Covington Reception and Bellevue Gam

Entry begun Thursday, May 21, 2:35 pm

tower from below on scott 9-20The meeting room at the library that had housed the Marathon Reading was full of student artists, family, and friends when we finally arrived.  The buffet dinner catered by Chef Barone had been set up by 5:30 as scheduled, but the crowd was waiting for us to arrive before they began eating.  Gary Pilkington had arranged the room perfectly, with just enough tables to hold those who were already seated.  We had had a choice of Vegetarian Lasagna or Meat Ravioli for the entrees, supported by rolls, a fresh green salad, ice tea, and lemonade.  Everyone seemed to have enough to eat and we had a lot of good mixing of our out-of-town guests with the student artists, alums, family, and friends.  In this way, the Covington reception was like one of the gams in which two friendly whale ships from entirely different ports sidled up for some food and drink while sharing their experiences as sea.  Here, however, we were not confined to the section of a ship assigned to either the officers or crew, but were free to roam anywhere throughout the exhibition space in the library.

In the lobby of the library near our display case I’d seen several friends from Trinity Episcopal Church who had come to our reception before attending 6 pm recital at our nearby church.  Moby-Dick artist Katie Davidson was here with her parents Sally and David, and so were several other parishioners, including Bill McKim, who had read in the Marathon.  Inside the meeting room, among those already seated at the tables, I was delighted to see Chuck Heffner, who had loaned his beloved Shawn Buckenmeyer’s I & Q to the show, as well as Helen and Tara North, Fred’s widow and daughter.  With the untouched hot dishes still warm on the buffet table, I realized that I needed to make my welcoming remarks right away.  After recognizing our guest speakers who had come our symposium, and the library staff who had supported our art exhibition and Marathon weekend, I asked those student artists and alums who were present to raise their hands so they could be recognized and honored.  This moment provided the perfect opportunity to thank Helen and Tara for being here to represent Fred North, and Chuck Heffner for being her to represent Shawn Buckenmeyer, and to recognize Fred and Shawn as the “Alpha and Omega” of the 53 artists over a twenty-year period whose 105 artworks were currently on display in this building.  As with Bulkington once the Pequod passes the “Lee Shore,” they were “sleeping-partner” shipmates now, but still very much with us.

Student artists and alums identifying themselves at the Monday evening reception.  Photo courtesy Numediacy.

Student artists and alums identifying themselves at the Monday evening reception.  Photo courtesy Numediacy.

Once the welcome was over and the dinner begun, the reception spread out into the exhibition space as the student artists and alums had an opportunity to see their own work and that of their immediate classmates in the context of the larger show.  They enjoyed showing their classroom work to friends and family in this larger setting, and it was a thrill for all of them to meet Beth Schultz, whose book they had all studied, and the experts from distant states who had come to see, and speak about, their work.  This evening also provided an opportunity for student artists from different Moby classes to meet each other, often for the first time.  They had all heard, of course, about the legendary “class that never ends.”  Three students from that class were present this evening: Aaron Zlatkin, Bill Fletcher, and Michael Gallagher.  All subsequent students had also heard about Fred North, and were moved that Helen and Tara were here to see his Lee Shore painting in the company of all the student artists who had followed his inspiration.

tara and helen and lee shore I had not seen Helen or Tara since Fred’s funeral many years ago, and it was wonderful to get updates on Tara’s work as an art therapist in Louisville and Helen’s continuing work as a teacher in northern Kentucky.  As I expected, Helen, like Tara, was happy to have a copy of that exhibition catalog, so I was glad I had twice successfully tracked that box down during the day.  We took a little walk to the rock garden to see Fred’s painting installed there, which of course released a flood of new memories about this remarkable man.  Fred’s painting of himself sailing, bare-chested, out into the “howling infinite” of the lee shore was very much a spiritual self-portrait, and the man we all very much loved in different ways was very much with us all over again.

with nancy v I was delighted that Nancy Vagedes from my 1997 class in the American Short Story was here tonight.  Her porcelein white whale, looming over Ahab in his small whaleboat on a convoluted ceramic sea, had become a touchstone for all of my subsequent classes after she had unveiled it at the end of the semester.  I was reminded of how heavy it is every time I lifted it off the file cabinet in my office to show to a new class of Moby students.  Emma Rose and I would have liked to have it higher in our Covington display case, but Gary was not sure the thin supports under the glass shelves would be able to support it for the course of the show.  Nancy’s sculpture anchored the case very well in the lower left corner, and we loved having Rob Detmering’s three Pasteboard Mask paintings right behind it.  We were able to place Nancy’s 2001 Moby-Dick Anniversary Dish higher on the right side of the case, where it played off nicely against Camilla Asplen’s Whale as a Dish cookbook and Ronnie Sickinger’s Whale Dinner linoleum print.  Nancy brought both her mother and son to reception, and it was a great pleasure to meet them both.

jessoa gavin and steve verticalAnother family I got to meet for the first time at this reception is that of Jessica Slone, who created her Fast-Fish–Loose-Fish seascape out of cardstock and crafting felt in my Fall 2009 class in Douglass and Melville.  I have known Jessica and her husband Steve, who works in the NKU mail room, for many years.  But I had known Gavin, their beloved son, only through Facebook, from which I had borrowed a photo of him surrounded by pumpkins for a blog entry I had posted in the fall.  Tonight I met Gavin in person for the first time, so now I can post a picture of him with his proud parents next to his mother’s artwork, where it shares the balcony with Mary Belperio’s Snuggles Beneath the Conterpane and Shawn Buckenmeyer’s I & Q.

amanda haley and dad closerAnother complete nuclear family I met for the first time at the reception was that of Amanda Monds (Browning) from my Spring 2011 class in Moby-Dick and the Arts.  I had met her mother-in-law Jona and her daughter Hadley for the first time when Amanda brought her paintings of Ahab and Unsolved to the Last to the library so they could join her charcoal drawing Queequeg Suddenly Rallied in our show.  This time she brought her husband Craig along with daughter Hadley, and I had some quality time with them before taking a family photo under the Queequeg drawing.

casey and caverlee 2One disappointment during our work on the catalog and exhibition was that I had not been able to get in touch with Casey McCann, who had made exquisite ink-and-wash drawings of Ishmael and Queequeg in my Spring 2006 class in Moby-Dick and the Arts before going on to mount her exhibition Tell Me a Story at Gallerie Zaum as her Honors Capstone project in April 2010.  The various email addresses and phone numbers I’d had for her no longer seemed to be working, so as a last resort I’d sent a notice about the exhibition and the reception to the address of her parents in south-central Ohio.  I had not heard back from them, but here was Casey at the reception with her mother, already having gotten to know Caverlee Cary, Sam Otter’s wife, who had come up to me right away to let me know Casey was here.  It was wonderful to see her again, to catch up with her current activities, and to tell her that a number of people had said they would love to see a complete deck of Tarot cards as an extension of what she had already done with Ishmael and Queequeg.

matt and taylorMatt Ruiz had been here the night before to help run the Sunday evening shift of the Moby Marathon, but tonight he had his girl friend Taylor with him.  I had first met her at the October concert in which Kimberly Gelbwasser sang Andre Previn’s Toni Morrison songs in Greaves Concert Hall.  In November I had heard Taylor herself sing two of Aaron Copland’s Emily Dickinson songs in the same hall, and in early April I had sat next to her at a light opera concert on a Sunday afternoon at which one of her best friends had a lead role.  It was great to have some relaxed time with Matt and Taylor together, and the placement of his painting Los ojos son mis ojos from my Spring 2013 Moby class high on the front of one of those book stacks was just right for a photo of them together.

carola and carolaOne of the people I was most happy to see at the reception was Andrea Knarr, the NKU printmaking professor who had taught Carola Bell, Laura Bird (Knight), and Kathleen Piercefield during the years in which they had created wonderful works as final projects in my courses in Moby-Dick and the Arts.  Andrea is retiring this year and we are going to miss her dearly, but this means she will have time to pursue her own creative work, which has always been exquisite.  Kathleen and Carola were both at the Covington reception and we all had a long conversation in front of the wall that included Carola’s Shades of Ahab and Kathleen’s Moby Dick and From the Headwaters of the Eternities in addition to Laura’s A Tale in Ninths. I have learned so much from Andrea and her students over the years, and it was wonderful to listen in on a little printmaking “gam” next to such wonderful works which, though inspired by Moby-Dick, were executed with heads, hearts, and fingers shaped by Andrea Knarr.

kathleen and andrea 1Now that the Covington show is in place, I am hoping that some of Andrea’s former students might begin making new work for a Moby-Dick exhibition that I will helping Marta Hewett to plan at her Cincinnati gallery concurrent with the Kish and Del Tredici show coming to the Cincinnati Arts Center in April 2016.  When Marta visited the Covington show last week, she was very impressed with the work of Carola, Laura, and Kathleen, and she also likes my idea of featuring female artists who have responded with great imaginative strength to the book.  At the end of her talk in the morning session of the NKU Symposium, Kathleen had mentioned that there may be some new Moby-Dick work “on the horizon.”  I take it as a good sign that as I write this blog entry she is currently enrolled in a summer class in Advanced Printmaking which will probably be the last that Andrea teaches at NKU.

Veronica Mitchell at Covington reception

Veronica Mitchell at Covington reception

In the above photo of Kathleen and Andrea, you see in the lower right hand corner the far left edge of the triptych of The Third Day that retired English teacher Veronica Mitchell created in mixed media on ceramic tile in my Fall 2013 class in Moby-Dick and the Arts.  Veronica was not herself trained in making art.  But her daughter Monica had studied ceramics in Australia and her son Matt had studied printmaking with Andrea Knarr at NKU.  I had met Monica on Sunday morning during the Marathon session in which her mother Veronica had read so effectively from “Stubb’s Supper.”  She was here with Veronica again tonight, and I learned more about some ceramic pieces inspired by Moby-Dick that Monica is completing right now.  Both she and her mother spoke very highly about an ambitious Moby-Dick work that Monica’s brother Matt has just completed.  So it looks like Veronica has helped to inspire some new works that I can consider for the Marta Hewett show even if she does not create any new Moby-Dick art herself.

I would have loved to stay at the library until it closed at 9, but most of our out-of-town guests were leaving the next morning, so Joan and I had invited them to a little going-away party at our house in Bellevue beginning shortly after 8.  Our dining room table was just big enough to seat Beth from Kansas, Sam and Caverlee from California, Matt and Ione from Ohio, Don from Wisconsin, Jeff from Illinois, and Jeff and David from Michigan (Adam from Michigan was not feeling well and could not make it, but his spot at the table was filled by Jamie Buckner, David’s producer from New York).  Joan had prepared a little ice cream feast from Schneider’s Sweet Shop a block and a half away and we all shared impressions from the last four days with the ease and panache you would expect from a group such as this.  Everyone had seemed to find the exhibition, the Marathon, and the symposia everything they had hoped for, and there was a lot of praise for the work Emma Rose had done on the catalog, the installation, and the Arts Fest events.  She would have liked to come to the party but this was the last week of class in the current semester, and she had a lot of catch-up work to do in advance of finals week.

Table talk at Bellevue gam

Table talk at Bellevue gam

The conversation could have gone on much longer than we had time for, but some people had very early planes to catch in the morning and I was completing the day’s circuit by driving Beth and Sam back to Comfort Suites.  Some of us will be seeing each other soon.  Sam and Caverlee will be in Tokyo in late June, where Sam is one of the organizers of the International Melville Society Conference at which Beth will give a keynote address derived from the one we had just heard at NKU.  Don Dingledine will also be at the Tokyo Conference, where he will be giving a paper in a session that I happen to be chairing.  My talk in Tokyo will address Melville and the visual arts, beginning with the research on Stella’s Moby-Dick series that I did in Japan in the early 1990s, continuing with the exhibition on The Art of Seeing Whales I curated at the New Bedford Whaling Museum last summer, and concluding with the exhibition in Covington that had occasioned the four-day Arts Fest that was now ending.  It was hard to leave each other after all we had experienced once Beth’s and Sam’s planes had landed within a few minutes each other on Friday afternoon, but we all left with a deeper appreciation of each other, of the creativity of my students that had brought us all together, and of the 1851 novel that had inspired us all.

bellevue gam 4

 

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NKU Symposium on Moby-Dick and the Arts, Closing Remarks

Entry begun on Friday, May 15, 8:00 am

The weather remained pleasant for our walk back to Budig Theater.  We arrived relaxed, refreshed, and ready for our final session in which Jeff Insko and Sam Otter would each make closing remarks.

Jeff Insko is a professor of English and colleague of David Shaerf and Adam Gould at Oakland University in Michigan.  He is also a Melville scholar who has written about relations between Literature and the Arts.  When he heard that David and Adam were coming down to film our Arts Fest, he decided that he would like to come to see the exhibition, participate in the Marathon, and attend the Monday Symposium.  I was delighted to hear this, and asked if he would like to share his impressions in a somewhat impromptu manner in the final session on Monday afternoon.  As he began his Closing Remarks, his colleague David Shaerf was right in front of the podium to film him.

