Installing Moby, Day 3

Entry begun on Sunday, April 5, 7:15 am

Today is Easter Sunday, and I have time to get started on this entry before I drive over to sing in the choir at Trinity Episcopal Church, two blocks from the Covington library.  One of my fellow parishioners, Katie Davidson, is one of my Moby artists, and we are planning to exchange her artwork today for the copy of the catalog inscribed to her.

Thursday began as badly as the weather reports had predicted.  At about four the morning the leading edge of the storm front came in with one of those continuous low rumbles that sounds like a very heavy train or a straight-line tornado.  It was relatively quiet after that sound passed, and I was able to sleep again until awakened by a brutal burst of thunder and lightning that made me turn off my computer as a precaution even though I have a surge protector.

Emma Rose and I were planning to arrive at the library at 12:30, after my appointment with my eye doctor.  It was now three weeks after my second cataract surgery, so he would now be giving me a new prescription for my glasses.   At the library at 2:00, Emma Rose and I had scheduled a meeting with Christian Glass, a reporter from The Northerner, and Kathleen Piercefield was planning to bring her Moby pieces between 2:30 and 3:00.  Her home in Dry Ridge is about twenty-five miles south of Covington, and the storms were expected to be even more severe down in that direction, so I had emailed her in the morning not to come unless it was safe for her as well as the artworks she was planning to bring.  She had planned her day around this drive, so she was going to make it if she could.

Emma Rose’s mother Diane had a vacation day at work, so she came to the library to help watch over our things while we were elsewhere in the building.  This allowed us to make much better use of our time, and it also meant that we could bring in more pieces than otherwise without inconveniencing the library.  There was a pretty decent break in the weather when I arrived after the eye appointment, so we decided it would be good for me to run up to the University and get some of the framed pieces that remained in my office while we waited for Christian and Kathleen to arrive.

Mary Belperio with Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane

Mary Belperio with Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane

Before I left, we had a nice surprise.  Mary Belperio arrived with Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane, her abstract, tactile representation of Ishmael and Queequeng in bed together at the beginning of chapter 4.  I had been to Mary’s graduation party in December and both she and Snuggles looked better than ever.  I grabbed an easel and we took the artwork up to the spot Emma Rose and I had chosen for it, near the rail on the third floor balcony from which the quilts are hanging.

When I got back with today’s quota of artworks from my office, Emma Rose was already in the midst an interview with Christian Glass from The Northerner.  He had come down to the library because it was the only way to schedule an interview while we were working here this week, and we were both very impressed with his questions and his skill as a listener.  Soon after the interview with him, Kathleen arrived from Dry Ridge, and the fun began.

Kathleen Piercefield with Pip: Transcendence

Kathleen Piercefield with Pip: Transcendence

Kathleen has created many of the largest and most beautiful works in the show, and she had spent the whole morning packing prints into boxes as the storm buffeted her house.  I was bringing some her framed works from my own collection to the show, but she was today bringing many more.  These ranged in size from the 52-inch-wide Moby-Dick print that is the banner image for this website; to prints of intermediate size including a portrait of Ahab with Pip, two portraits of Pip alone, and the map of the Voyage of the Pequod; to smaller portraits of Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah.  This was a veritable cornucopia of art, and Emma Rose and I felt like kids will be feeling on Easter egg hunts today as Kathleen pulled one artwork after another out of each securely wrapped and well-cushioned box.  I was especially thrilled to see her hold up Pip: Transcendence, an extraordinary print I had first seen when she exhibited it in Rockford, Illinois, in April 2009.

One placement was easy.  We took Kathleen’s original drawing for the map of the Voyage of the Pequod right up to the Local History room, where we had envisioned in hanging directly above the map case.  It looked as perfect there as we had hoped.

kathleen map 1

While we were up in this room, we found a space around the corner on this same central pillar that could hold Ahab: Thou must not follow, her dramatic, haunting evocation of Ahab’s relation to Pip late in the novel.  The photographs immediately above this mixed-media print are the ones that Michelle Cruey took of Melville’s South Street Seaport neighborhood during a visit to New York City in 2006.  We would later give the photos a backing that would reduce the glare.

michelle & kathleen 2

Our next destination was the rock garden.  Kathleen was eager to get into it so she could measure the exact height of the orange light standard against we had recently proposed installing her more-than-life-size Queequeg in his own proper person.  This mixed-media print on eight linked canvas, measuring 92 inches high by 40 inches wide, was our biggest challenge in mounting this show, and when the earlier idea of leaning it against the brick wall near Abby’s body casts did not work out, this appeared to be the next best choice.  If we could fit Kathleen’s Queequeg against this light standard rooted in an enclosed garden of rocks, we would not have to worry about library patrons running into it or dislodging its base.  Lashed to the back of the standard, it could stand straight up without fear of falling forward.

