Part 4. Moby Comes to Covington and Greater Cincinnati in April 2015

Entry begun Tuesday, March 17, at 8:30 pm

As Ishmael sails out of the port of New Bedford on his first whaling voyage in Moby-Dick, he sees “huge hills and mountains of casks on casks . . . piled upon her wharves, and side by side the world-wandering ships lay silent and safely moored at last; while from others came a sound of carpenters and coopers, with blended noises of fires and forges to melt the pitch, all betokening that new cruises were on the start; that one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever and for aye” (“Wheelbarrow,” ch. 13).

Whale oil casks on the wharves of New Bedford, c. 1870.  New Bedford Whaling Museum

Whale oil casks on the wharves of New Bedford, c. 1870.  New Bedford Whaling Museum

So it is with our Dickinson and Moby-Dick projects in March 2015.  All of our works in the exhibition inspired by Dickinson are safely installed in the Steely Library, where they will silently repose until being removed from the walls in May, now no longer hearing the 90 successive voices that read out the 1775 poems that inspired their very creation, no longer hearing the lecture / presentations of new Dickinson art works; no longer hosting the student artists who over a fifteen-year-period had brought them into existence and were now expressing their pride during the Exhibition Walk and Panel Discussion; no longer savoring the buzz and the flavors of Emily Dickinson Tea Party that brought the Arts Fest to a close.  No, these works, from March into early May, will now provide a silent, stimulating, visual backdrop to those for whom this library was built, students at this university that has been growing from 3,000 students in 1972 to nearly 16,000 in 2015, a university moving from the extreme periphery of community awareness in its early years to a secure place among the influential institutions of the Greater Cincinnati region.

Aerial view from Northern Kentucky University to downtown Cincinnati

Aerial view from Northern Kentucky University to downtown Cincinnati

So, our major Dickinsonian labors behind us, we now turn to Moby.   A much larger exhibition in a much larger space inspiring four days of events in three different venues by a greater number of student artists seen by a much more varied audience and addressed by a greater number and variety of guest speakers.  Emma Rose and I will not have to worry about repeating ourselves or going on cruise control.  We will learn new things every step of the way, with everything hopefully coming together, in the end, as well as the Dickinson events did.  Every whaling voyage that sets out hopes to return home with all its casks full of quality oil, and all hands as safely on board as when they left port.

Emma Rose and I both felt our Moby-Dick voyage was actually under way on Wednesday, February 25, when we met at CJK publishers in Cincinnati to pick up the full run of our Moby catalog.  We had dropped off the final electronic file on Friday, February 6, and now we were receiving 105 published copies, each one 150 pages in full color and beautifully bound.  We had been hopeful that the printing would turn out well because of how well CJK had done with the Dickinson catalog, and we were not disappointed.  As the designer, and with a keener eye for color, Emma Rose was the “first responder,” and she was immediately satisfied, as was I.

Emma Rose Thompson examining the first published copy of our Moby catalog

Emma Rose Thompson examining the first published copy of our Moby catalog

Emma Rose and I are both extremely grateful to Chris Casey, who had guided the publishing process for us every step of the way, going all the way back to those early samples in October whose colors were untrue and whose pages fell out.  We have both learned a lot by working through this process with him, and we were both happy to learn that as a result of the work he has done for us, CJK has decided to acquire an Indigo printer of their own so they will no longer have to send jobs like this one out to California.  Our 105 copies came in three and a half boxes of 30 catalogs each, so we needed a dolly to roll them out to the trunk of my car.  I had to ask Chris to lift the boxes into the trunk for me, because I’d had cataract surgery a few days before and was not supposed to lift anything over ten pounds for a week.

Chris Casey rolling our catalogs out to my car

Chris Casey rolling our catalogs out to my car

The primary purpose of publishing the Moby catalog is to be able to present one to each of the 53 student artists in our show.  Emma Rose and I wanted to inscribe each catalog before making the presentation.  In this case we had much more time to do so than with the Dickinson catalog, which we had received only two weeks before the opening of the show.  Our first priority upon receiving the Moby catalog, therefore, was to inscribe and mail the ones we would be sending to our guest speakers who would be coming from out of town, to help them know the scope of the exhibition itself and have some idea of what they would be seeing when they arrive here in late April.  Their responses were immediate and very favorable, for they all admired the work Emma Rose had done in designing the catalog as much as I did.