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Brian Cruey, Whenever I find myself pausing before coffin warehouses

Brian Cruey, Whenever I find myself pausing before coffin warehouses

Jeff began by saying that seeing the exhibition at the library and hearing the presentations today has made him think differently about his own courses.  He has taught Moby-Dick at Oakland every year for at least a decade now, and every now and then some student has shown an intense, unsolicited interest in responding to the novel through the visual arts.  So maybe students “all these years have been asking me to teach the course that Bob is teaching here, that Jeff is teaching in Illinois, that Don is teaching in Wisconsin.”  At the exhibition in Covington, Jeff was “struck by how the student artists absorbed and appreciated the book’s tremendous wit and playfulness.”  He saw this “in Ronnie Sickinger’s Whale Dinner and in Camilla Asplen’s cookbook, both of them irreverent in ways that Melville would have appreciated.”  And then you have Brian Cruey’s “wonderful Coffin Warehouse photo.  It manages to do both things that Melivlle does.  It is haunting in a way, but it is also a reminder of how funny that moment is in the first chapter—funny and morbid at the same time.  What better way to create more readers of Moby-Dick than to let them realize it’s not the big scary book that no one can finish—that it’s actually full of many joys and pleasures and moments of glorious laughter.”

One of Caitlin Sparks' three White Whale photographs

One of Caitlin Sparks’ three White Whale photographs

Second, Jeff was “really struck” with the “ways into the novel” that female artists have found.  “Like Caitlin’s remarkable, beautiful, ghostly, phantom-like images.  So many images that we’ve seen of Moby-Dick are so busy.  Milloff’s paintings are full of stuff.  Even Matt’s are so dense.  But Caitlin’s are so spare.  They remind me of the moment when Ishmael says, ‘Don’t try to enlarge you mind. Subtleize it.’  There’s something beautifully subtle about these works.  Abby’s plaster casts are really remarkable too.  I am really interested in that kind of embodiment.  And Mary Belperio’s Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane is so wonderful and playful and lovely.”

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“Don’t try to enlarge you mind. Subtleize it.”

Landon Jones, Ahab's Iron Crown

Landon Jones, Ahab’s Iron Crown

Jeff’s third point was that “there’s so little of Ahab in the art” on display.  You do have “Jordan Small’s portrait.  It’s really great.  I love the creases around the eyes.”  And you have “Ahab’s leg” in the rock garden.  But Ahab remains “tough” for student artists as well as for experienced artists and even teachers.  Jeff feels this will be “a challenge for classes going forward,” including his own.  “I’m going to have to be more mindful than evrer to find ways to help students today connect with Ahab.”  The two artworks in the Covington show that address the complexities of Ahab most directly are probably Kathleen Piercefield’s Ahab: Thou must not follow, created for the Rockford show in 2009, and Landon Jones’s Ahab’s Iron Crown, created  in my Honors Freshman Composition class during the Fall 2013 Semester by a pre-engineering student who had not read Moby-Dick itself, but who had attended a production of Orson Welles’ Moby Dick—Rehearsed by NKU’s undergradaute Theater department .  Maybe Landon’s artwork does protend a deeper engagement with Ahab by new generation of students.

Jeff Insko’s final impression that he will take away from the Covington show is simply that these student artists understand “the joys and the pleasures and the remards and the difficulties and the dangers of reading Moby-Dick.”

Sam Otter began his Closing Remarks by emphasizing “something that no one else has mentioned” about the Covington catalog: the bibliography that “comes after the eloquent artist statements and the spectacular images.”   In that bibliography “you learn that there have been 15 exhibitions of Moby-Dick art by NKU students locally and  nationwide.  You also learn that there have been 31 publications by and about NKU Moby artists.  That is an astonishing and impressive record, showing that the work done by Bob and his students here at Northern Kentucky University . . . has a life circulating far outside the campus.”

Samm Otter Opening his Closing Remarks

Samm Otter opening his Closing Remarks

Brian on the book stacks leading to Caitlin by the window

Brian Cruey’s photos on the book stacks leading to Caitlin Spark’s photos  by the window

Before addressing in a fairly systematic way the question of why Moby-Dick appeals to such a variety of visual artists, Sam offered several observations about the Covington exhibition and the NKU symposium.  Over the last four days he had learned that Beth Schultz’s Unpainted to the Last is “a palpable presence” not only for Melville scholars but “in the lives of artists.”  Earlier today, Ashley Theissen’s “eloquent” comment about the false division between “the critical and creative” reminded Sam of Melville’s implicit insistance that we “beware of tempting, illusory binaries, beware of false choices.”  One thing that surprised Sam about the student art work in the Covington show was the “wide variety of media: prints, drawings, photographs, collages, sculpture, porcelein, dance, video, stop-frame animation, artist books, dioramas, posters, textiles, fabric reliefs, body casts, quilts, felt sculptures.” Just as “art fills the pages of Emma and Bob’s catalog,” it “also fills the Covington library.” Sam thought it was a great way to see the art,” to be in a space that has you “thinking you’ve finished seeing the art and then turning a corner and realizing there’s another room of art to see.  Or art on the end of stacks.  Or art down corridors you haven’t been to yet.”

In both the exhibitoin and the catalog, Sam was struck by “the outpouring of creative work by a range of students, formally trained or not.”  He feels that “that outpouring resonates with the democratic experiment that is one of the topics of Melville’s book: the sense that art is not produced only by the formally trained, only by the elite, only by those in particular departments.  I think that is not an accidental resonance” between the artwork and the book, but a “creative response” resulting from a deep engagment with the book itself.

Sam saying art is not produced only by those in particular departments

Sam saying art is not produced only by those in particular departments

vedder cover 3 +At this point, Sam paused in his Closing Remarks and asked my students and former students in the audience to come up with us on stage.  In their presence, he presented me with the most meaningful professional gift I have ever received: my own copy of one of Herman Melville’s most prized possessions late in life, Elihu Vedder’s illustrated 1886 edition of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.  As Sam well knows, I have studied Melville’s own copy of this book, now at the Houghton Library at Harvard, quite carefully as part of my ongoing research into Melville’s print collection,.  To have a copy identical to his to study and savor here at home will be a lifetime pleasure for which I will be eternally grateful.

Sam presenting me with Vedder's edition of the Rubaiyat

Sam presenting me with Vedder’s edition of the Rubaiyat

 

Now, finally, Sam got down the the business at hand, a consideration of “how we may account for the extraordinary visual response to Moby-Dick” by artists in diverse places, times, and media.  I have room here to touch only briefly on his three main points.  One reason for “this creative outpouring” in response to this book is “Melville’s visual imagination, his own intereset in art, but also his own visual pictorialism.” A second reason is “the book’s challenge of representation, most prominently having to do with the whale—massive, elusive, saturated with meaning.”  Sam suggested that Melville’s three chapters evaluating the representation of whales in diverse media “indicate the range and variety of media in which the book can be responded to.”  Making his own variation on Ishmael’s “I but put that brow before you.  Read it if you can,” Sam sees the book itself as saying to artists “not only read it if you can,” but “paint it if you can, draw it, etch it, sculpt it, carve it, film it, dance it, if you can,” offering the artwork in the Covington exhibition as evidence.

“Paint it if you can, draw it, etch it, sculpt it, carve it, film it, dance it, if you can”

Kathleen Piercefield, collagraph, monotype with hand coloring, 2008

Kathleen Piercefield, Bosom Friend, collagraph, monotype with hand coloring, 2008

In additon to Melville’s visual imagination and the book’s challenge of representatioin, Sam also suggested that Moby-Dick’s “variety of forms and speakers helps to explain the artistic response.”  This novel “licenses the reader, indulges the reader, goads the reader, and the artist, to use all available forms.  Melville himself uses narrative, poetry, digression, meditation, abstraction, fantasy, realism.  The book encourages a response, encourages experimentation.”  This includes a flexible interplay between word and images.  In Covington, Sam was “surprised and pleased to see how many of the student art works incorported words.”  And he was “fascinated”’ to hear Kathleen Piercefield describe how “discovering the technique of the collagraph” gave her a new appreciation of Melville’s attention to mark-making in the novel, which in turn informed her own mark-making practice.

Holly Doyle McAtee's Self-Portrait in Moby-Dick

Holly Doyle McAtee’s Self-Portrait in Moby-Dick, 2006

This example from Piercefield led Sam to one more thought about the extraordinary visual response by visual artists to Moby-Dick:  the book “draws readers into its obsessive quest, its unfinished quest.”  As in the case of Walt Whitman’s poetry, “an intimate connection is established with readers, a sense that the writer invites his readers, needs his readers, summons his readers, compels the readers to finish his work.”  Responsive readers each do their individual parts “by completing the circle of communication” that “can never be finished.” And “readers and teachers and students alike have responded” in this way to Moby-Dick.  “And we’ve seen, over the past four days, one remarkable pattern of response in today’s Symposium and in the two decades of Moby-Dick art” that are brought together in the Covington exhibition and its catalog.

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When Sam left me alone at the podium after the many kinds of gifts he had given me, my students, and the audience in these Closing Remarks, I thanked him, the speakers, my student artists, and the audience for what had been a remarkable four days.  And what struck me, with my heart so full, was everything Emma Rose had done to bring this element of my teaching career, these achievements of my students, to full expression.  Yes, I had had the pleasure of teaching the Moby course every other year for twenty years, enjoying the sequence of artworks that students would present at the end of each semester, and from time to time following those artworks out of the classroom in whatever exhibition or publications might result.  But many of the artworks in the Covington show had never been seen outside of the classroom.  And few of the artist statements or classroom presentation photos that anchor the catalog had ever been seen outside of the binders into which I had inserted them at the end of each semester (in my role as Melville’s sub-sub-librarian).

vlcsnap-2015-05-21-04h37m49s34All of these archival materials were brought to life and given a purpose by Emma Rose’s decision, a few weeks after Spring Break in our 2013 Moby class, to co-curate what became the Covington exhibition and co-edit what became its catalog.  It is literally true that without her saying “yes” to this project there would have been no Covington exhibition, no companion catalog, no four-day Arts Fest, and no excuse to invite so many wonderful, talented people to come and share their own experiences with us.

After sharing some of above thoughts and feelings, it was time to invite our audience members, most of whom had been with us the whole day, to make their way down to the exhibition space in Covington for the Reception for Student Artists and Guest Speakers that would conclude the scheduled portion of this marathon day.  I was driving Beth and Sam, as I had in the morning, and we would have made it to the Reception more or less on time had I not again lost track of that box of catalogs that Emma Rose and I had inscribed for our student artists.

Catalogs now back in the trunk of the car again

Catalogs now back in the trunk of the car again

Before the keynote speech in the morning I had left that box near the table that the NKU Bookstore had set up in the lobby for selling Melville-related books.  I knew that the bookstore would be removing its merchandise while we went on our art walk, but in the afternoon I had forgeotten about our catalogs until it was time to pack up after the Closing Remarks.  By then the box had migrated to an undisclosed location and it took quite some time, with the help of several people, to find it and once more load it into the trunk of my car, this time to have on hand for any student artist at the reception who did not yet have his or her copy of the catalog.

Live video recordings by Media Services of the sequence of Closing Remarks:

Closing Remarks by Jeff Insko

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YXL3ZH2BlQ

Closing Remarks by Sam Otter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snKJypEkAeE

Closing Remarks by Robert K. Wallace

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXkDrdb7MD0

NKU Symposium on Moby-Dick and the Arts, Part 2

Entry begun on Thursday, May 14, 1:25 pm

Jeff Markham spent quite a bit of our lunch hour transferring the video he had brought of the Moby-Dick sculpture his high school students had created in Illinois into a format that could be projected on the Budig Theater screen (whose system had been state-of-the-art some time ago).  With help from Chris Bowling and others from technical services, we got done in time to have a good bite to eat before the first afternoon session.  I guess this was the technical equivalent of the artistic process Emma Rose described of taking that visual image off the brain by making a physical object that others can see.  Melville described a similar process, in reverse, in the letter he wrote to Evert Duyckinck when in the midst of creating Moby-Dick in December 1850:  “taking a book off the brain, is akin to the ticklish & dangerous business of taking an old painting off a panel—you have to scrape off the whole brain into order to get at it with due safety—& even then, the painting may not be worth the trouble.”

Jeff Markham began our pedagogical session on “Moby-Dick Art in the Classroom” with a presentation I had been looking forward to ever since meeting him at the Moby-Dick Marathon in New Bedford last year and hearing about the work he does with his students at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois.  Every other year he enters into a year-long project with an art teacher in which their students, after studying Moby-Dick, create an art exhibition in which each student expresses his or her creative response to the novel itself.  Last year their group project resulted in a life-size sculpture of a sperm whale on whose white body were tattooed images that each student had designed.  Jeff’s video showed these students in the process of creating, discussing, and exhibiting the sculpture they called Tattooing the Whale.  Their communal art project will have a permanent home in a hallway of their school.  Seeing Jeff’s students at work, and hearing them discuss what they had achieved, was a great pleasure in itself.

Jeff Markham projecting video of his students’ project Tattooing the Whale

Jeff Markham projecting video of his students’ project Tattooing the Whale.  Video stills in Budig Theater courtesy NKU Media Services

Jeff followed up the video by addressing the pedagogical potential of “Using Visual Arts in the Classroom.”  His practice is driven by Emerson’s contention that “we animate what we can, and we see only what we animate.”  Students learn when they bring a subject to life, and they can see what they are learning only by making it visible.  Jeff likes to begin with a one-to-one exercise in which each student draws his or her image inspired by a specific passage in the novel (such as Ahab’s idea of “a complete man” in his conversation with the Carpenter in chapter 108).  As students move on to more complex artistic responses to the novel, Jeff finds that they often reach a level of intuitive, resonant, or even ecstatic learning they seldom achieve through the written word alone.  Jeff’s presentation reminded me of how many of my college students over the years, when taking the artistic plunge, have said, “I haven’t done anything creative since the fourth grade.”  His Emersonian mantra that “we see only what we animate” felt like an echo of  Emma Rose’s “How do you show what you see unless you make it?”