kathleen descendingKathleen had brought a metallic tape measure much longer than the standard six footer.  She was eager to get into the garden but she did not want to duplicate the “contortionist” motions she had seen me go through on the Facebook page.  All three of us decided the best way up in to the rock garden was not over the rail but rather using a tall ladder that allowed us to climb into the east end of the rock garden from the foot of the staircase after we had gotten the Life Buoy out of the way by transferring it to the other side of the staircase while we were going up and down on this side.

Once Kathleen got up into the garden, she was happy to see that the orange light standard could support Queequeg’s 92-inch height with about eight inches to spare.  She also found that his width, if centered on the pole, left sufficient clearance from the garden wall on the left.  So she immediately decided to pack him up tonight and bring him tomorrow, so long as the weather allowed.

Emma Rose and I now turned to our immediate objective in the garden on this day, to see where Kathleen’s vertical print entitled Pip: Surrender could best be placed in relation to Fred North’s Lee Shore and to Aaron Zlatkin’s Spouter-Inn Painting—Revealed, the painting we had left sitting on the rocks the day before.  Once we had thought about bringing Kathleen’s Queequeg into the garden, Emma Rose thought it would be great to surround him with companionable artworks.  Kathleen’s physical depiction of Pip’s spiritual struggle when abandoned at sea was in this sense a perfect counterpart to Fred’s Lee Shore and Aaron’s Spouter-Inn Painting as we awaited the arrival of the Queequeg that would anchor the rock garden as a whole.

Fred's Lee Shore, Aaron's Spouter-Inn Painting, and Kathleen's Pip:Surrender in rock garden

Fred’s Lee Shore, Aaron’s Spouter-Inn Painting, and Kathleen’s Pip: Surrender in rock garden

Once we had a plan for filling out the large rock garden to the south of the stairwell the next day, we could then turn to the much smaller configuration of rocks on the other side of the stairwell, right behind the head of Queequeg in her Coffin I.

emma abby far and nearEmma Rose felt this second rock surface as a curatorial challenge we had somehow to meet.  And I had been feeling the need for some third work to provide a link between the two Queequeg body casts.  I had already thought of Pip: Transcendence as being spiritually compatible with these works.  As soon as Kathleen brought it out of the box, with its contrast between Pip’s vertical, corporeal head and his horizontal, etherealized body, I wanted to see how this print would look between and above Abby’s two Queequegs.   I was very happy when Emma Rose carried it over to the edge of the smaller rock bed, stretched up, and set it there on a small tripod.

Alcove with five bodies

Alcove with five bodies

Before Kathleen left for Dry Ridge, Emma Rose and I took her to the back of the main reading room to see the places we had reserved on the stack fronts for her smaller portraits of Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah.  She helped us install them, and we were all quite happy with the results, both among the three works themselves and in relation to the other images with which we were filling out this end of the room.  Kathleen had also brought Holly McAtee’s Queequeg, which is part of her own collection, with her today, so we could now hang it on the stack front next to the one with Holly’s Self-Portrait in Moby-Dick.

Kathleen’s Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah on stack fronts in back of the main reading room.

Kathleen’s Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah on stack fronts in back of the main reading room.

After Kathleen advised us on the hanging of the portraits on the stack fronts, she headed home to begin the process of preparing Queequeg for installation in the rock garden the next day. She and her husband John would have to test and secure all elements they had recently devised for wiring and clamping all eight canvases so they can stand together as one.  Given the dire weather forecast (it had rained hard on and off during her trip here today), they would have to protect tomorrow’s precious cargo from any exposure to rain and cushion it against any harmful physical contact (for which a couple of sword-mats would be nice to have).

Withmadonna of the tripod most of the major pieces in the show now under one roof, Emma Rose and I would be able to finalize some major areas of the exhibition the next day.  We are planning to arrive at 9:30 in the morning and work until 5 in the afternoon.  It had been very helpful to have her mother with us today and she is able to come again tomorrow.  Before we left the rock garden I had asked Emma Rose if I could take a photo of her holding one of our tripods. The fact that she is an Art History major who had spent her Spring Break seeing paintings in Florence and Rome made me think somehow of Raphael and the names by which he distinguished the various Madonnas he painted.  So I like to think of the photo of her here as the Madonna of the Tripod.  Or, if not that, the Madonna of the Rocks.



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