Entry begun Friday, April 10, 4:45 am
Another long series of thunderous storms has kept me awake for at least an hour now, so I may as well began this entry about our fourth installation day, last Friday, April 3. This was a very satisfying day because Emma Rose and I now had most of our hundred-plus works under one roof and were able make some final decisions about what to show where in many different areas of the building. Deciding these things together resulted in a much better show than anything I could have created myself.
Now that we had most of Kathleen’s works frorm Dry Ridge and most of the major works that had remained in my office, I brought most of what I still had in my house in Bellevue to the library that morning. One of the works I first brought in was Shawn Buckenmeyer’s I & Q. I immediately grabbed a tripod and took it up to the balcony over which the quilts were hanging, because I wanted to see how it would look next to the Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane that Mary Belperio had brought in the day before. These two works in entirely different media dramatizing the loving friendship of Ishmael and Queequeg looked great together, and I was entirely satisfied. Emma Rose also thought they went well together, but she felt we needed one more work to go with them, since three works often relate more richly than two. I found out what she meant later in the day when I saw that she had brought Jessica Stone’s Fast-Fish—Loose-Fish to join them, a perfect match in color, shape, and theme:
Our biggest challenge in the morning was choosing those works that would look best on the large slatted wall outside the back of the meeting room on the main floor. We drew upon the five we would have shown the horizontal wall that was now no longer available, and the nine we had originally chosen for this wall, to create the best possible combination, both visually and thematically. We knew we wanted to start with Piercefield’s Moby Dick: a mighty mildness. A nice contrast to that singular, colorful, horizontal image would be Laura Bird’s narrative, vertical woodcut in black and white, A Tale in Ninths. From there it seemed natural to add Cara Dyne’s Three Perspectives on the Whale, whose horizontal Moby Dick in paint on canvas was swimming in the opposite direction from the Moby Dick in Kathleen’s mixed-media print. These three fit the upper area of the available space very nicely.
We knew we wanted Piercefield’s From the Headwaters of the Eternities and Stephen Wheeler’s The Worsting of Ahab somewhere on the lower level, and they fit quite well, both visually and thematically, directly under Piercefield’s Moby Dick diptych. The eye of the whale in Kathleen’s Headwaters print takes us deep into the life of the whale and its companion creatures long before man existed, whereas the rise of the White Whale in Stephen’s depiction of the Third Day of the Chase takes us to the end of Melville’s novel—and Ahab’s life.
Veronica Mitchell’s horizontal depiction of Moby Dick on the Third Day of the Chase is a beautiful complement to Stephen’s vertical rendering, and its three-part design as a triptych in tile relates well to Laura Bird’s nine-part print and Cara Dyne’s three-part painting above it. Thematically, Carola Bell’s Shades of Ahab monotype leaves us with the abstract reside of Ahab’s obsessive quest, her mastery of the medium giving perfect expression to the “great shroud of the sea that rolled as it rolled five thousand years ago.” The dark green and orange against the patches of white in Carola’s print gives new expression to the brighter green and orange in Cara’s three-part painting, whose bright blue bathing the whale’s tail in its left section deepens the darker blue in the right section of Veronica’s triptych.
Emma Rose and I loved working on this slatted wall because it was very easy to move the works up or down or to the side to achieve the best balance among them. Once they were attached to the wall, she immediately saw that they would be more effective in a “jigsaw” arrangement (as opposed to the more uniform straight rows I might myself have aimed for). After we had the seven works in place on this wall, we now had to find places for the remaining works that would have been here according to our original plan.
We have already seen that Emma Rose found a place for Jessica’s Fast-Fish—Loose-Fish next to Shawn’s I & Q and Mary’s Snuggles up on the balcony. Yesterday we had found the perfect spot for Kathleen’s Pip: Surrender next to Aaron’s Spouter-Inn Painting and Fred’s Lee Shore in the rock garden. We now took our remaining “loose fish” from this wall up to the Local History room to see if we could find a home for them there.
