Entry begun Wednesday, April 1, 7:20 am
The installation process can change day by day and even hour by hour, so I will try to keep track of our work this week as it unfolds.
Emma Rose and I arrived as planned at noon on Monday, my car holding most of what we planned to work with that day. We had decided to begin in the Local History section on the third floor, and everything worked out essentially as we had hoped. Brian Cruey’s sequence of five Moby photographs from 1996-97 look great on the stackfronts leading to the north window, and his sister Michelle’s sequence of four photos taken near South Street Seaport in 2006 face them nicely on the north side of the room’s central pillar.
Caitlin Sparks came in carrying her Captain Ahab sequence in two recycled window frames, and they look just as we had hoped they would on either side of the north window facing the buildings across the street. The pinks of the photos match the colors of the bricks and the spatial dance among the various kinds of window frames is delightful.
While Caitlin was here we discussed our plans for her other two photo sequences in this room, mounting her three White Whale photos on three stack fronts, and the Whiteness triptych in her window transom somewhere on the central pillar. She will bring these works in later this week, after she frames the White Whales and finds that window transom somewhere in her basement. Before she left, we also discussed the possibility of having Numediacy provide some visual documentation of the four-day Arts Fest. She and Jay live in Covington and have already done a good deal of documentary work in the city.
Our next goal on the first day was to get as much as we could in the main display case downstairs, both to see what we had to work with and as a good storage area for small pieces. Danielle Wallace’s Moby-Dick Tea Set II looked pretty much as we had hoped on the top shelf of the case as currently configured. Emma Rose set the tea pot at the far right, leaving room for the three paintings of Rob Detmering’s Pasteboard Mask sequence to provide a colorful, abstract background for the cups themselves. Since the paintings, like the cups, are inspired by specific characters and scenes in the novel, the visual interplay is deepened by the thematic links—as will become clearer when we get our labels up. For now, the other objects in the case are randomly placed. We will see what goes where after all the pieces have arrived.
So far our original plans were going well. But at this point we found out from Gary that we will not be able to use that beautiful horizontal slatted expanse to the right of the main display case on which we had planned to hang our five most striking depictions of whales. The artworks currently there are important to the history of the city and the library would have nowhere to properly store them if they were temporarily removed for our show. This was a blow that Emma Rose said showed very clearly on my face when Gary gave us the news. But this is a capacious building with a variety of spaces we can bring into play, so we are confident that we can find an appropriate place for each of these signature works. One or more of them may migrate across to the large slatted wall onto which we had projected our sequence of nine other works in clockwise sequence last week. Chance having now delivered “the concluding blow” to our plans for the horizontal space, necessity and free will combine to “produce a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric.”
Our other main goal for this day was to see what we could do with the quilts by Laura Beth Thrasher we were planning to hang from the balcony rail. We spread all seven out on tables in the Local History room and decided to use them all. The two new ones are not in our catalog but we are happy to have them in our show. Each is relatively small, abstract, and conceptual. Ahab 2 takes the darkness of Laura Beth’s nautical Ahab into an even deeper and darker psychic space, the beady whites and blacks of his eyes and pupils being stitched with thread upon thread upon thread.
Laura Beth made Roots for a group project on the roots of inspiration. She chose as her “roots” the pages from Moby-Dick she expertly collaged into her quilted surface. These included the opening paragraph of “Loomings” that inspired not only her own Call me Ishmael quilt but also the Coffin Warehouse photo that is the first in Brian Cruey’s series of five photos now on the stack fronts on the third floor.
Emma Rose and I had the idea of hanging these seven quilts from the balcony rail overlooking the entrance to the main floor, but we did not yet have the experience or the equipment for doing so. Blessedly, Laura Beth had sewn hanging sleeves onto the back of each quilt. Each of the smaller quilts also had a stick or rod that fit in the sleeve for hanging the quilt. But the three largest quilts, Moby-Dick, The Whiteness of the Whale, and Call Me Ishmael, were without rods. We had heard that fish line would work well for hanging the quilts and Gary confirmed that this would be fine. So we were now in need three long rods and some fish line.