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Don Dingledine from the University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh had already shared a good deal of his experience as a teacher of Moby-Dick in his keynote address to the Honors Capstone students on the day before our Moby Arts Fest began.  Over the weekend, Don had been working on this new talk when not attending the Friday night Symposium at the Cincinnati Art Museum or the Marathon Reading at the Covington Public Library.  For some time he has taught Moby-Dick in an English department capstone course, but after reading the Moby catalog and seeing the Covington exhibition he regrets that artworks have only occasionally made it into his own Capstone course.  Because student learning is assessed in his department solely through verbal evidence, the occasional artwork is only smuggled in as a “stowaway.”  Don’s only opportunity to incorporate art work into the substance of his classes is when he teaches in the Honors program, which he calls “the watery part of the academic world.”  Only there can he pursue the kind of “landlessness” he relishes in the “Lee Shore” chapter, exploring the open ocean in which “the highest truth resides.”

Donn Dingledine on the

Don Dingledine on the “landlessness” of the lee shore

Don emphasized the importance of “trust” in allowing students leeway in exploring a literary text.  One student did bring art into Don’s English Capstone course by creating a graphic novel, which qualified in this sense as a “literary” product.  Even so, he felt she might have done even more with the visuality of this project if she had been freed from a literary narrative.  Speaking immediately after Jeff Markham, Don had been amazed that Jeff’s quote from Emerson about “animation” so closely anticipated the slide he would soon be projecting of the cover A Mighty Animation, the title of his Capstone student’s graphic novel.  Don closed his presentation by citing two artist statements from the catalog for our Moby show. He liked Fred North’s internalization of the “open independence” of the lee shore in an attempt to balance his life as a husband and father with that of a student and factory worker.  And he admired Abby’s Schlachter’s description of her body casts as a way to fit her “shape” into a university whose conventional paths had no room for her.  All of this has given Don a new sense of the efficacy of art “in creating new paths that can liberate both teachers and students.”

Title page of “A Mighty Animation,” graphic novel by Dingledine student

Cover art for A Mighty Animation, graphic novel by Dingledine student

Aaron Zlatkin began by saying that the “class that never ends” has become “the class that won’t go away.”  Nevertheless, he enjoyed revisiting his experience in the 1996-97 Moby class as well as the essay he had published in Leviathan a few years later.  In addition to discovering that he had a “pompous writing style” as an undergraduate, Aaron learned some things about the 1996 class from looking at the original and revised syllabi for the course that are still posted on the Moby and the Net website (http://www.nku.edu/~moby).   In my instructions for keeping a running log in response to each assigned section of the novel, he focused on the phrase “depth of thought and fluidity of expression will be highly valued.”  He does not remember such qualities being called for in any of his other classes, and he feels now that the invitation to imaginative thought and expression in this early assignment helped to empower the entire class to propose creating their own art exhibition at the end of the semester.

Aaron speaking about

Aaron Zlatkin speaking about “depth of thought and fluidity of expression”

Aaron was also struck by the extent to which the 1996 course led students out beyond the classroom, not only on the overnight trip to see the Unpainted to the Last exhibition at Northwestern University, but also, for example, in contacting some of the world’s leading Moby-Dick artists for permission to put their images on the class website.  Such activities could be “quite intimidating as freshmen and sophomores,” but they made students feel they were part of a larger conversation about Moby-Dick and the arts.  This further empowered them for their joint exhibition with students at Rockford College in Illinois when they returned for “Further Studies in Melville and the Arts” in 1997.  When Aaron published an essay in the October 2000 Leviathan about his learning experiences in these courses, he called it “Coffins into Life Buoys,” alluding primarily to the way in which Queequeg’s coffin becomes Ishmael’s life-buoy at the end of the novel.  Aaron’s classmate Abby Schlachter had created her own versions of Queequeg’s coffin in 1996 and 1997; she was to be making her own Life Buoy a decade later, as we  saw in the morning session.

Aaron's essay in October 2000 Leviathan

Aaron’s essay in the October 2000 Leviathan

Ashley Theissen, after her experience as an undergraduate student at NKU and a teacher during her graduate studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, worries about how difficult it is for teachers to enable students to “do creative work”–especially at the undergraduate level.  As a teacher of lower-division English courses at Bloomington, Ashley had no room to give creative assignments.  An undergraduate English major, she had felt tremendous pressure to get good grades–“to ace the Humanities”–if she wanted to get into graduate school.  This made her, like other students, afraid to take courses that might be particularly adventuresome or exploratory.  And that led to the subject she wanted to address today: “vulnerability.”  Because “creative work can be really scary.”

Ashley speaking about vulnerabilty

Ashley Theissen speaking about creativity and vulnerabilty

By the time Ashley was a senior English major she had no doubt that she could do what was needed to write a critical research paper.  But when she decided to make a film about the artwork of Kathleen Piercefield and George Klauba as a graduating senior in my Moby class, she was plagued with doubts.  Even after successfully interviewing each artist and documenting the opening of their exhibition at the Rockford Museum of Art in Illinois, she worried about whether the project was worthwhile or whether she would succeed.  She did end up loving this project and working on it “for months after the class was over.”  Both her own project and those of her classmates helped her to see that “engaging in creative work can teach us lessons that other courses and projects simply can’t.”  They also helped her to see that “the dichotomy between creative and critical work is a false one.”  Ashley was happy to tell us that her 2009 documentary about the artwork of Piercefield and Klauba (Fast Fish Loose Fish) is still on the website of the New Bedford Whaling Museum at https://vimeo.com/8846235.

A still from Ashley’s film showing Kathleen Piercefield with Pip triptych in Rockford, Illinois

A still from Ashley’s film showing Kathleen Piercefield with her Pip triptych in Rockford, Illinois

After graduating from NKU as an Studio Arts major last December, Mary Belperio now “practices energy healing,” a profession in which intuition is as central as it is in the world of Moby-Dick and the Arts.  For her, art has always been something that “filled my soul.  Humans are in their very essence creators.”  When doing research for an Art Education course, Mary found in study after study that “art increased the capacity for retention when integrated into other subject matters.”  But our educational system very rarely acknowledges this.  When she saw that a course was offered on Moby-Dick and the Arts she simply thought, “this is how learning is supposed to be.” She and Emma Rose Thompson were the only Art majors in that class, but the artworks that were created by students who were not trained in art validated Mary’s strong feeling that all humans are inherently creative and that “limitations in creative expression are simply illusions that we have imposed upon ourselves.”

Mary Belperio speaking about humans as creators

Mary Belperio speaking about humans as creators

Mary ended her presentation with her own carefully phrased definition of art, one that echoed in an uncanny way the formulations advanced earlier in the day by Jeff Markham, Emma Rose, and Matt Kish: “Art is inspiration made tangible, expressed so that it might be experienced by others, in a way that we experience it within ourselves.”  During the same semester in which Mary was creating Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane, she was learning from her classmates that allowing “artistic expression in a group of mostly non-art majors inspires creativity on a truly committed level that exceeds our ideas” of what one might expect.  The artworks in the Covington exhibition created by non-art majors in Mary’s class include sculptures, videos, paintings, drawings, posters, finger puppets, and mixed-media collages created by majors in Political Science, Journalism, Media Information, Psychology, History, and English.  Mary feels that the art option “allowed for our own personal experience with Moby-Dick,” and “personal experience is what motivates us as human beings.”

Mary, Emma Rose, and classmates on the last day of class

Mary, Emma Rose, and classmates at the end of the 2013 Spring Semester

I had been scheduled to give the closing remarks in this session, but I had been too busy in the last three days to prepare anything in advance, so it worked out well that we were already right at the end of session, at 2:30, when my time came.  I did speak briefly about my original inspiration from Fred North, about my early doubts about whether giving English majors the creative option would serve their needs or those of the department, about the rare camaraderie that can be achieved by an entire class when they all make the choice to make art, and about the difference between writing a research paper about Moby-Dick (in which you have an established format to follow) versus creating an artwork (in which you begin with what you have thought and felt).

emma rose andrew & campus buideAfter thanking all who had shared their own thoughts and feelings about Moby-Dick and the Arts in our first three sessions, I announced that we would be leaving for our walking tour of Moby-Dick art in ten minutes, and that Emma Rose would be passing out a Campus Guide to the sites we were visiting.  Emma Rose’s friend Andrew had picked up the freshly printed guides from Staples the day before, and brought them to us at the Marathon.

(Live video recordings by Media Services of the successive speakers in the pedagogical session are posted following the Art Walk at the end of this entry.)

Shay’s Immortal in his Species near the Stego sculpture

Shay Derickson’s Immortal in his Species near the Stego sculpture

Campus Art Walk.  Our Campus Guide features five different sites displaying original Moby-Dick artwork, but we only had time to visit three of them during the period between the two afternoon sessions of the Symposium.  One of the two sites we were unable to visit was the third floor of Steely Library, where Shay Derickson’s sequence of five photos of an automotive graveyard entitled Immortal in his Species from my 2006 Moby class is permanently installed next to Patricia Renick’s 1974 Stegowagenvolkssaurus.  The other site we could not work into our afternoon walk was my office, Room 536 in the Landrum Academic Center.  Most of the student artwork I usually keep in my office was either in our Dickinson show in the Steely Library or our Moby show in the Covington Library, but I did have original Moby-Dick artwork by Frank Stella, Robert Del Tredici, Aileen Callahan, Mark Milloff, and A. C. Christodoulou in my office that I would have loved to show to our out-of-state visitors if we’d had time to stop by.

Descending from the main plaza to the Lobby of Greaves Concert Hall

Descending from the main plaza to the Lobby of Greaves Concert Hall. Photo courtesy Abby Langdon

Jeff Markham, Beth Schultz, Caitlin Sparks, and Tom Lohre aka Ahab

Jeff Markham, Beth Schultz, Caitlin Sparks, and Tom Lohre aka Ahab.  Photo courtesy Abby Langdon

Our first destination from the lobby of Budig Theater was the lobby of Greaves Concert Hall on the First Floor of the Fine Arts Building.  For those who were comfortable walking on this sunny springtime day, I led a group along the main plaza to the stairs that descend between Steely Library and the Fine Arts Building to the lower plaza from which you enter the concert hall.  Immediately inside the doors you see two original, multimedia Moby-Dick prints by Frank Stella, The Whale as a Dish and The Hyena. Each print is 67 inches high by 54 inches wide.  Each is one of thirteen Wave prints that Stella created between 1985 and 1989 in an edition of sixty.  I had first seen these two prints at the Solway Gallery in Cincinnati in November 1989.  The Whale as a Dish was right inside the door; it challenged and mesmerized me much as had the painting Ishmael sees right inside the door of the Spouter-Inn in the novel.  No less than the Spouter-Inn painting, this print resembles “chaos bewitched.”  It reminds me of the passage in which Ishmael says of the Sperm Whale’s head, “I but put that brow before you, read it if you can.”

Frank Stella’s The Whale as a Dish (left) and The Hyena (right) from Campus Guide

Frank Stella’s The Whale as a Dish (left) and The Hyena (right) from Campus Guide

Contrasting the reproduction with the original.  Photo courtesy Numediacy

Contrasting the reproduction with the original. Photo courtesy Numediacy

The University acquired these two prints and installed them in the Greaves Lobby soon after I published my book on Stella’s Moby-Dick Series in 2000.  It had taken me more than a decade to write and publish that book after first seeing The Whale as a Dish in 1989, just as it had taken Stella more than a decade to create one or more artworks for every chapter title of the novel in the Moby-Dick series he began in 1985 and completed in 1997.  I love to bring students the Greaves Lobby to show them the difference between the seeing the reproduction of The Whale of a Dish on page 10 of my Stella book and seeing it in person.  I also like to ask students to write down the first word that comes to mind as an overall impression of this work when they first see it, and then share that word with other members of the group.  Alert viewers invariably have widely different perceptions, which always leads to an interesting discussion.

Looking at The Whale as a Dish.  Photo courtesy Numediacy

Looking at The Whale as a Dish. Photo courtesy Numediacy

Matt Kish in Archive.  Photo courtesy Numediacy

Matt Kish in Archive. Photo courtesy Numediacy

Our next stop was only a short walk across the lower plaza to the Steely Library Special Collections and University Archives.  Here archivist Lois Hamill had set out the Moby-Dick artwork from her collection that she and I had selected the week before: the Whiteness book by Claire Illouz, the White Whale on black paper by Carola Bell, posters of Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick works from around the world, a dozen Moby-Dick prints by Robert Del Tredici from the mid-1960s, another sixteen prints by Del Tredici from 2013-14, and two dozen original Moby-Dick drawings on found paper by Matt Kish, most of them reproduced in Moby-Dick in Pictures in 2011 but several of them newly created since then.  It was a real honor to have Matt Kish with us for this visit, so after I showed a few examples of what can be learned interpretively from examining the reverse side of the found paper on which he has drawn, I turned the rest of the Archive visit over to Matt, who spoke about his own process in making these drawings and took questions.

Looking at two tables of Del Tredici prints in the Archive.  Photo courtesy Numediacy

Looking at two tables of Del Tredici prints in the Archive. Photo courtesy Numediacy

Honors House on day of campus tour.  Photo Courtesy Numediacy

Honors House on day of campus tour. Photo Courtesy Numediacy

It would have been a pleasure to spend the rest of our art walk with Matt in the Archive, but we had plenty to see over in the Honors House as well.  We began in the room they call the “library” near the back of the first floor, which has three small, brilliant Moby-Dick prints by Greek artist and translator A. C. Christodoulou in addition to one of Del Tredici’s iconic pen-and-inks from the mid-1960s, Inscrutable Tides of God.