Yesterday we had hung Kathleen’s map of the Voyage of the Pequod on the east side of the central pillar and her Ahab: thou must not follow on the north side. Today we completed the circuit. First, we hung Laura Bird’s Freedom and Cara Dyne’s Reader’s Response to Moby-Dick on the west side of the pillar. We love the contrasting kinds of freedom depicted and explored in contrasting media.
On the south side of the pillar we placed Kathleen’s The Women of New Bedford directly under Caitlin’s Whiteness triptych. Seeing them together, I was amazed at the degree to which the elusive whiteness of the vertical female figure in Kathleen’s Women of New Bedford resembles that of her horizontal counterpart in Caitlin’s Whiteness sequence.
Soon after we had fastened these three “loose fish” to the central pillar on the third floor, Kathleen and John Piercefield arrived with her monumental Queequeg for the rock garden. She had written the night before that they had decided to wire and clamp his eight panels together and bring him whole. They had wrapped him very securely against the weather and we had arranged for them to bring him into the building through the freight door in the southeast corner of the building. They were quite a sight as they brought him into the main reception area and carried him, with the help of a librarian, downstairs to be unpacked and lifted up into the rock garden.
Once Queequeg was out of his wrapping, Kathleen ascended the ladder and she and John brought him up into the garden and leaned him against the bright orange light standard. He fit just as we had expected, resting securely on a small wooden board to cushion him from the rocks. From now until May 15, Queequeg in his own proper person will dwarf everyone who enters the building behind him, but without their knowing it unless they walk up or down the staircase and see him from the north side.
What a difference a day makes! Queequeg fills up the rock garden like it was made for him. His noble stature and golden tones play off beautifully against Fred North’s Ishmael sailing off into the “howling infinite,” Aaron Zlatkin’s white whale impaling himself on the mast-heads, and Kathleen Piercefield’s Pip struggling for his life. One essential figure was missing from this dramatic ensemble, the obsessed captain whose virulent obsession drives the plot of the novel and takes his entire crew, save one, down with him. So the fifth artwork we placed in the rock garden was Ahab’s Leg by Christopher Roach, its golden color, beyond its black strap, a lovely match with the pervasive color of Queequeg’s print, but its ultimate fate, severed from its body and abandoned on the rocks, in the sharpest possible contrast to the glorious selfhood of the upright harpooneer. My favorite view of the rock garden ensemble is from high above on the stairway, where, even in a diminished perspective, each of the five works is clearly seen, pulling the eye down with a vortical force similar to that which sucked the Peqoud and its sailors out of sight.
Kathleen loved the spots we had found for Pip: Transcendence yesterday and for her Moby Dick, Headwaters, and Women of New Bedford prints this morning. After she and John headed back to Dry Ridge, Emma Rose and I made our plans for the coming week. After she left to teach her dance class, I stayed for an hour longer, taking some photos for this blog and catching up on emails that had come in during the day.
Caitlin had said she had hoped to frame her three White Whale photos and get them to me by the end of the week. Now, shortly before closing time on Friday, here she was with Jay, eager to walk upstairs and see how they looked in their designated place. The three photos looked perfect on three successive stack fronts, and their elusive, alluring white bodies related well to those in Caitlin’s three Whiteness photos on the pillar below them to the right (as well as to the white female figure in The Women of New Bedford). Caitlin and Jay looked as wonderfully as the art works did. Today was exactly one week since their opening at the Weston Gallery had dramatically raised their profile as an artistic partnership in Greater Cincinnati. After setting the White Whale photos high on the stack fronts, we discussed some of the ways in which their Numediacy partnership might document the upcoming Moby Arts Fest. I will be commissioning them to document the four-day sequence in whatever way they think best, the end result to be posted on YouTube with a link to this blog.
Emma Rose and I felt we’d had an excellent week. We had taken one day a time as its opportunities and challenges allowed. This venue accommodated, and showcased, our artworks more capaciously and more professionally than we had imagined. By the end of the week we could say, with Emily Dickinson, “[We] made slow Riches, but [our] Gain / Was steady as the Sun.” We were weaving the “crosswise threads” of our matt-making pattern into a strong, shapely, living fabric.