From Elizabeth Schultz, professor emeritus at the University of Kansas, author of Unpainted to the Last and the scheduled keynoter for our April 27 symposium:  “My gorgeous new copy of Fast Fish & Loose Fish arrived in the mail early this week, and what a joy it is to behold.  You and Emma Rose—and all your students in the past 20 years—have created an extraordinary volume: a stunning record of academic achievement, but above all a record of astonishing creativity and knowledge.  It is beautiful and deeply moving, and I thank you and Emma Rose for including me in your wonderful symposium: another step in this process of creativity and knowledge.”

From Sam Otter, professor of English at University of California—Berkeley and editor of Leviathan:  “Congratulations to you and Emma Rose on the spectacular catalogue!  The images and artist statements and two bibliographies are vivid testimonies to the decades of mentorship you have provided for your students on Melville’s book and in support of their array of creative responses.  Thanks for the inscriptions.  I am proud to have a copy of the catalogue and look forward to seeing you next month.”

From Jeffrey Markham, English teacher from New Trier High School near Chicago, who will share Moby-Dick art projects by his students to lead off our pedagogical session:  “I just received the catalogue complete with inscriptions from you and Emma Rose.  I am deeply impressed by the breadth and depth of the material included. . . . I love the organization of the Moby catalog. The way you’ve labeled the page edges, set up each page, and included room for artist’s statements and reflections—all of it makes for a very enjoyable read.  It’s obvious that you’ve put an immense amount of work into this and it’s paid off.  The reproductions are quite clear and the overall feel is very rich.  Beautiful.  Congrats.”

From Don Dingledine, professor of English at University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh, who will share Moby artworks by his students as part of our pedagogical session:  “What a delight it was to open the package and marvel at the beauty of Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish.  You and Emma Rose have crafted a marvelous catalog!  It keeps drawing me back to it, and I’m eager to lose myself in its pages again and again as April’s conference approaches.  Thanks for getting this to me—with such lovely inscriptions no less—and thank you again for inviting me to participate.”

I received most of these comments while Emma Rose was away for Spring Break—on an art-historical field trip to Rome and Florence.  Before she got back, I had also received wonderful messages about this blog from two leading Dickinson scholars to whom I had sent a link after I had finally completed my entries on the Arts Fest.  Before the Arts Fest had started, Marta Werner and Martha Nell Smith had expressed some interest in possibility of posting some of the artistic projects from my Dickinson classes on the Dickinson Electronic Archive 2.  Now they were interested in doing something similar with the blog itself.

From Marta Werner, author of Gorgeous Nothings and co-editor of the Dickinson Electronic Archive:  “This is amazing — truly remarkable — and I’ve only read through about half of it! I can’t believe the breadth and depth of this project. . . . Of course, this document is already published in a sense through WordPress, but I wonder if you’d still be interested in giving it a second home on the DEA2?”

From Martha Nell Smith, co-author of Open me Carefully and co-editor of the Dickinson Electronic Archive:  “Just a cursory glance, and I’m SO excited! Would you consider giving this a second home on the Dickinson Electronic Archives? We would be honored, and this is the kind of project we want to host, sponsor. . . . All I’ll say before going into a meeting is WOW!”

For a teacher and a scholar, it does not get any better than this.  When you are proud of your students, there is nothing better than finding a wider audience for what they have created and achieved.  And, as I intimated in a previous post, none of this would have happened without Emma Rose.  If this blog devoted to Dickinson and Moby-Dick in 2015 does find a second home on the Dickinson Electronic Archives, it might also find a third home in Melville Electronic Library.  To be housed by the societies devoted to both authors would be a consummation devoutly to be wished.

The photo of whale oil casks on the wharves of New Bedford at the beginning of this entry is thought to have been taken around 1870, just a few years after Dickinson is thought to have written “I made slow Riches, but my Gain / Was steady as the sun.”  Back then no one would have expected Herman Melville, in New York City, or Emily Dickinson, in Amherst, to have the kind of literary afterlife each is now experiencing a century and a half later, not only here in their native country but as far away as Japan, where in June I will be attending an international Melville conference in Tokyo.



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