Vali Myers, Moby Dick, in reception room of Honors House

Vali Myers, Moby Dick, in reception room of Honors House

In the reception area of the Honors House we saw a feast of original Moby-Dick art work by Matt Kish (the drawing for page 79 of Moby-Dick in Pictures, framed so you could see both sides), two rare giclee prints by Vali Myers (Moby-Dick and Stella Maris), one of four giclee prints that Mark Milloff released in 2005 (Stripping the Whale), the poster for an exhibition of Stella’s Wave prints in 2005 (reproducing The Counterpane), and four large screenprints from the turn of the century by Robert Del Tredici (Folly Beast of Earth, Boggy Soggy, and variant versions of Sick Civilized).  Because two Moby-Dick works by student artists were currently on loan to the exhibition in Covington (Shear by Danielle Kleymeyer and Queequeg in her Coffin II by Abby Schlachter Langdon), I had temporarily replaced them with framed prints of Del Tredici’s Face in Water and Stella’s Dare, Dream, Discover, the Christopher Columbus Quincentennial print Stella had adapted from his Moby-Dick print The Battering Ram

Kish and Del Tredici in the Honors House.  Photo courtesy Numediacy

Kish drawing and Del Tredici prints in the Honors House. Photo courtesy Numediacy

Links to the live video recordings by Media Services of each successive speaker in the session on “Moby-Dick Art in the Classroom”:

Jeff Markham in Pedagogical Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0ZmNJphsw4

Don Dingledine in Pedagogical Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUfSoqohRcw

Aaron Zlatkin in Pedagogical Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7l6VZ78zzQ

Ashley Theissen in Pedagogical Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-nBolinfr8

Mary Belperio in Pedagogical Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2n10obJVQw

Robert K Wallace in Pedagogical Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FG8de6zjDEI

 

NKU Symposium on Moby-Dick and the Arts, Part 1

Entry begun on Thursday, May 14, 1:25 pm

Title slide for video recording by Media Center

Title slide for video recording by Media Center

Our all-day Symposium at NKU was scheduled to begin at 9 am on Monday, April 27.  I wanted to arrive by 8:30 to make sure the hall, the projection equipment, and the recording equipment were ready in plenty of time for our opening event: Beth Schultz’s keynote address on the proliferation of new Moby-Dick art since the publication of Unpainted to the Last in 1995.  Beth’s talk was to be heavily dependent on images projected through Powerpoint, as were those of several other presenters.  In addition to providing technical support for our speakers, we had to be attentive to the needs of three groups that would be recording all or part of today’s Sumposium.  David Shaerf and Adam Gould from Michigan and Jay Gray and Caitlin Sparks from Numediacy were to be recording selected parts of the proceedings.  A rotating crew from NKU’s Media Services would be making a complete recording of each of the sessions from a fixed camera at the back of the Otto M. Budig Theater.  I am grateful to Media Services for permission to post stills from their videos as part of this blog–and for providing the live videos I have been able to post at the end of this and subsequent Symposium entries..

Catalogs back in the trunk where I had intended to put them

Catalogs back in the trunk where I had intended to put them

Beth Schultz and Sam Otter were both ready when I picked them up at Comfort Suites at 8:15 am.  We would easily have made it to NKU on time had I not lost track of the box of Moby-Dick catalogs I thought I had brought home from the library the night before.   These were the catalogs Emma Rose and I inscribed to each of our student artists and had planned to present to any who attended the Symposium today.  I thought for sure I had loaded them onto the cart we had rolled out to my car the night before, so I must have either left the box on the cart in the dark or set it down in the parking lot while I was opening the trunk and left it there overnight.  We therefore took a quick detour to the Covington library on the way to the campus.  There, mysteriously, was the box of catalogs sitting on yesterday’s registration table, where I must have left it.

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Author introducing Beth Schultz

Everything was fine at the lecture hall.  All of the equipment was working and we were ready to go at 9.  Katherine Frank, Dean of Arts and Sciences, gave a warm welcome to scholars and artists who had traveled from six different states to be with us, as well as to our own student artists and artist alums.  I quickly outlined our schedule for the day and introduced Beth Schultz, who by now was well known personally, as well as by reputation, to most in the room.  Beth entitled her talk “The New Art of Moby-Dick.”

In part because of the widespread influence of Beth’s own work, most Melville scholars are generally aware that there has been a significant amount of new Moby-Dick art created in the 21st century.  But I doubt if anyone in the room was prepared for the breadth and depth of the visual wonder world that Beth floated before us, with cogent commentary, for one rhapsodic hour.  I work pretty hard myself at keeping up with contemporary developments in Moby-Dick art, but Beth has discovered a plenitude of new artists absolutely unknown to me.  Beginning with illustrated editions of the novel, she moved on to artist books and then to freestanding works untethered to the novel, moving from sculpture and installations to 2-D cut-outs, paintings, prints, and drawings of various kinds.  Beth spoke continuously for one hour, but she could easily have gone two. She said her first version of this talk was twice as long before she pared it down.  We were very fortunate to be witnessing the first version of the keynote address she will be giving to the International Melville Society Conference in Tokyo in the early afternoon on Friday, June 26.

This and subsequent full-size video stills courtesy NKU Media Services

This and subsequent full-size video stills courtesy NKU Media Services

Visually, this was a “glancing bird’s eye view” of the art that has been “promiscuously” created around the world in the last twenty years (to borrow Ishmael’s phrasing from the “Extracts” section of the novel).  But Beth never just samples and classifies.  She goes to the heart of each artwork and its relation to the novel or to the wider culture.  If the artist’s engagement with the novel has evolved, she shows that evolution.  And if any artist has excelled  in tenacious engagement as well as imaginative grasp, she wants to contextualize and celebrate that achievement.  This she did, today, particularly, for the work that Matt Kish, Robert Del Tredici, Mark Milloff, and Aileen Callahan have been creating in the 21st century.  For Schultz, Matt’s Kish’s Moby-Dick in Pictures is “the most exuberant and comprehensive of all artists’ recreations of the book Moby-Dick.”  Robert Del Tredici’s lifelong engagement with Moby-Dick, beginning pen-and-ink drawings in the mid-1960s, is bursting forth in a striking new series of prints on metallic paper fifty years later.  Mark Milloff’s cetacean battle scenes from the 1980s, revisited with even more intensity at the turn of the century, have led to a new series of Moby-Dick paintings in which women are the whalers.  And Aileen Callahan, making large-scale paintings of the whale at the turn of the century followed by a series of smaller drawings on The Birth of Moby-Dick, is now making charcoal drawings of the skin of the whale unprecedented in their imaginative and tactile range.  Schultz sees no evidence that the magnetic draw of Melville’s novel has diminished, with, instead, more and more to revel in, both here and around the world.

Beth Schultz telling Matt Kish she is honored to be speaking in his presence

Beth Schultz telling Matt Kish she is honored to be speaking in his presence

Beth Schultz discussing drawing of the whale's skin by Aileen Callahan

Beth Schultz discussing drawing of the whale’s skin by Aileen Callahan

Beth’s talk makes clear that Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center will be on the cutting edge when it exhibits Moby-Dick work by Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici Moby from April to August 2016.  So will Cincinnati’s Marta Hewett Gallery when it features Aileen Callahan along with a number of local Moby-Dick artists in an exhibition concurrent with one at the CAC.  Many of the local artists to be featured in the Marta Hewett exhibition are in the current Moby Comes to Covington show, and a number of student artists and alums were among the student artists who were soon to be speaking at the NKU Symposium Beth had just opened.  One of the pleasures Emma Rose and I have had in curating the exhibition at the Covington Public Library has been to show the work of NKU students and alums to Steven Matijcio of the CAC and to Marta Hewett in separate tours of this impressive venue for public art.   .

Our second event of the morning, scheduled to begin at 10:30, was a panel discussion on “Creating Moby-Dick Art” in which Matt Kish was followed by NKU student artist alums Kathleen Piercefield, Abby Schlachter Langdon, Danielle Wallace, and Caitlin Sparks, with closing comments by Emma Rose Thompson.  We had some portable microphones set up on two tables on stage for a discussion session that would follow the individual presentations, but we were running a little late when the session began, and each speaker had a lot to say, so we never made it to the discussion part of the session.

Matt as seen from author's seat

Matt as seen from author’s seat

Today Matt Kish spoke more about his actual process of making art than in the Friday night lecture addressing Moby-Dick in the wider culture.  He emphasized from the beginning that the project was “intensely personal.”  He had not been trained in making art, but he had been immersed in images as a child and had always liked to draw.  By the age of forty, he had “come to realize that the making of art is for me a kind of external memory.  It is a way I have of preserving, ordering, and organizing my own life, my own experiences, and in some sense creating a record of my identity.”  Having found a very satisfying full-time job as a librarian, and having drawn quite a bit of art for himself without anyone else really being interested, he decided to give the art-making process one last chance by taking on “the idiodic task of trying to create one illustration for every single page of Moby-Dick.”   By this time he had already read the novel eight times, beginning in junior high school.  Each time he read it he felt it was a mirror into his own life.  As a reader of this book, or any other, he had “always seen what I read, not just the words on the page, but literally seeing the imagery, the action, and the narrative of what I was reading play out in a sort of internal theater.”

For this all-consuming project he set several goals in advance.  To draw one image every day for each of the 552 pages.  To progress sequentially through the narrative of the book so his art would evolve along with the story.  To use every kind of media he might possibly wish to use since this might be his last art project ever.  And to make his drawings on pieces of “found” paper, since he has “always been interested in the visual reproduction of information.”  As he superimposed his drawings upon each printed page, he loved the “bottomless ocean of information, and suggestions, and juxtapositions, all of which are sort of swimming beneath the main thrust of the narrative being carried by [his] drawings,” a dynamic that felt very close to that of Moby-Dick itself.  “Everything that I read in that book seemed to have some sort of real world connection or echo.  I was amazed at how Moby-Dick seemed so intimately interwoven with every single aspect of not only my life personally, but our life as Americans, as contemporary 21st century people.”

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After framing the larger project in this way, Matt showed how various influences had found their way into specific drawings.  Some were from comics, others from record covers, others from films, others more directly from the action of the novel or the thoughts of the characters, but very few were inspired by other Moby-Dick artists such as Rockwell Kent, Barry Moser, or Frank Stella, all of whose achievements loomed so large they might have diminished his own personal expressiveness.  Look back at it now, he realizes that his images of Ahab “began to resemble a series of self-portraits as the project became more and more maddening for me.”  Even so, he found that he had “subconsciously” entered into a “creative zone” in which the project felt less and less his own but more as “an intuitive and unstoppable act of creation.”  In spite of the continuous surge of creativity he felt toward the end, he because increasing “anxiouis to be finished,” something he feels is particularly evident in the anguish of his last drawing of Ahab, as the whole project had become “a kind of mortal enemy” to his life beyond the project itself.  Matt is “endlessly proud” of Moby-Dick in Pictures, but the obsessive effort “was a helluva price to pay” and “I’m not anxious to recreate that experience.”

Matt Kish projecting his last image of Ahab in the 2011 book

Matt Kish projecting his last image of Ahab from the 2011 book

Kathleen Piercefield began her presentation by comparing herself to “the crew of the Pequod and Ishmael” in the novel, in that she “did not know what [she] was getting into” when she signed up for Moby-Dick at the Arts in 2004.  She was already a senior BFA Printmaking major who had come to NKU after raising a family.  Even so, “coming to Moby-Dick at this point in her life “had a tremendous impact on my own personal growth.”  As soon as she began reading the novel she began to record “images that started to spring up into my consciousness” from the words on the page.  She asked herself “what meaning could a woman find in this largely male-dominated book.”  One answer was The Women of New Bedford, the etching and aquatint she had created by the end of the semester.  As a printmaker, her “focus has always been on making marks.”  In her advanced printmaking course during the same semester, she was learning the process of collagraph, which enabled her to make and layer marks in a new way.  This heightend her appreciation of Melville’s attention to visual markings in the novel, whether in tattoos on the human body or those lines incised in the whale’s skin “as in the finest Italian line engravings.”  Kathleen already had four major Moby-Dick engravings well underway by the time she finished the class, but she wanted to do “something spectacular” for her Senior Show at the end of the next semester, for which she created her larger-than-life Queequeg in his own proper person, the BFA magnum opus in which she “incorporated all of the printmaking techniques I had used in previous works.”

Kathleen discussing The Women of New Bedford

Kathleen discussing The Women of New Bedford

Kathleen entered into a second stage of Moby-Dick art-making when she was invited to create new work for an exhibition in Rockford, Illinois, in 2009.  She had always wanted “to show Moby Dick not as the horrible vindictive monster so many artists” had depicted, but as he is seen on the First Day of the Chase before the men attack him in the novel, “gliding” through the ocean with “a gentle joyousness—a mighty mildness of repose in his swiftness.”  The result is the mixed-media diptych print that Emma Rose chose as the wraparound cover for our Covington catalog and that I am using as the banner image for this blog.  But Kathleen had other business to attend to, too.  There was a suppressed tender side to Ahab in need of visual representation, so she created two versions of Ahab: I’d Strike the Sun, a multi-media print in which he is torn between his deadly obsession and his compassion for Pip.  And she created her Pip triptych, three successive prints depicting the terror of being lost at sea, the surrender to larger cosmic energies, and the unconsciousness embodiment of spiritual transcendence.  Kathleen concluded her talk by comparing her own transformation to that of Melville in writing the novel and Ishmael in narrating it.  “The person I was when I started this work in Bob Wallace’s class was not the person I was at this point in my life, and Moby-Dick had played a large part in transforming me—and transforming my work—into something new.”