Emma Rose had learned during our Dickinson show that dowel rods were usually thirty inches or shorter in length. We needed rods longer than that for each of our three widest quilts. To find both the rods and the line we needed, we thought we might need to drive in a loop from the Wal-Mart out near NKU, to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Newport , to Pilot Lumber in Bellevue. But I had once been in Klingenberg’s Hardware here in Covington, only a block and a half away from the library, and I thought that might be a good place to start. We entered from the Pike Street side and found what we needed just inside the door. Aided by an extremely helpful employee, we were soon walking out of the store with three long, strong, extendable curtain rods, and a whole reel of hundred-pound fish line.
Now were ready to return to the balcony rail and hang our quilts. We knew we would want Moby-Dick, 54 x 62 ½ inches, in the center. And we would want to begin with Call Me Ishmael from the viewer’s far left and end with Epilogue at the far right. From there it seemed natural to hang the two Ahabs between Call Me Ishmael and Moby-Dick, and The Whiteness of the Whale between Moby-Dick and Epilogue, with Laura Beth’s Roots under her Epilogue.
Now we settled into the quiet, patient work of knotting the fish line to each end of each rod before dropping its quilt over the side, fishing it back up toward the rail until its top edges on each side were even with the top of the glass panel beneath rail that we had chosen as our horizon line. Once we had reached, and secured, the proper alignment, we went on to the next quilt, careful to position each one on a part of the rail along which it could slide, if necessary. It was a little trickier executing the two double hangs than the single ones, but these actually turned out pretty well too.
We had gone down to the reception area beneath the balcony several times to check our progress, and once all seven were installed, we liked how they looked, both from the front, looking up from below, and up on the balcony, where you could see the stitching on the back of each quilt, something Emma Rose had foreseen in suggesting that we hang each one directly in front of the glass panel.
I am only realizing this as I am writing now, but our quilts are hanging over the rail of the balcony much as sword-mats hung over the rails of a whale ships. But in this case, the object is not to cushion a blow, but rather to raise the eyes of passersby by, and maybe their spirits too. As we were working, we saw a lot people, staff as well as patrons, look up at what we were doing. It was great to see four young kids gazing up at the quilts as their parents were checking out books and videos. A women who said she works at one of the restaurants out near the university said, “These are just beautiful.” One tall man paused near the balcony rail as we were working. I asked if he came to the library very often, and he said, “Every day since I became homeless.” I asked where he stays these days, and he pointed out through the window, “Over in the Cold Shelter.” He was curious about the art we were installing and he knew about Moby-Dick, so I asked if he would like to read in the Marathon, but he said he’d pass for now.
This first day had been very satisfying. We got a good start on the installation and we were beginning to get a feel for the library, its spaces, and its patrons. We would not be back on Tuesday, because we had each planned our schedule around our 2 pm meeting in my office at the school.
Immediately before meeting with Emma Rose on Tuesday, I met with Dustin Enockson and two of his associates from the Barnes & Noble Bookstore at NKU. They had offered to sell a variety of books during the course of the four-day Arts Fest, and this was our first opportunity to discuss the most desirable books and to address some of the logistical issues at each successive venue.
On Wednesday, April first, Emma Rose and I had agreed to meet at the library at noon, after I had picked up four of our large three-dimensional works–Abby Schlachter’s two body casts, Danielle Kleymeyer’s Shear, and Nancy Vagedes’ ceramic White Whale—from the Honors House and my office at the school. My wife Joan kindly loaned her SUV for this task.
After getting home on Tuesday I was surprised to get an email from Emma Rose. Before leaving my office that afternoon, we had decided to take a few small pieces home that we could put in the display case the next day. She had taken Ahab’s Iron Crown by Landon Jones that Robert Del Tredici had recently praised in his email. To keep Ahab’s crowned head from flying forward if she made a sudden stop, she put him in a seat belt in her passenger seat. The photo she sent me that night made me think of the last time we see Ahab in the novel. After he thrust his harpoon at Moby for the last time, “the flying turn” of the whale line “caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat.”