his experience as a freshman in one of my first classes in Moby and the Arts, now almost two decades ago. Not surprisingly, we both look a little older than we did then.
After introductions and some discussion of the Moby project, Emma Rose stayed in the office to inscribe catalogs, while Aaron, David, Adam, and I walked over to Budig Theater in the University Center, which will house the April 27 Symposium.
After we examined that space, Aaron went back to work as we continued our tour of the campus, joining us again at noon for lunch. From the Budig Theater we went to various sites that will be part of the Campus Tour of Moby-Dick art on the Symposium day. We began on the third floor of Steely Library, where I knew David and Adam would enjoy Patricia Renick’s 1974 sculpture Stegowagenvolkssaurus. Permanently installed next to it is Immortal in his Species, the suite of five photographs that Shay Derickson took in an auto graveyard as his final project in my Spring 2006 Moby class, two of which feature Volkswagens similar to the one that is physically incorporated in to Renick’s sculpture.
After stopping at the cases displaying artworks in the current Dickinson exhibition on the third floor of Steely Library, we went down to the major Dickinson exhibition on the second floor, giving David and Adam background for the interview they would be doing with Emma Rose the next day. Before leaving the library, we stopped in at the Archive on the first floor, where we will have a display of Moby-Dick art from the Archive itself that David and Adam will be filming on the Symposium day. They each loved this room, and said they would love to conduct some of their interviews with guest speakers and student artists in this room, if it could be arranged.
From the first floor of the library, it was a short walk across the plaza to the lobby of Greaves Concert Hall, where two of Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick prints have been permanently installed since the turn of the century. The Whale as a Dish and The Hyena are two of thirteen Wave prints that Stella created between 1985 and 1989, the Wave prints themselves using 13 of the 138 titles that Stella used in the Moby-Dick series that he created between 1985 and 1997, one design for every chapter heading of the novel. The Wave prints are often reproduced, but until you see one in person you can have no sense of its scale or of the intricacy with which diverse print media and image patterns are collaged together. The scale of The Whale as a Dish is easily seen with David and Adam standing alongside it.
From the Greaves lobby we walked up to the Honors House to see the Moby-Dick artworks permanently on display in this building. These include works by Frank Stella (one poster print), Mark Milloff (one giclee print), Matt Kish (one original drawing on found paper),Vali Myers (two giclee prints), Thanasis Christodoulou (three prints), Robert Del Tredici (one small print and five large screen prints), and three works by my NKU student artists that will be on loan to our Covington exhibition: Abby Schlachter’s Queequeg in her Coffin 2, Kathleen Piercefield’s map of The Voyage of the Pequod, and Danielle Kleymeyer’s double-sided metallic relief Shear. Like most off-campus visitors, David and Adam were amazed that we had this much Moby-Dick artwork in one small house.
From the Honors House we walked back to my office, had lunch with Aaron, and drove across the Ohio River to the Cincinnati Art Museum, whose Fath Auditorium will be the site of our kick-off event on the evening of Friday, August 24. After stopping for a close examination of Robert Duncanson’s 1851 painting Blue Hole, Flood Waters, Little Miami River (something I like to do with every visitor I bring to this museum), we went down to see whether the auditorium presented any unusual challenges for the samples from that event they planned to record. We did not see any particular problems, so that gave us a little time to stop at Ohio River Overlook in Eden Park for its unparalleled view of the Northern Kentucky towns of Bellevue (where I live a few blocks from the river) and Dayton (whose floodwall I have been walking for recreation and poetic inspiration). The Ohio River had been well over flood stage during the last week owing to the melting of heavy snow and the onset of heavy rains, so there was plenty to talk about as we scanned the expansive vista. One of the views we got was the one David caught in the background of a three-way selfie.
I did not know until I saw it on Facebook that David had taken a photo of me and Adam as I was pointing out something across the river. A friend who saw it on Facebook suggested that it would make a great author’s photo, which I think would be true if I could ever write the appropriate book.
From the overlook we drove back across the river to the Kenton Country Public Library on Scott Street in Covington. David and Adam were interested in seeing the whole building since it would be the site of not only the Moby-Dick art exhibition but the Marathon Reading. I love this building more and more the more I enter it, no matter the occasion. There were lots of little details to share with David and Adam, especially since Emma Rose and I had been brainstorming for much of the day before. They were impressed with both the design of the building and the thought that had gone into equipping it. One professional concern that they would have on the Marathon weekend would be finding a dedicated room in which it might be possible to interview guest speakers and student artists while the Marathon is going on. The staff on duty that day helped us find one on the first floor that would work very well if reserving it turned out to be possible.
It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time we stopped in at a Dairy Queen near the hotel at which they were staying. We decided to meet at the entrance to Landrum Hall at 10 am the next morning. This would give them enough time to set up my office for the interview with me that was to be followed by the one with Emma Rose in the Dickinson exhibition space. When I arrived at 10 am, there were David and Adam, sitting comfortably on a bench in the morning sun outside the building. It is wonderful to spend time with such bosom friends, so at ease with each other and with whomever they are with.
Because my office is small and narrow, with restricted sight lines, it took them quite a while to have everything they needed in place. This interview turned out to be much more comprehensive than I had expected. Before asking me about my classes in Moby-Dick or the upcoming exhibition, David asked me to speak about Melville’s life in the nineteenth century, his motives for going whaling, the early reception of Moby-Dick and its later neglect, the revival of interest in Melville decades after his death, and the process by which the book has since become a classic. Before doing any of this, David asked me to say the words “Call me Ishmael,” as he is doing with each person he interviews. Somewhere along the way, he asked me to give a quick synopsis of Moby-Dick the novel, which is impossible, but which I tried to do.
Along with all these generic questions, David asked me to speak about my first encounter with Moby-Dick, my subsequent encounters in college and graduate school, and my experience teaching it throughout my career here at NKU. During all of this I kept thinking that he and Adam are going to end up with a lot on the cutting-room floor. But of course that is how I approach my own research, learning all I can and then preserving it in such a way that I would be able to retrieve it later, should this or that detail become valuable. Emma Rose arrived for her interview about the time I was being asked about those artistic interpreters who had done the most to further an appreciation of the novel, including those I had worked with personally (Stella, Del Tredici, Kish, the composer Jake Heggie). I was not too impressed with my answers to all of these questions, but David was looking satisfied, and said afterwards that it had gone well. I was very happy when I could finally get to the part of my career leading to the work that Emma Rose and I had been doing on the forthcoming exhibition and its accompanying catalog.
An interview like this could go on for a very long time, but my wife and I had an appointment at 2 pm with our tax advisor, so we had to wrap it up by about 1:20. The four of us had planned to have lunch at Chipotle’s, but I had to move along, with just enough time to get a good photo of my three companions in the parking lot.
These were two great days, and I am so grateful to David and Adam for taking the time to come down and scout things out. It will certainly be wonderful to see them again in April. They will be staying at the same hotel as most of our guest speakers, so they should be able to get some good informal footage along with the events of the four-day Moby Fest.