Kathleen discussing Pip: Transcendence

Kathleen discussing Pip: Transcendence

Abby Schlachter Langdon remembers being a sophomore at NKU unsure of what to do with her life.  She “never would have imagined the impact that Moby-Dick would have on me—or that it would give me tools to navigate the choppy seas of life.”  As female college student, she found herself relating to Queequeg.  Uncertain of her own path, she saw that “he never wavered from who he was.  In everything he did, his motives were bold and clear, yet . . . there were mysteries in him even he could not decipher.  It was those contradictions in him that so strongly reminded me of myself and whom I was striving to be.”  The one passage that “completely hooked” her is the one describing the tattooing on his body “as a complete theory of the heaves and the earth.  . . . so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold, a wondrous work in one volume, but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own heart beat against them.”  Abby in the 1996 Moby class created a plaster cast of her own body on which she inscribed her own “theory of the heavens and the earth.”  She sees it now as “a self-portrait of a girl lacking in confidence.”  She is just beginning to “find her voice” and you have to get very close to her body to see the words that are inscribed there.  “Many of her truths are there to be seen, but are only just emerging.”  One year later, in Queequeg in her Coffin II, “a transformation is immediately recognizable.”  This cast of her own person “takes on a more confident stance. . . .  This girl appears comfortable in her own skin.  The voyage from sophomore to junior brought me a step closer to becoming the girl I meant to be, and my two coffin lids reflected this progress.”

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The “opportunity” to make a third body cast “came quite a few years later” when Abby “was pregnant with my daughter in 2005.”  Abby created the shape of this cast during her pregnancy, but she completed her meditative artwork on this shape, entitled Life-Buoy, for an exhibition in 2009.  In this body cast “we see the girl who’s grown up, married, and is producing a child.  Much as Queequeg’s coffin becomes a life-saving vessel for Ishmael, my body became a life-giving vessel for my daughter Kalllisto.”  On the outside shell Abby represented the constellation for which Kalli was named.  But she was more interested in “the view from within.”  She imagined “my little unborn daughter, picturing the world outside her mother’s protective womb.”  She collaged images from Kalli’s early years on the inside of the cast and then covered those images with writing, some of which described “the tumultuous ocean of pregnancy this life buoy carried us through.”  Abby concluded her talk by “looking back on this ongoing education I’ve received from Queequeg.  What I see now is that I am certainly my own living parchment.  My body carries so many markings that show me who I am and where I’ve been—scars, stretch marks, tattoos.”  Even now, “I am a puzzle still unfolding.”  But “I am most definitely a wondrous work in one volume.  I took me a long time to earn the self-confidence and self-love to say that, but better late than never.”  A self-portrait of herself as “a warrior” is now in the works.  “That girl from nearly 20 years ago could not know what life had in store or how far this project might go, but I’m quite certain she would be pleased.”

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Danielle Wallace was a double major in English and Art with a minor on Honors when she took Moby-Dick and the Arts during the 2009 Spring Semester.  She had not read Moby-Dick before, but the idea of studying such a “heavy and meaty book” through the lens of visual art was appealing to her.  Because “we were actively looking at art” while we were reading the novel, and because of the nature of Melville’s prose, her mind was flooded with visual images as we read.   In her career as an artist, she had always been interested “in narrative art that tells a story.”  In this story she was particularly drawn to those “vivid action scenes” with so much “chaotic imagery” at the end of the book.  She had planned to make a painting inspired by the Chase scenes at the end of the book, but she was also taking a Ceramics course in primitive firing techniques, and a new idea came to her.  As she thought about painting the Epilogue, “I wanted to show Ishmael desperately out there waiting for the Rachel to rescue him, but I was also interested in what was going on below the surface of the water—in what happened to the rest of the crew and the sinking of the ship.”  She asked herself “what would happen if I put these images on a physical form—if I wrapped the action above the water around the outside of a cup, and had the inner scene on the inside, so that the cup becomes the Epilogue.”  Then, if you fill [that cup] with liquid or water, you are actually re-enacting the final moments of the book.”  Once Danielle came up with this idea, she “had to run with it.”  Before the semester was over she had made a complete Moby-Dick Tea Set with a dozen clay cups surrounding a large porcelain tea pot.

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Once Danielle chose the ceramic vessel as her medium, new possibilities opened up for representing the action of the novel.  In the Chase scenes you sometimes don’t know “who is chasing who.”  With the Chase cup, she realized that “by wrapping this long narrative image around a three-dimensional shape you get this idea, when you spin it, that you don’t really know where the one image ends and the other begins.”  Similarly with Pip in the Castaway cup.  The outside of the cup shows the massive ocean waves under which Pip has been lost.  Within the cup is Pip’s tiny body, “so that when you fill it up with whatever liquid is in there, he is being lost overboard, being submerged,” but “you then rescue him back from the cup as you drink it.”  After creating cups for the action scenes, Danielle went on to individual subjects such as Queequeg, Ahab, Fedallah, Squid, and the Sperm & Right Whale, saving the master vessel, the tea pot, for Moby Dick himself.  In 2011 when Danielle was commissioned to create her Moby-Dick Tea Set II, she improved on some of her original designs and added some new ones—a creamer depicting action in the city of New Bedford, a sugar container for the action in the Spouter-Inn, and a “cute, little, frolicsome white whale” to represent Moby Dick as “a young, innocent whale before he’s been attacked by whalers.”

Danielle and the Pip cup

Danielle and the Pip cup

Caitlin Sparks had taken my 2011 class in Moby-Dick and the Arts because she “was a Photography major who needed a writing course.”  She was happy to find an English course “with Art in the title.”  Moby-Dick itself was very hard to read.  She felt a lot was “going over my head.”  Beth’s Schultz’s Unpainted to the Last helped her “stay connected to the book.  To see so many artists, to see all that effort, those beautiful works of art, was exciting to me.”  Caitlin wrote a research paper on Gil Wilson’s Cosmic White Whale triptych.  Before the course was over she applied for an Undergraduate Research Grant that allowed her travel that summer to Terre Haute, Indiana, to see hundreds of Wilson’s original works in the Swope Museum of Art.  (Jay Gray had come along as her videographer and that was the beginning of their Numediacy art partnership today).  For her final project in the class itself, Caitlin chose “to make three series of photographs.  In these photos I’m describing three different characters.  The are essentially self portrtaits.  The first one I’ll describe is Ahab.”

MD-146 MD-145

Ahab is four photographs.  They are framed in old window frames.  The paint is chipping off the old wood; the glass is cracked; there is even a piece of rope that is left of the workings of the window.   In these frames is a very soft and blurry image—a figure draped in a red cloth—and she is a one-legged person. With that work I’m thinking about Ahab’s wife on shore, the damage that she endures because of his voyage.  And she’s probably the only insanity that’s left of this man.  And she is the other half of Ahab.  And that is who I am describing in that piece.”  After similar descriptions of her White Whale triptych in three separate gallery-style frames, and her Whiteness triptych collaged together within another old window frame, Caitlin related the projects she created in response to the novel to the “environmental themes” that have become central to her life and art.  In conclusion, she “could never have imagined that this undergraduate artwork would continue to live on.  Or that it would be featured in an exhibition or a catalog.  Or that I would be on WGUC talking more about my artwork.”  The worlds of art and ecology will be hearing more from Caitlin.

Caitlin Sparks concluding her presentation

Caitlin Sparks concluding her presentation

We had nearly reached the scheduled end of this session at noon when Emma Rose presented her closing remarks.  She responded to that situation with succinct and incisive commentary.   Recalling the experience in the 2013 Moby class that eventually led her to become co-curator of Moby Comes to Covington, she “really loved” studying the works the artists had created “in relation to the text.”  Writing about Moby Truck by Ralph Goings, she was amazed that this one image could inspire so many comparisons between the automotive and the whaling industry.  “Right after we started on this exhibition. I started looking at the [student] artworks while we were making the catalog, and I realized what a lot of other people have realized, that words are sometimes just not enough.”  As a reader, “you feel compelled to make these images . . . because you’ve got this mental image, but how is anyone supposed to know what that image unless you make it, unless you see it?  Seeing is really knowing, in a lot of ways.”

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From this central premise, Emma Rose asked a series of rhetorical questions specifically relating to artworks discussed earlier in the morning.  “How do depict what you think is a ‘mighty mildness?’”  There are “so many ways” to imagine what this looks like.  “How do you show ‘the worsting of Ahab?’”  This, too, many will see in different ways.  “How do you show a ‘whale-eye view?.  We don’t know literally what a whale sees . . . .  But unless you make an image of what you think the whale sees, how is anyone supposed to see what you see in your mind?”   And then you have Caitlin’s Ahab.  “Anybody that knows anything about Ahab, you see the leg missing and the slash of red and you think, ‘Oh, that’s Ahab.’  But, at the same time, it’s not. It’s a woman. And Caitlin has put herself into her artwork.  All these artists have put themselves into the artwork. They reflect the novel but also themselves, and that is really what Melville was doing, reflecting on humanity.”

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Our two morning sessions had given us a lot to think about.  The speakers had not coordinated what they planned to say but they had spoken to each other in overt and covert ways all morning long.  We were all ready for a break and we were all ready to reconvene at 1 pm.  After I thanked our morning speakers and outlined the most convenient lunch venues on campus, we walked off in small groups—except for those who stayed for tech checks in advance of their afternoon presentations.

As I prepare to post this blog entry on the morning of Tuesday, May19, after having taken down the Covington show yesterday morning, I am struck by the educational role of simultaneity in the experience of  the student artist alums who spoke during the morning session of the NKU Symposium.  If Kathleen Piercefield had not been learning the technique of collagraph in Andrea Knarr’advanced printmaking class at the same time she was in my Moby class, she would not have internalized the various “marks” and “layers” of Melville’s novel in the way she did.  If Danielle Wallace was not taking an Ceramics course in ancient firing techniques while she was in the Moby class, she would not have had the idea of converting the idea of a 2-D painting of the Chase scene into the reality of a Moby-Dick Tea Set.  If Caitlin Sparks had not been studying Unpainted to the Last immediately after reading Moby-Dick, she may never have found a way to discover so much of herself in Melville’s book.  Similarly, studying the artists in the Schultz book brought a very difficult book alive for Emma Rose.

In the language of Melville’s “Mat-Making” chapter, the projects of all the above student artists show “chance, free will, and necessity . . . all interweaving working together.”  The most striking example of “chance” for me was happening to see Emma Rose in the stacks of Steely Library soon after she had proposed her hypothetical exhibition based on the Schultz book as her final project.  This chance meeting prompted me to float the idea of the exhibition that eventually became Moby Comes to Covington.  This was quickly followed by Emma Rose’s “free will” when she answered “yes” to my proposal.  “Necessity” eventually led us away from our ideal venue in NKU’s Main Gallery (when our proposal was rejected), to the life-buoy we gratefully grabbed from the Covington Arts Gallery (until they sold their site to a microbrewer), and then to the Covington Public Librray, which turned out to be a much superior venue to either of the other two  (not only for the exhibition itself but for the Marathon Reading designed to showcase in the best possible way the communal inspiration from which each student’s artwork derived).

Emma Rose saying

Emma Rose saying “It was the same day”

Emma Rose had opened her closing remarks for the morning session by correcting something I had said while introducing her.  It was “the same day” that she had proposed her hypothetical exhibition, “not the day after,” that we had our chance meeting in the library.

 

Immediately below are links to the live video by Media Services of each successive speaker in the session on “Creating Moby-Dick Art” (Beth Schultz had asked that her keynote address not be recorded since her Powerpoint included so many copyrighted artworks):

Matt Kish in Artist Session  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgUmRCPILUo

Kathleen Piercefield in Artist Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRAhG40a7vo

Abby Schlacter Langdon in Artist Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7bKbVlAcog

Danielle Wallace in Artist Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNCnMaiKIZA

Caitlin Sparks in Artist Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eB1c1DAffI

Emma Rose Thompson in Artist Session

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHiE8iBIDMU

 

Moby Marathon in Covington Library, Day 2

Entry begun on Tuesday, May 12, 11:20 pm

Day 2 was similar in duration but different in feel.  We again read for 12 hours, but on Sunday the library was open to the public only from 1 to 5, so for eight of twelve hours we were were preaching primarily to the choir—to readers who had signed up in advance and to friends or family who came with them.

Diane Thompson welcomimg Marathoners on Sunday morning

Diane Thompson welcoming Marathoners on Sunday morning

The Sunday schedule gave us the added responsibility of guarding the main entrance of the library from 9 am to 1 pm and again form 5 pm to 9 pm.  Emma Rose and I were grateful to two people who alternated in this duty for much of the morning, Matt Beckerich, son of Kitty Beckerich, and Diane Thompson, Emma Rose’s mother.   While Matt was on duty a street fight broke out directly across Scott Street from the library, drawing several squad cars, but the altercation did not cross to our side of the street.  Emma Rose’s mother Diane experienced nothing comparable to that, and she got a lot of reading done when not tending the door for as Marathoners came and went.

