Entry begun Saturday, April 4, 1 pm
I was happy that Professor Dave Kime could be at the Honors House to help me get Danielle Kleymeyer’s Shear down from its perch high over the door into the office of Honors Director Belle Zembrodt. I thought we might need a work order from Physical Plant to get it down, but Dave was able to step up onto a chair, reach up into the midsection of the sculpture, and lift it off the support. This was the same metallic relief whose razor-sharp edges had cut into Danielle’s leg and fingers while making it, and whose epoxy glue had gravely poisoned her dog, but Dave had no problems getting it down or taking it out to the car, where we laid it on the six-foot stretch that ran all the way up to the backs of the driver’s and passenger’s seats, leaving plenty of room for the two body casts we would soon be laying over it side by side. After covering Shear with a blanket, we went in to slip Abby’s Queequeg in her Coffin II off the wall. She had healed nicely from her ankle surgery, and was looking nearly good as new.
After driving from the Honors House to the parking lot in front of Landrum Hall, I went up to get Queequeg in her Coffin I from my office. I had moved her twice before for local exhibitions, so it was easy to lift her off the wall and head to the elevator with her. I always forget, though, the attention she always draws. Just about everyone seems to want to know what she is, how she was made, and why. This tends to be even more so at close quarters in the elevator. I felt a little twinge of excitement as I slipped her into the back of Joan’s Equinox alongside her sister figure. This moment was their first reunion in eighteen years! I took a photo to celebrate the moment, but their corporeal togetherness was cruelly undercut by the bright sunlight that sliced through just below their knees. Not to be forgotten, the white tail of Danielle’s whale poked out beneath QQ I.
All three of these works would be rather awkward to set aside while you were working on something else, so just as soon as I brought them in the library, Emma Rose and I got to work at hanging them. After exploring a few other options, we decided to hang Shear in middle of the stairway over the landing that leads to the lower floor. This placement met our three primary concerns: that we hang it (a) securely; (b) where it cannot be easily reached; and (c) where its contrasting “Moby” and “Ahab” sides can easily be seen. We have both always loved this work—Emma Rose had been a member of the Spring 2013 class in which Danielle created it—but never so much as now, when we first saw it hanging, and twisting slowly, in this wonderful space.
Once we had Shear in place, we turned to one of the most important challenges of the installation, hanging Abby’s two body casts in ways that would (a) relate to each other and (b) be secure on the wall. We had originally hoped to hang them side by side on the high brick wall just a few feet north of the stairwell. But Gary had made clear from the beginning that we would not be able put hanging screws in the brick wall. Nor was there any hanging system such as the tracks and wires by which we had hung the Dickinson pieces in the Steely Library. There were two air vents about ten feet up on the brick wall that we thought would be strong enough to hold the body casts, and Gary agreed. The problem was that one of the vents is almost directly above important information for responding to emergencies in the building, which would have been partly covered by the second cast.
Our first decision was to hang Queeequeg in her Coffin II from the one vent nearest the window, where the strong, clear writing that covers her body could be easily read by someone standing near the wall. Queequeg in her Coffin I was more of a challenge, because we had no way to hang her, too, against the brick wall. This problem resolved quite nicely when we realized that if we hung her from one of the brackets for the stairwell rail above and across from her sister figure, her own form would snuggle into the corner of the lower alcove directly across from her counterpart on the brick wall. This solution, born of necessity, put the two shapes in richer relation than if we had been able to suspend them side by side as we had originally hoped to do.
After hanging these two shapes, we decided to find a spot for their younger, smaller protean sister, the Life Buoy whose shell Abby had cast when pregnant with her daughter Kallisto (Kalli). We liked the idea of hanging it in close relation to the Children’s section here on the lower level, so we looked for a way to suspend it above the wider alcove on the other side of the stairwell. As with Shear, we had three priorities: to hang it (a) securely; (b) where it could not easily be reached; and (c) where both sides could be easily seen. One side of this Life Buoy is the hard outer shell of the cast on whose night sky surface the constellation for which Kalli was named glows. Inside the shofter inner shell, Abby’s writings as a young mother are collaged alongside photos and other images representing her infant daughter.