Kitty Beckerich, our “Aunt Charity,” replenished her table of morning treats on Day 2.  Today she was accompanied by her daughter Megan as well as her son Matt.  Megan and Matt are twins, and I had the pleasure of teaching them in my Honors Freshman Composition class during the Fall 2012 Semester.  Neither had taken my course in Moby-Dick and the Arts, but Megan had taken Dickinson and the Arts as a sophomore and had created a very ambitious and accomplished artist book as her final project. She had assisted in monitoring the Dickinson Marathon Reading and was herself assisted by Matt on our second Moby reading day. They got us off to a smooth start from nine until noon.

A Marathon Reading always has its special moments, and the opening hour on Sunday was one to remember.  I began the reading where we had left off in “Stubb kills a Whale” the night before.  Jeff Markham followed me with the “bursting heart” passage and went on to “The Dart” and “The Crotch.”  Steve McCafferty started “Stubb’s Supper,” which was continued by Veronica Mitchell.  Jeff and Steve and Veronica are all excellent readers, and on the second day they were beginning to feel the intimacy of a select crew on an early morning watch.  Instead of  moving to the front of the room, each read his or her part of the story from where he or she was already sitting, making me think of those widely spaced worshipers waiting for Father Mapple to enter the Seaman’s Bethel in the “Chapel” chapter.

Steve McCafferty, right, taking us into “Stubb’s Supper”

Steve McCafferty, right, taking us into “Stubb’s Supper”

Veronica Mitchell had brought her daughter Monica with her today.  Veronica’s reading from the second half of “Stubb’s Supper” was mesmerizing for us all.  I have had quite a volatile experience with this chapter over the last fifty years.  In graduate school in the 1960s I hated the chapter, simply dismissing it as too long and irrelevant.   When I began teaching it in the 1970s and 1980s, I was disturbed by it, because I just could not stand Stubb’s race-baiting of Fleece, the black cook, who makes his only appearance in the novel in this chapter, only to endure a merciless hazing from Stubb for having cooked the “steak” Stubb has just cut from the whale either too rare or not rare enough.

Veronica Mitchell, with daughter Monica, reading from

Veronica Mitchell, with daughter Monica, reading from “Stubb’s Supper”

It was probably not until I began teaching Moby-Dick in my class on Douglass and Melville that I began to appreciate the beauty, power, and finesse with which Fleece, in his heavy Southern dialect, sullenly deflects every insult Stubb throws at him, emerging as the unsung victor in this tragically comic chapter.  We had discussed this chapter at length in Fall 2013 class that Veronica had taken, and with her slow, emotive, hearty voice she brought out every ounce of Fleece’s resistant humanity in a way that had us all chuckling at first, then laughing out loud.  For more than a decade now I have loved Fleece’s answer when Stubb jeeringly asks him where he was born—“Hind de hatchway, in ferry-boat, goin’ ober de Roanoke”—but I’ve never loved it so much as when hearing it from Veronica on Day 2 of the Covington Marathon.

Dick Hague and Michael Henson

Dick Hague and Michael Henson

Veronica was followed immediately from two fine readers from across the river in Cincinnati who took us into “The Whale as a Dish,” “The Shark Massacre,” and “Cutting In.”  Richard Hague is a highly accomplished poet who had launched NKU’s Friends of the Library Lecture Series last Fall with a fine reading from his newly published Collected Poems.  Dick had taught English for decades at Purcell Marion High School in Cincinnati until last year’s decree by a local bishop requiring teachers to report gay students prompted him to resign.

Dick Hague's copy of Moby-Dick

Dick Hague’s copy of Moby-Dick

Dick’s bosom friend Michael Henson has for decades been an uncompromising advocate for underprivileged citizens in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood currently undergoing gentrification.  Each was ideally suited for catching the full flavor of Melville’s story as the crew of the Pequod entered into the gruesome business of cutting into, and processing, the body of the whale.  Dick read from his own richly annotated copy of the novel.

I was especially happy when I saw Dick Hague’s name on the electronic sign-up sheet for the second day of our Covington Marathon because he had read, also on a Sunday morning, at the one previous Moby Marathon I had organized, at Gallerie Zaum in Newport in November 2009.   In addition to reading himself, Dick had brought several of his high school students from Purcell Marion to read.  That was another Sunday morning anchored by a very special early morning watch.  In the photo posted here, Dick is reading from the novel near Laura Beth Thrasher’s Moby-Dick, Epilogue, and Ahab quilts as Laura Bird Knight listens.

Dick Hague reading at Gallerie Zaum in 2009

Dick Hague reading at Gallerie Zaum in 2009

Elizabeth Menning Vande Water reading

Elizabeth Menning Vande Water reading

We had another veteran of the 2009 Gallerie Zaum reading this morning.  Elizabeth Menning from my Fall 2006 course in Douglass and Melville had been my first Moby-Dick student to choreograph and perform a dance as her final project.  Her 4-minute Ahab Doubloon Dance was one of four Moby-Dick videos now being projected across from Christopher Roach’s charcoal drawing Walking with Ahab behind the partition in the back of the Covington reading room.  By the time of the Gallerie Zaum Marathon, Elizabeth had married Christopher Vande Water, a student in an earlier Douglass and Melville class, and she had brought their first, new-born baby with her when she read.  Now she was the mother of three young children working as an English teacher at Campbell County High School and directing a theatrical production in rehearsal this very weekend.   It had gotten a bit too complicated to fold their children into their plans to see the exhibition, so Chris had come to see the show on Saturday morning and Liz had come to read, see the show, and pick up her catalog on Sunday morning.  After having three children, she still has a dancer’s fitness and carriage.

Beth Schultz read at 10:10, as she had done the day before.  The rhythm of our Sunday morning watch gave me a chance to take a close look at part of the exhibition with her before she was scheduled to read again at 11:10.  We  started on the third floor with the fabric works on the balcony and the array of works in the Local History room.  I was again amazed, as I always am, by how much Beth can see and feel.  She knows Moby-Dick art better than anyone in the world, but she had never seen anything showing the tenderness of Ishmael and Queequeg with the loving finesse of Mary Belperio’s Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane.  Like Emma Rose, she loved seeing the back of each of Mary Beth’s quilts; on the front of each one she discerned sophistications of stitching and design that enriched my appreciation greatly.

Mary Belperio, Snuggles Under the Counterpane

Mary Belperio’s Snuggles Under the Counterpane

Thomas Foltz, Whales Eye View

Thomas Foltz, Whale’s Eye View

Inside the reading room Beth was as attentive to artworks by untrained English and Honors students as to those by art majors.  She loved that Kevin Schultz had “come out” in the process of presenting Fast Fish and Loose Fish to his classmates.  She immediately grasped the cogency of the newspaper headlines that Kay Hardin had collaged together in the form of a sperm whale.  And she was immediately struck by the power of the Whale’s Eye View by Political Science major Thomas Foltz, even though in technique it was a simple drawing in colored pencil on paper, because she had never before seen any artist attempt to depict such a scene from the whale’s point of view.

Beth Schultz with Caitlins Captain Ahab

Beth Schultz with Caitlin’s Captain Ahab

As we got to the middle of the room Beth was deeply struck by imaginative edge and elusive beauty of Caitlin Sparks’s Whiteness triptych.  She was equally struck by the brave emotive associations Caitlin had evoked with her four-part photo sequence of herself as Captain Ahab in the recycled window frames by the north window.  To someone like Beth, coming across fresh, fearless, exploratory talent like this is pleasure of the deepest kind.  By happy accident, Jay and Caitlin arrived in the Local History room to do some filming as Beth and I were there.  Beth was happy to meet them both, and to have a chance to talk to Caitlin about her art.

caitlin beth and jay 2

caitlin and beth 2

Emma Rose and Beth

Emma Rose and Beth

At some point I had to go down and check on the progress of the Marathon, but Beth stayed in the building through much of the morning, not only to read again, but to engage with more of my students and alums as heartily as she had done with the artworks on the third floor. Emma Rose was of course thrilled to have some quality time with her.  It was Emma Rose’s response to Beth’s Unpainted to the Last, and her fascination with how her classmates had responded to the book in their oral mid-term reports, that had led her to propose the hypothetical exhibition as her final project in the Spring 2013 course that had led to everything that has happened in the two years since.  One of the greatest pleasures for me all weekend was to see Beth and Emma Rose getting to know each other.

Megan and Beth

Megan and Beth

Megan Beckerich had never studied Moby-Dick or read Unpainted to the Last, but she was to be studying in Japan this summer and I made sure that she and Beth, who has traveled to, and lived in, Japan extensively, could spend some time together.  I do not speak Japanese but I had been impressed with Megan’s knowledge of that language, and more, when I recently mentioned to her that there have been at least thirteen translations of Moby-Dick into Japanese, but that Japanese scholars tell me that the phrase “Call me Ishmael” cannot be successfully translated into that language.  Megan thought about that for a minute and said, “Yes, but it would be much easier in Chinese,” voicing her own Chinese translation on the spot.  I knew she and Beth would have much to talk about and that turned out to be true.

David Shaerf reading, with Matt Beckerich

David Shaerf reading, with Matt Beckerich

In the early afternoon, Minadora Macheret from AEGS and Bob Durborow from Sigma Tau Delta came in to relieve Megan and Matt in monitoring the Marathon. This became a little easier between 1 and 5 pm when the library was again open to the public and we did not have to station someone near the main entrance.  Before the change of the guard, Megan and Matt had each taken a turn reading, and so had our videographers Caitlin and Jay from Numediacy and David Shaerf from Michigan.  I laid out the pasta salad and a vegetable tray to go with the caramel corn, breads, cookies, and candies, so our readers had plenty to snack on.

julia to the rescueBeginning at noon a number of my fellow parishioners at Trinity Episcopal Church came into to read (Bill McKim, Gay Smith, Diane Gabbard, and Ted and Mary Ann Weiss).  So did a number of my faculty colleagues at NKU (Roxanne Kent-Drury, John Alberti, Tonya Krouse, Diana Belland, Andrea Gazzaniga, and Jon and Cheryl Cullick).  We did have to stop the Marathon reading for fifteen minutes in the early afternoon when someone got seasick in the reading room, but branch manager Julia Allegrini, who had let us into the building shortly before 9 in the morning, was still on duty and knew just what to do.  She swabbed down the deck herself.

Camilla and Jude

Camilla and Jude

In the mid-afternoon Camilla Asplen Mecher was the first of a new wave of student artist alums who came in to read.  She was soon followed by AshleyTheissen, Aaron Zlatkin, Rachel Zlatkin, and Michael Gallagher.  When Camilla had read in the Emily Dickinson Marathon in February her son Jude was three months old.  Now he was five months old.  Camilla again rocked him as she read, and by this time we had reached the “Castaway” chapter in which Pip is abandoned on the open ocean, losing man’s sanity but gaining heaven’s sense.  It certainly adds to the 21st century resonance of this 19th century novel to have a boy born in November 2014 be such a precious part of our reading.

Camillas chowder next to Danielles caramel corn

Camilla’s chowder next to Danielle’s caramel corn

Camilla had brought homemade chowder to our Gallerie Zaum Marathon in 2009 as a supplement to her Whale as a Dish cookbook, and she brought chowder again on this Sunday afternoon in Covington.  Camilla has always been a very accommodating multi-tasker, so she paused on the way to the food table in the back or the reading room to let me take a photo of her and Jude next to the display case in which Emma Rose and I had positioned her Whale as a Dish cookbook as close as we could to Ronnie Sickinger’s linoleum cut print in which the whalers are the dinner.

camilla and jude 3

Emma Rose’s mother Diane had never met Camilla before and wondered if she was one of those library patrons off the street.  But those patrons had to leave when the library closed at 5 pm, and we Melvillians were again left more or less to our own devices.  Moby artist alum Matt Ruiz, our trouble-shooter-in-chief for the Dickinson reading, came in at 5:30 from his work at the Zoo to help monitor the rest of the evening.  Jeff Markham continued to fill in as a reader or monitor whenever needed.  I had again been unable for most of the afternoon to get down to see David Shaerf in the interview room he had set up on the first floor, but I did get down there at the very beginning of what turned out to be a two-hour interview with Beth Schultz.  I am sure we will see part of that interview when David’s Moby magnum opus is completed and released.

David Shaerf interviewing Beth Schultz

David Shaerf interviewing Beth Schultz

Our night watch on Day 2 of this Marathon was as intimate, and as moving, as the morning watch had been.  It was not a skeleton crew but it felt like a select one.  Former Moby students Michael Gallagher and Matt Ruiz read, as did videographers David Shaerf, Adam Gould, Caitlin Sparks, and Jay Gray.  Community readers Howard Tankersley, Elizabeth Tankersley, and Vicki Prichard read, as did local artist Tom Lohre as Captain Ahab.  Our out-of-town scholars present on board for the Three-Day Chase that ends the novel included Beth Schultz, Sam Otter, Jeff Markham, and Don Dingledine, now augmented by Jeff Insko, a colleague of David Shaerf and Adam Gould at Oakland University in Michigan who would be preceding Sam Otter in making closing remarks at the next day’s Symposium at NKU.  Our “Aunt Charity” Kitty Beckerich was also present to the last, helping me get the galley shipshape before we were to leave the building at 9.

Jay Gray filming as the night watch approaches the last day of the Chase

Jay Gray filming as the night watch approaches the last day of the Chase

With such a committed audience at the end of a twenty-four hour Marathon the words of the novel take on a rare intensity and resonance.  It’s not just that our readers knew, and read from, the novel exceptionally well.  It is also that we had experienced so much together during these two days, not only in reading and listening to the words of the novel, but in “reading” the artworks on display throughout the building and conversing with student artists and alums who had created them.  This was a special kind of immersion that left one exhausted and refreshed at the same time as one reader followed another in the story whose end we all knew—a story in which fate, free will, and chance all have their say, with chance having “the last featuring blow at events” in that Ishmael, not quite sucked into the fatal vortex, was somehow spared to be found by the Rachel.

Beth Schultz reads to night watch 

Beth Schultz reads to night watch

 Sam Otter reads to night watch

Sam Otter reads to night watch

Sam Otter reads to Ahab on the last day

Sam Otter reads to Ahab on the last day

Jeff Insko reads from the last day of the Chase

Jeff Insko reads from the last day of the Chase

I would have loved to hear all three Chase chapters read out loud, but we did want to leave the facility as clean for the library staff on Monday morning as they had left it for us on Friday afternoon.  It was great to have Kitty’s help in this, and I wish I had let her wash Camilla’s chowder crock pot, for I am sure she would not have accidentally knocked its iron-framed glass top off a narrow counter the way I did, causing the glass to shatter with a noise that I am sure startled the Marathoners on the other side of the half-open door.

Again, Julia came to the rescue, knowing just what to do.  She joined Kitty and me in listening to the very end of the last Chase chapter, and I was asked to read the concluding “Epilogue,” which I must say I did with somewhat watery eyes.  Our Marathon actually concluded at 9:07 rather than 9 pm, and Julia was understanding about this too.  She knew that we would have finished eight minutes early were it not for the 15-minute medical emergency in the early afternoon.  It was pitch dark when Julia and Matt helped me load up a cart with leftover items and roll them out to my car.  I drove home for a good night’s sleep before a different kind of Marathon day began the next morning.

Moby-Dick Marathon Reading in Covington Public Library, Day 1

Entry begun on Delta Flight 4470 from JFK to Cincinnati, Saturday, May 2, 5:40 pm

Even more than the Symposium at the Cincinnati Art Museum, you had to be there to catch the full flavor of the Moby-Dick Marathon at the Covington Public Library.  This library is generally open from 10 to 5 on Saturdays and from 1 to 5 on Sundays, so branch manager Julia Allegrini and her staff have been very generous to us in opening up the building from 9 am to 9 pm on both days so we could hold our 24-hour Marathon Reading of the novel.  On Saturday morning they let our organizing group in at 8:45 so we could bring in supplies, set out food, and arrange the reading room in time for our first reader to say “Call me Ishmael” at 9 am sharp.

bread copokies, chocolatesThe early morning food was brought by Kitty Beckerich, who had been one of our master chefs for the Emily Dickinson Tea Party in February.  She was our Aunt Charity for the Moby-Dick Marathon, bringing freshly baked breads, homemade cookies, and white chocolate whales on board before the first word was read.  She also helped me get the library’s twenty-cup coffee pot brewing for our early readers, with coffee that Rebecca Hudgins of Sigma Tau Delta had brought last week.

Our first reader was Emma Rose, and it was great to hear her reading from the opening chapter while I was still attending to this and that.  We were fortunate to have two excellent volunteers to help with the morning shift, Minadora Macheret from the Associated English Graduate Students and Chuck Wickenhofer from the Loch Norse creative writing group.  One stayed at the reception table outside the reading room to sign in our readers and distribute catalogs to our student artists, while the other sat in the reading room to help the readers keep track of our place in the novel and to indicate the beginning and end of each ten-minute reading period.  That whole dynamic went very smoothly both days, and I am very grateful to the successive pairs of students who covered each shift.

Emma Rose beginning the Marathon with Veronica Mitchell left), Minadora Macheret right), and Caitlin Sparks with camera)

Emma Rose beginning the Marathon with Veronica Mitchell, left, Minadora Macheret, right, and Caitlin Sparks, with camera

Readers could read from their own edition of the novel if it was a complete edition, but I had ordered five copies of the Longman Critical Edition to have on hand for anyone who wished to read from it.  I chose this edition for two reasons.  First, it is the edition I have used for my own courses since it was published in 2007.  Second, it reproduces the map of The Voyage of the Pequod that Kathleen Piercefield had created in my Spring 2004 class and then revised for Longman edition by creating the version Emma Rose and I had installed in the Local History room of the library.

kathleen's map in Longman

Kathleen Piercefield’s map of The Voyage of the Pequod in Longman Critical Edition of Moby-Dick

The twelve readers who read ten-minutes segments of the novel during the first two hours typified the variety of readers this Marathon attracted.  From 9 to 10 am, Emma Rose was followed by Veronica Mitchell, a retired high school English teacher from my Fall 2013 class; Steve McCafferty, an English teacher, headmaster, and professor who was one of my first students at NKU in the 1970s;  Jo Anne Warren, a Bellevue neighbor who is a Mercantile Library member; Jeff Markham, a high school English teacher from Illinois who would be presenting the work of his students at our Symposium at NKU on Monday; and Andrew Johnson, Emma Rose’s boyfriend.

Steve McCafferty

Steve McCafferty

Jo Anne Warren

Jo Anne Warren

Jeff Markham

Jeff Markham

andrew day 1

Andrew Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From 10 to 11 am, Roger Auge, a retired journalist from my Fall 2013 class, was followed by Beth Schultz, myself, Sam Otter, Jeff Markham again, and Susan Christy, an excellent reader I had never previously met.  This kind of dynamic, between local and out-of-town readers, and among students, teachers, and general readers of Melville, continued throughout the day.

Beth Schultz with Minadora Macheret

Beth Schultz with Minadora Macheret

Sam Otter with Emma Rose Thompson

Sam Otter with Emma Rose Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later in the morning on Saturday we were blessed with new food deliveries.  Thomas Thompson, Emma Rose’s father, another of our Dickinson chefs in February, had prepared two large serving trays of pasta salad.  Danielle Wallace, who had created the Moby-Dick tea set now in the display case just outside our reading room, brought in several flavors of the Cappy caramel corn that her family produces, along with large glass jars to serve them in.  I was happy to meet her friend Pete, who came with her.

Emma Rose and her father  

Emma Rose and her father left; Danielle and Peter right

  Danielle Wallace and Pete

 

One logistical challenge we had on Saturday morning was to monitor the main entrance of the library.  The library had supplied a only skeleton staff to open the door for us at 9, so we were responsible for stationing someone at the main entrance to let in any readers who arrived before the library opened for the general public at 10.  Our system for covering the front door must have broken down for a few minutes, because when Moby-Dick artist alum Christopher Roach arrived in advance of his 9:40 reading slot, he was not able to enter the building.  He came back after the building opened at 10 and was able to sign up for later time.  In the meantime he helped Emma Rose and me install his larger-than-life charcoal self-portrait Walking with Ahab on one side of the partition that separated the Marathon reading room from the area in which we served the food and projected the four Moby-Dick films that were part of the exhibition.

Christopher Roach then and now

Christopher Roach then and now

Ahabs leg in rock garden

Ahab’s Leg in rock garden

Christopher’s drawing had been designated for this interior space because of the possibility that its frontal male nudity might offend one or more library patrons, and we were grateful for his help installing it.  Christopher is now a lawyer in Northern Kentucky, nine years after he created his Ahab project in my Spring 2006 class.  The peg leg he had made and walked on in conjunction sith his self-portrait was now a conspicuous feature of the library’s rock garden in front of Kathleen Piercefield’s Queeequeg in his own proper person.

By the time Christopher Roach read at 12:20, Ann Harding, our English department secretary, had come in to replace Minadora in the reading room.  Soon after that Rebecca Hudgins from Sigma Tau Delta relieved Chuck Wickenhofer at the reception desk.   Ann stayed all the way until we closed at 9 pm and Rebecca was able to stay until 6:30, so we were in good hands for the rest of the afternoon.  It was a great pleasure for me to hear students and friends, past and present, read from the novel, and then to walk with them through the show.  The sequence of readers posted below includes Tammy Muente, assistant curator at the Taft Museum of Art; John Braden, a former Douglass and Melville student who has now completed an M. A. in English; Jessica Wimsatt, a more recent Douglass and Melville student whose work Reliance is in the current show; and Abby Schlachter Langdon, a member of  “The Class that Never Ends” with three of her body casts in the Covington show.  Everyone has his or her own body language when reading from the book.

Tammy Muente     

Tammy Muente

John Braden with Ann Harding

John Braden with Ann Harding

 

 

 

Jessica Wimsatt and Ann Harding 

Jessica Wimsatt with Ann Harding

 

 

 

 

 

Abby Schlachter Langdon and Ann Harding

Abby Schlachter Langdon and Ann Harding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course when I got a chance to take a photo of a student artist with one of her or his artworks in the show, I took advantage of that.  Most of these I caught after the artist alum had read in the Marathon, but Jordan D’Addario, a former English major currently at University of Cincinnati Law School, was babysitting a two-year-old, so she was only able to come in to pick up her catalog.  Her artwork was near that of Jessica Wimsatt on one of the third-floor cabinets, and Jessica herself is an English major who will be going to law school next year.

Jordan with Queequeg piece

Jordan with Queequeg fabric collage

Jessica and Reliance

Jessica Wimsatt with concentric Reliance

 

Among my long-time friends who read in the early arfternoon were Bob Newman, a Cincinnati civil rights lawyer I’ve known since 1976, and John Alberti, my long term English department colleague at NKU, who is currently director of our M. A. program.  John had just come from our 25th annual Women’s Walk to support our female athletic teams at NKU.  This is the first one I have missed in all those years.

Bob Newman and Ann Harding

Bob Newman and Ann Harding

 

 

John Alberti and Ann Harding

John Alberti and Ann Harding

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the readings from 1 to 5 on Saturday afternoon, Dustin Enockson, director of the NKU bookstore, was selling books and catalogs near our registration table outside the reading room.  From  the variety of people standing, sitting, and walking beyond his display table in the photo below, you get some sense of how busy the Covington library is on a Saturday afternoon.  When the library closed to the general public at 5 pm, we Melvillians missed the varied stream of people we had seen throughout the building.

dustin & book display

All of the time that readers and artists were coming and going, Caitlin Sparks and Jay Gray from Numediacy and David Shaerf and Adam Gould from Michigan were catching interviews for their respective video projects.  David and Adam had reserved a meeting room down on the first floor where they interviewed artists and speakers from 1 to 5 on both days, but I was so busy I never made it down there on Saturday.

Late in the afternoon on Saturday, Matt Kish and his wife Ione Demasco both read while Rebecca Hudgins was on duty.  They were soon followed by three of my student artist alums, Kathleen Piercefield, Caitlin Sparks, and Keianna Troxell Gregory, whose Ahab Family Portrait was on the top shelf of our display case.

Matt Kish and Rebecca Hudgins

Matt Kish and Rebecca Hudgins

Ione Demasco and Rebecca Hudgins

Ione Demasco and Rebecca Hudgins

kathleen and rebecca

Kathleen Piercefield and Rebecca Hudgins

 

caitlin reads on day 1

Caitlin Sparks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

keianna and rebecca

Keianna Troxell Gregory and Rebecca Hudgins

keianna and art 2

Keianna with Ahab Family Portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having the library more or less to ourselves for the last four hours allowed plenty of room for exploring the art and enjoying each other while staying attuned to the continuous flow or words.  Michael Gallagher, a two-year veteran from “the class that never ends” in 1996-97, was here to read, and he also helped out monitoring other readers after Rebecca had to leave.  Ashley Theissen, who flew in from Texas in order to speak in our pedagogical panel on Monday, also read this evening, soon being followed by Tonya Krouse, her chief mentor here in the English department during Ashley’s undergraduate years.  Arriving as the evening’s last reader, local artist Tom Lohre surprised us in the form of Ahab.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any images of our evening personae, because the battery in my iPhone ran out and I had not thought to bring my charger..

The final reading of the evening took us a page and a half into chapter 61, “Stubb kills a Whale.” This chapter is for many readers the emotional turning point of the book.  At the beginning of this chapter (where our reading ended this evening), we see a large, black sperm whale “spouting his vapory jet . . . like a portly burgher smoking his pipe of a warm afternoon.”  In the action that follows (with which we began our reading on Sunday morning), this whale is chased, harpooned, and lanced until his spout runs bloody and “gush after gush of clotted red gore” shoots into the “frighted air,” showing that “his heart had burst!”  With Matt Kish’s permission, I will reproduce here the drawing he made of the bursting heart passage on June 13, 2010.

matt kish's image of burst heart

Matt Kish’s drawing for page 279 of Moby-Dick in Pictures

It was a very satisfying experience to hear the first half of the novel being read by 72 successive voices while so much else was going on in the library.  Most of the readers spent time with other readers and were impressed by the artwork that was spread throughout the building.  Patrons of the library who were not here for the Marathon sat in on the reading from time to time and asked their own questions about the artwork on display.  I felt we had accomplished much of what we hoped for on this Marathon day and was very much looking forward to the second day.

Emma Rose and  I had been here for the twelve-hour run and would do so again on Sunday.  It was a great pleasure for us to spend quality time with so many of the student artists and alums whose work we had reproduced in the catalog and installed in the exhibition, and it was great to see our two film crews and our guest speakers from the night before mixing with our student artists in the presence of their art.

When I was writing the first draft of this entry on my flight home from JFK on the evening of Saturday, May 2, our plane made a tight turn on its approach to the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky airport that revealed a beautiful vista of the bend in Ohio River where its opposite shores are connected by the Big Mac bridge near the Comfort Suites through whose window Caverlee had taken her photo of the same bridge one week before.