After hanging Life Buoy off the south side of the lower staircase, it was time to populate the rock garden occupying the southwest corner of the stairwell. Gary has always considered this space to be underutilized, and he invited us to think about displaying suitable works above the rocks on easels. I immediately thought of the large canvas painted by Fred North in 1994 that had opened the way for the other hundred-plus works in this exhibition. Fred’s Lee Shore is 40 inches high by 30 inches wide, large enough in scale to read well on an easel in a rock garden. Such a location would be highly appropriate since Melville’s “Lee Shore” chapter dramatizes the plight of a “storm-tossed ship” that must sail directly out into the strorm because “one touch of land, though it would but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through.”
The glassed-in railing on the stairwell aide of the rock garden was a little too high simply to climb over, especially since the garden was a little deeper on the far side than the stairwell landing. So Gary had brought me a little two-step ladder that might help me get back and forth if needed. That worked quite well when climbing over the rail into the garden, but for some reason it was not quite so easy coming back. Emma Rose captured my awkward return in a quartet of photos she posted on Facebook–much to the delight of some of my friends. I can see from the last photo why I had a deep bruise on my left forearm the next morning. That woman on the other side of the glass window missed an entertaining sight. I had set a second painting on the rocks after positioning The Lee Shore in the far corner, but we had only one easel handy, so we left its final disposition for another day.
It felt good to be back on land, as it were. Or maybe it is more accurate to say back on board, since one of my Moby artists now out in Nebraska had immediately commented on the Facebook post with “Man overboard,” Emma Rose and I now decided to spend the rest of the afternoon thinking about two areas of the main floor of the library: (a) the large slatted wall outside the back of the meeting room and (b) the upper stack fronts at the end of the reading room.
The weather report for the next two days included possibly violent thunderstorms on Thursday and constant, heavy rain on Friday, so I decided to make a quick run to my home in Bellevue in Joan’s Equinox to get the large Moby pieces by Carola Bell, Stephen Wheeler, Veronica Mitchell, and Cara Dyne that we would we would want to have on hand the next day as we decided how to respond to the loss of that long horizontal wall to the right of the display case. For today, we could hang some of them temporarily on the large oblong wall across from the horizontal one. And upstairs there was room to store a new work immediately underneath the Whiteness triptych in the window transom that Caitlin had brought in earlier in the day, now hanging on the south side of the central pillar in the Local History room.
While I was away getting the large Moby pieces, Emma Rose could think about what would look best high on the stack fronts in the back of the main reading room. She could also begin to think about how to arrange the display case, which we were currently using mostly for safe storage. In the morning I had brought in Nancy Vagedes ceramic Moby-Dick sculpture along with Abby’s two body casts and Danielle’s Shear. For now, we were storing it at the bottom of the display case in front of Camilla Asplen’s The Whale as a Dish cookbook. Nancy’s rising ceramic whale is an imposing piece even down near one’s feet, making Ahab in the little whaleboat look even smaller than he is.
Earlier in the day, Nancy’s ceramic White Whale had rested comfortably against the passenger seat of the Equinox as I drove into the library parking lot. I had parked facing the sun, leaving Moby comfortably in the shade, with only a lovely glow on his forehead. By contrast, Ahab’s harpoon and head were bleached by the bright sun. I had not thought, like Emma Rose, to protect my sculptural cargo with a seat belt, but Moby seems happy being free. In the photo, I see him as the automotive equivalent of a “loose fish” in the ocean. Sitting in Joan’s passenger seat, he would be a wonderful stand-in for the iguana in the Geico auto insurance commercials.
I had parked facing the sun to keep its slicing light from cutting through the legs of the passengers behind me. Now, when I opening the back of the Equinox, a soft harmonizing light bathed the sister figures. As I saw them resting together there, I thought of Ishmael’s feelings for Bulkington, his “sleeping-partner” shipmate in the voyage of life.