Comfort Suites on far shore to left of Big Mac bridge in evening light on Saturday, May 2, through window of Delta Flight 4470

Comfort Suites on far shore to left of Big Mac bridge in evening light on Saturday, May 2, through window of Delta Flight 4470

Moby-Dick in the 21st Century at the Cincinnati Art Museum

Entry begun at Logan Airport, Boston, Saturday, May 2, 2:05 pm

I’ve just completed the exhilarating three-day conference at MIT we called MEL Camp 5, the fifth NEH-sponsored gathering of scholars from across the country for the purpose of designing and implementing the Melville Electronic Library, a digital Humanities initiative that reached a turning point in operativity during these last three days.  I will return to this event after my account of the four-day Moby-Dick Arts Fest that ended on Monday night of this past week.  Exactly one week ago at this time on Saturday afternoon in the Covington Public Library we were beginning the fifth consecutive hour of our 24-hour Marathon Reading of the novel.

Cincinnati Art Museum ready for an evening event

Cincinnati Art Museum ready for an evening event

The night before the Marathon Reading began, Sam Otter and Beth Schultz and I arrived at the Cincinnati Art Museum at 6 pm to meet with other friends and associates who arrived early to make sure our evening event would go as planned.  Matt Kish and Emma Rose Thompson, our other speakers, were here with Matt’s wife Ione and Emma Rose’s boyfriend Andrew.  Shannon Karol was here from the Art Museum to make sure we know where to sit and to confirm that the microphone at the podium and those being attached to the speakers were working.  Brandon Wilton from the NKU bookstore was here with a beautiful display at which he was selling Moby-Dick books by all of the Symposium speakers along with other Melville titles.  David Shaerf and Adam Gould were here from Michigan, already positioning their video equipment to get the best possible footage for David’s documentary-in-progress on Moby-Dick in the 21st Century.  Caitlin Sparks and Jay Gray from Numediacy in Covington were similarly positioning themselves for filming whatever might be needed for the YouTube video they would making of the four-day Moby Fest.  In the process, they captured the video recordings of each successive speaker you can access at the end of this entry.

bookstore 4

AUDITORIUM 002

Fath Auditorium was filling nicely as we were completing our preliminary arrangements.  It was good to see student artists, faculty, family, and friends from Northern Kentucky mingling with Cincinnatians affiliated with the Art Museum, the Mercantile Library, and possibly a few people who had heard Emma Rose, Caitlin, and myself on WVXU earlier that day.  Mark Neikurk, director of the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement at NKU, who had initiated the idea of this Symposium, was very happy to see the seats filling up.  I enjoyed introducing my out-of-town guests to NKU Provost Sue Ott Rowlands, who would be welcoming the crowd on behalf of NKU.  And before we knew it, it was time for the program to begin.  I quickly scanned the crowd and was happy to see a large audience of more than a hundred.

Shannon welcomed the crowd on behalf of the Museum and introduced Sue, who greeted the audience and introduced me.  I was glad I had scanned the crowd earlier because I could not make out any individuals in the audience under the glare of the bright light flooding the podium.  After thanking our sponsors, our audience, and our speakers, and quickly outlining the upcoming events of our four-day Arts Fest, I said I could not imagine a better quartet than the four speakers we were about to hear for discussing the theme Mark Neikurk had posed for this evening’s Symposium: “How a 19th Century Novel Speaks to the 21st Century.”  I offered the phrase “Call me Ishmael” as my quick response to Mark’s topic, noting that the Ishmael of Melville’s famous opening sentence is an outcast in the Judeo-Christian religions tradition but a founder of the Islamic faith, a religion it has become increasingly important for Americans to understand ever since the terrorist act that shocked the nation on 9/11/2001.

The author introducing the April 24 Symposium, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediac

The author introducing the April 24 Symposium, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediac

In introducing our first speaker, I wanted our Art Museum audience to know, first, that Beth Schultz from the University of Kansas is the author of Unpainted to the Last: Moby-Dick and Twentieth-Century American Art.  Published in 1995, this book introduced readers to a century of artwork in response to Moby-Dick whose quantity and quality had been entirely unknown.  At first known as the “Bible” of Moby-Dick art, Unpainted to the Last has more recently become the Old Testament of its subject in view of the proliferation of Moby-Dick art around the world in the twenty years since it was published.  After mentioning that these two new decades of Moby-Dick art were to be the subject of Beth’s keynote lecture for our all-day Symposium at NKU on Monday, April 27, I mentioned that she is a poet and ecologist as well as a literary critic and art historian, having co-directed an ecological conference in Beijing, China, a few years ago.

Elizabeth Schultz at Cincinnati Art Museum, video still courtesy Jay Gray/Numediacy

Elizabeth Schultz at Cincinnati Art Museum, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

Beth in her fifteen-minute opening statement at the Art Museum addressed a great variety of ways in which Melville’s 19th-century novel speaks to our 21st century lives.  Some of her points were familiar to the Melvillians in the audience, but most were new to those who had never read the novel, had read it a long time ago, or had been forced to read it with an unhappy result sometime in their schooling.  During her most recent reading of the novel, Beth was particularly struck by the degree to which Ishmael, Melville’s narrator, likens whaling to warfare, revealing the resultant psychological as well as physical violence to the human whalers as well as to the whales they attack.  Beth has recently been reading memoirs by U. S. soldiers who have returned from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Doing so has given her a strong sense of Melville’s Ishmael as a victim of post-traumatic shock disorder who is trying to ease the pain from a war against whales from which he will never fully recover, haunted not only by the memory of the comrades he lost on the Pequod but by the memory of the innocent whales he and his shipmates had brutally killed before the encounter with Moby Dick that ends the novel..

matt in action 2Matt Kish describes himself as a self-educated artist.  I wanted the Art Museum audience to know that this mild-mannered librarian, who lives and works only about 50 miles from Cincinnati, is among the greatest of those New Testament Moby-Dick artists who have emerged since Beth Schultz published Unpainted to the Last in 1995.  Matt’s book Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page has been extraordinarily successful since its publication in 2011.  Audiences are always impressed when I tell them, first, that Matt’s edition of the novel had 552 pages and, second, that Matt was creating one drawing for every page on 552 consecutive days while also working full-time as a librarian.  I still could not see the audience because of the blinding light, but I could hear a collective sigh of delight when I mentioned that new drawings Matt is beginning to make right now will be part of a two-man Moby-Dick show to be seen at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center from April to August of next year, as was soon to be announced in a major press release.

Matt Kish at the Cincinnati Art Museum, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

Matt Kish at the Cincinnati Art Museum, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

Matt began his contribution to this evening’s symposium with a flood of images illustrating a love for literature and fantasy reaching back to his earliest years as a child who loved to read books at home and to see movies such as Godzilla at the local theater.  His introduction to the story of Moby-Dick came when he saw the 1956 John Huston film with Gregory Peck as Ahab right after a Godzilla film and felt a seamless transition from one to the other.  Matt’s visual vocabulary derives mostly from comics, fantasy fiction, and film, giving his Moby-Dick art an entirely different feel from those Moby-Dick artists who came to the world of the novel through works by artists such as Rockwell Kent or Frank Stella.  Kish had instinctively quarantined himself from earlier Moby-Dick artists as a way to make sure he would continue to express what the novel meant to him in the process of creating his Moby-Dick in Pictures.  One of his favorite chapters in the novel had been “Cetology,” in which Ishmael classifies various kinds of whales.  Matt had been frustrated that his self-imposed format for the 2011 book had allowed only one drawing for every page, resulting in several whales he was unable to draw.  In Cincinnati in 2016 he will draw, and we will see, them all.

sam in actionSam Otter, our third speaker, showed no signs of having gotten up at 3:30 in the morning on a hillside near Berkeley, Califormia.  He began by saying that, as editor of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, he receives impassioned essays about Melville and Moby-Dick from around the world, including the work of an Iranian scholar who will be attending the International Melville Society Conference in Tokyo this June.  Sam provided a fascinating account of how Moby-Dick has appealed to readers and writers in strikingly personal as well as professional ways.  One example was C. L. R.James, a West Indian intellectual who in the 1950s wrote Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In while being interned on Ellis Island in New York in advance of being deported from the United States on account of his political beliefs.

Sam Otter at the Cincinnati Art Museum, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

Sam Otter at the Cincinnati Art Museum, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

For C. L. R. James Moby-Dick was not a book primarily about Ahab and the White Whale, but rather about the working men on the ship, the uneducated sailors who represented the workers of the world in being drafted from all the isles of the earth to serve on a ship designed to slaughter living creatures of the sea for the benefit of the commercial interests and investors of the United States.  James’s book is likely to have been unfamiliar to the non-academic portions of our Art Museum audience, but everyone in Fath Auditorium had clear associations with the event that framed the 21st century portion of Otter’s remarks—the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.   After noting that Melville’s Ishmael in 1851 had located his own “Whaling Voyage” in the contact of a “Bloody Battle in Affghanistan,” Sam had summarized the amazing number of commentators who had compared George Bush’s post-9/11 War on Terror in both Iraq and Afghanistan to Ahab’s pursuit of the White Whale.  He also noted, however, a curious reversal of roles.  Some commentators saw President Bush as the Ahab figure pursuing Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaida figures in Afghanistan and Iraq, whereas others saw Osama bin Laden as the Ahab figure obsessed with destroying the United States .

emma rose showing camilla 2I introduced our fourth speaker, Emma Rose Thompson, as the co-curator of the exhibition Moby Comes to Covington (where our Marathon Reading of the novel would be beginning the next morning) as well as the co-editor and designer of the catalog we had on sale with the other Moby-Dick books in the lobby outside the room in which we were speaking.   I had no qualms about asking this undergraduate Art History major to speak in the wake of such national authorities as Schultz, Kish, and Otter because from the beginning of our two-year project she had shown impressive knowledge of the novel itself, a deep appreciation the artworks students had created in response to the novel whether they were art majors or not, and an instinctive sensitivity to ways in which the novel and the artwork it inspires speak to our lives today.  I ended my introduction by suggesting that Emma Rose is eminently qualified to speak about Moby-Dick in the 21at century because she has lived most of her life in this century, having been born in 1993.

Emma Rose Thompson at the Cincinnati Art Museum, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

Emma Rose Thompson at the Cincinnati Art Museum, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

Emma Rose structured her presentation according to a series of themes explored by NKU students in Moby-Dick art they had created in the 21st century.  Beginning with visual explorations of “Prejudice” explored by History major Jessica Slone in 2009 and by English major Jordan D’Addario in 2012, she moved on to visual explorations of “The Female Perspective” by English major Camilla Asplen and by Art major Kathleen Piercefield in 2004.  Her next theme was “Compassion for the Whale” in artworks by Political Science major Thomas Foltz in 2010, by Art major Caitlin Sparks in 2011,  and by English majors Kayla Hardin, Ellen Hill, Amanda Monds, and Matt Ruiz in 2011 and 2013.   Emma Rose’s next theme was “Sexuality” in visual art by English majors Amanda Monds and Shawn Buckenmeyer in 2011 and 2013, by Art major Mary Belperio in 2013, and by Journalism major Kevin Schultz in 2013.  After illustrating “Freedom” with an artwork created by Art major Laura Bird in 2003, Emma Rose concluded with images of “Obsession” created by English major Jordan Small in 2010, Art major Caitlin Sparks in 2011, Engineering major Landon Jones in 2013, and Psychology major Lynsey Bates in 2013.  She did not plan it that way, but most of the works she had chosen were by English majors or Honors students who had not been trained as artists—and whose work had already been deemed as without value by certain Art department faculty.

Panel discussion after individual presentations, photo courtesy Kris Yohe

Panel discussion after individual presentations, photo courtesy Kris Yohe

After the individual presentations by Schultz, Kish, Otter, and Thompson, we shifted into the discussion mode whose choreography Shannon and Mark had jointly proposed.  I took the role of moderator at the podium while Beth, Matt, Sam, and Emma Rose moved into the comfortable on-stage chairs, each with an individual microphone as they expanded in a communal way on their opening statements and fielded a variety a variety of questions from the audience.  It was a high pleasure for me to lightly preside over this spontaneous exchange of opinion among this talented Melville quartet as they played off of each other’s thoughts and comments.  After hearing their four opening statements follow each other like the movements of a classical string quartet, structurally independent but spiritually united, their more informal discussion was like a series of improvised encores.  Shannon had set no end time for this evening symposium, so the back-and-forth among the presenters and with the audience extended considerably behind the 8 pm time at which I had expected the discussion part of the evening to end.

This event was everything I had hoped in would be.  It made me even more grateful than before to Sam and Beth for flying in on this day from California and Kansas; to Matt Kish and his wife Ione for driving down form Dayton, Ohio; and to Emma Rose for representing so well her generation of 21st century Americans and selected student artists who had responded to Moby-Dick in such meaningful ways.  We all lingered for some time after the end of the program, speaking with friends, signing books, and relaxing among ourselves—until reality set in and we reminded ourselves that our two-day Marathon Reading of Moby-Dick would begin at 9 am the next morning.

I knew for sure that this long, suspenseful, satisfying day had finally ended when I got home after driving Sam and Beth back to the hotel and saw the last of five photos Caverlee had taken from her river view at Comfort Suites.  Look closely and you will see that the arch of the Big Mac bridge is still in the same place as in the daylight photo from the same window, though no longer golden.

Night lights in riverview from Comfort Suites on April 24, photo courtesy Caverlee Cary

Night lights in river view from Comfort Suites on April 24, photo courtesy Caverlee Cary

The links below will take you to Numediacy’s live video recordings of the successive presentations at the Cincinnati Art Museum symposium:

Wallace:

Schultz:

Kish:

Otter:

Thompson:

Panel Discussion: