Beginning to Share the Work, Week 1

Entry begun on Monday, April 20, at 7:30 am

While Emma Rose and I were finalizing the pictorial layout of the show during the week of April 6, we were also attending to the verbal side of things.  Emma Rose began creating labels for the show after we had most of the artwork in place, and I began creating a “finding aid” aid that would help the library staff and patrons locate works in different parts of the building.  The library staff had already been getting a lot of queries about the works themselves and who had created them, so they had been very happy when Emma Rose had labels on most of the works by the end of the week.  For the finding aid I used my amateur photos of the actual installation, rather than the more professional photos Emily Wiethorn had taken of each separate work for the catalog, because this would be more helpful in actually locating works in the building.

Whale wall with labels

Whale wall with labels

On Monday, April 13, we had the first meeting in the exhibition space of the representatives of the four student groups who are going to help us run the Moby Marathon, as they had the Dickinson one.  This was “one of those days.”  Three of the six students who had planned to come could not make it for one reason or another, so it was impossible to complete the planning we had hoped to do for having two people fore each of three four-hour shifts on both Marathon days.  We did get quite a few of the times blocked out, though, and we also made some excellent progress in discussing various food and drink options for the two Marathon days and selecting the menu for the catered reception on the Monday evening.  After doing what business we could, we took a stroll through the exhibition itself and, as always, everyone was impressed.

celebration booklet 2015On Tuesday, April 14, Emma Rose made the first of several presentations she will be making on the joint project that has kept us both so busy for the last two years.  This one was the first of three she is making as part of NKU’s Celebration of Student Research and Creativity. This annual Celebration takes place in the middle of April, and students from my classes in Literature and the Arts have been involved in every one since the very first Celebration in 2002.  In 2002, Melissa Gers, Camilla Asplen, Ellen Bayer, Rob Detmering, and Joel Spencer made a group presentation about the creative projects they had done in my Fall 2001 class in Dickinson and James, all of which were included by then in the website Melissa had made of the work of the entire class (

Joel Spencer, Ellen Bayer, Melissa Gers, Camilla Asplen, and Rob Detmering at NKU's first Celebrartioin of Student Research and Creativity in 2002

Joel Spencer, Ellen Bayer, Melissa Gers, Camilla Asplen, and Rob Detmering at NKU’s first Celebrartion of Student Research and Creativity in 2002

In the April 2014 Celebration, Danielle Kleymeyer, Mary Belperio, Shawn Buckenmeyer, and Veronica Mitchell made a group presentation of the artworks they had created in my classes in Moby-Dick in the Arts during the Spring and Fall of 2013.

four presenters with teacher 2

Danielle Kleymeyer, Mary Belperio, Shawn Buckenmeyer, and Veronica Mitchell at the 2014 Celebration

Now, thanks to the work of Emma Rose during the last two years, the work of all of these Celebration students–and many others who had presented in intervening years–is currently on display in either the Dickinson exhibition at NKU or the Moby-Dick show in Covington.

emma rose celebration 10Emma Rose’s Celebration presentation last Tuesday was in the same room as last year’s Moby group, Steely Library 102.   She was grouped with other students whose projects derived from History or English classes, and I enjoyed the cross-pollination (from one of the History presenters I learned some new things about the Klu Klux Klan). The focus of Emma Rose’s presentation was the catalogs she had created for our two exhibitions.  Its title was “Documenting Student Artwork Inspired by Herman Melville & Emily Dickinson.”  As she reviewed the steps by which we had selected the material for each catalog, applied for grants to hire a photographer, and transported all of the works to and from the photo studio before Emma Rose had then designed each catalog to put all the images and words together in such an informative and attractive way, I was deeply grateful again for all the work we had been able to do together over these last two years.  Emma Rose had concluded her abstract for this Celebration presentation by writing that “these catalogs give a comprehensive view of what Dr. Wallace’s students have created over the past two decades,” and that is certainly true.

After Emma Rose’s presentation that day I met two of our Moby artists at the exhibition space.  Carola Bell took two of my courses early in the century and created three excellent monotypes featured in the exhibition: the small Moby-Dick in the display case, the large Shades of Ahab on the white wall outside the meeting room, and Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton at the foot of the staircase beneath Abby’s Life Buoy.  Carola is currently an assistant registrar at the Cincinnati Art Museum and it is always interesting to catch up on her work (in which she often accompanies extremely valuable works of art to highly desirable destinations as a courier).

Carola Bell and Bill Fletcher outside the display case with works by each

Carola Bell and Bill Fletcher outside the display case containing works by each

Bill Fletcher came even earlier in my teaching career.  He was a stalwart member of “the class that never ends” in 1996 and 1997.  Bill became a double major in Radiology and Philosophy with a minor in Honors and his conversation always shows the range and depth of those interests.  He is currently a radiologist in his home town of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, southwest of Cincinnati on the Ohio River, and I always enjoy catching up with what he is thinking and doing.  We did so this evening over dinner at Molly Malone’s, an Irish pub a block away from the Covington library.  Bill’s two artist books, taking him deeper and deeper into Ahab, created in his freshman and sophomore years, are both in our display case in Covington.  I am really glad that Emma Rose was able to design the catalog in such a way that we could reproduce each two-page spread of text and image from each of his books.

Emma Rose’s two-age spread for Bill Fletcher’s 1996-97 Mad God artist book

Emma Rose’s two-age spread for Bill Fletcher’s 1996-97 Mad God artist book

Entry continued on Delta Flight 3470 from Cincinnati to Boston, Thursday, April 30, 11:55 am

On Wednesday, April 15, Emma Rose and I spent much of the early afternoon labeling the remaining works, tethering works on easels to the easels themselves, and otherwise refining the presentation and security of the art on display.  That evening I had dinner with Caitlin Sparks and Jay Gray to discuss in more detail my offer to commission their Numediacy art collaborative to document our four-day Arts Fest in a form suitable for posting on YouTube.  It was interesting to hear how these young video artists living in Covington were approaching this opportunity.  Given Caitlin’s performance in my Spring 2011 class in Moby-Dick and the Arts, and Jay’s in my Advanced Composition class on Exploring the Arts, I cannot imagine any video artists who could do it better.

Minadora Macheret next to her Emily Dickinson Double Letter Box

Minadora Macheret next to her Emily Dickinson Double Letter Box

After dinner with Caitlin and Jay, I met Minadora Macheret back in the exhibition space.  Minadora is an outstanding poet who recently defended her Thesis project in our MA in English program. As an undergraduate, she had created the Double Letter Box now in our Emily Dickinson exhibition.  Minadora is representing the Association of English Graduate Students in helping to run our Moby Marathon. She had been unable to attend the group meeting on Monday so we set up this special meeting tonight so she could see the exhibition and the Reading Room and confirm the shifts at which she would work.  She had already signed up for the afternoon shift for Sunday, and she now volunteered as well for Saturday morning, since that was the most conspicuous gap in our coverage at this point, and it was imperative to get the Marathon off to a good start.   I am very grateful to her for her support of both of our Arts Fest initiatives.

Opening bars for chorus in Bach's Ascension Oratorio

Opening bars for chorus in Bach’s Ascension Oratorio

After meeting with Minadora I walked two blocks to my Wednesday night choir rehearsal at Trinity Episcopal Church in Covington.  In addition to our weekly services, we are currently preparing to perform Bach’s Ascension Oratorio at our Evensong concert on May 17.  Our weekly choir rehearsal is always a deep reservoir of focus and recreation for me in the midst of the multi-tasking required by my Dickinson and Moby-Dick projects this semester.

ert beginingThursday, April 16, was a big day for Emma Rose, as she was one of eight BFA candidates making their “Senior Show” presentations to a huge audience in the Main Gallery at 3 in the afternoon.  The other presenters were studio artists with the artworks actually on display in the Main Gallery itself.  Emma Rose, as an Art History major who had created an exhibition in an off-campus location, gave her oral presentation standing in front of the Arts Fest poster, a wall text presenting her rationale for the Covington exhibition, and a pedestal on which she displayed the exhibition catalog and her postcard invitation to the exhibition and the major Arts Fest events.  Her presentation was the first of the eight, and the large gallery was absolutely crowded with well over a hundred people—classmates, faculty, friends, and family of the eight artists.

ERT Senior show inviteEmma Rose summarized her curatorial choices and installation procedures very clearly and she invited the audience to attend the show in Covington before its close on May 15.  After describing some of the programming with which we were supplementing the exhibition itself, she opened some sample spreads from the catalog to illustrate the chronological structure of the whole and the internal structure of the entry for each student artist, with the classroom presentation photo and the student bio followed by the artist statement from the class and Emily Wiethorn’s photograph of each art work.  Emma Rose pointed out, of course, that Emily’s own Senior Show as a BFA photography major was in a nearby corner of the gallery.

Emma Rose and her mother Diane at Senior Show presentation

Emma Rose and her mother Diane at Senior Show presentation

All BFA Senior Show presentations were included in the Artistic Presentations section of this year’s Celebration of Student Research and Creativity, and Emma Rose’s abstract for this presentation in the Celebration booklet concluded by indicating that “this project gives a comprehensive view of how teaching literature through art can be a rewarding experience.”  Gallery director David Knight, who has assisted my literature students in displaying their Moby-Dick art ever since “the class that never ends” in 1996-97, was her co-sponsor for the installation of the Covington show.  Emma Rose’s mother Diane attended this Thursday afternoon presentation, and I was happy to get a photo of them together when it was over.

On Friday, April 17, the day of the “soft” opening of the Covington show, we both spent a good deal of the day in the exhibition space, tinkering with this and that, discussing with library staff various logistical issues we would have to address during the Marathon weekend now only a week away, and being present for anyone who happened to come to the exhibition on the day it officially opened.

Covington Arts Galllery at 2 West Pike Street

Covington Arts Galllery at 2 West Pike Street

The next night, Saturday, April 18, we attended the opening of the exhibition for which our Moby show had originally been chosen.  Except it was now in an entirely different location.  Last year curator Saad Ghosn had chosen our Moby show for an exhibition by the Covington Arts Gallery in its large space at 7 West Seventh Street.  When that space was sold to the developers of a new microbrewery, Saad had to move our show, which included two other artists, to a very small space at 2 West Pike Street.  The new space was far too small for our Moby show and its related programming, so Saad released us to seek out another, which turned out to be the Covington Public Library two blocks away. Without having to worry about how to include us, Saad had brought a third artist into his April 2016 exhibition, so it was a very stimulating three-woman show that Emma Rose and I attended on this Saturday evening of a very busy week.

Covington arts 5Under the title Flight, Saad exhibited the work of three artists who “address the notion of passage” and “memory” in “dialogue with the cyle of life.”  Jan Nickum took up the subject of flight with larger-than-life, naturalistic paintings of birds.  Marsha Karagheusian depicted a memory specific to her Armenian heritage with figurative ceramic reliefs recalling the genocide of her ancestors at the hands of the Turks one hundred years ago.  Sharmon Davidson continued her recent exploration of flights of the imagination in mixed-media relief drawings incorporating found objects suggestive of an entire continuum from the cosmic to the mundane.

bob & todd at cov art gallery

The author with Todd Jennings at opening of Flight exhibition at the Covington Arts Gallery

The pleasures of the show were greatly deepened for me by the opportunity to spend some quality time with Sharmon’s husband Todd Jennings.   Todd had been an unforgettable student in my American literature classes when he came to NKU around 1980 after working for a decade on tugboats up and down the Ohio River.  Coming off the boats, Todd’s grammar was rusty, but his thought was as cogent as his love of argumentation was strong.  I still remember the essay exam in which he summarized Melville’s Billy Budd with this sentence: “It’s a crucifixion, matey.”  Todd was working as a house painter to pay his way through college and one summer he painted Joan’s and my three-story wood-frame house in Bellevue on very high ladders.  He had become a special education teacher after graduating from NKU, a job at which he had met Sharmon before their marriage now a decade ago.  Todd is currently working for the IRS in Covington, and I am guessing he is one of the most free-thinking employees in that federal agency.  It was wonderful to catch up with him and get to know Sharmon and her art work much better too.  I learned this night that Todd had been unable to finish Moby-Dick when I had assigned it in my class, but he said he might give it a shot at the Marathon Reading this weekend anyway.

Andrew Johnson and Emma Rose Thompson at Covington Arts opening on April 18

Andrew Johnson and Emma Rose Thompson at Covington Arts opening on April 18

Emma Rose and I had taken flyers and invitations to the opening of the Flight exhibition since our show was only two blocks away and had originally been conceived as part of Saad’s exhibition.  Emma Rose’s boy friend Andrew had come with her and they lingered for quite a while enjoying the lively scene.  This was a beautiful springtime evening during which the crowded gallery kept its one door open to the sweet night air, so Andrew did not mind just hanging out while Emma Rose and I spoke with Todd, Sharmon, and the other artists.  I was happy when Andrew joined Emma Rose for a photo in front of one of Jan Nickum’s larger-than-life birds.

Throughout this busy week I had of course been monitoring the electronic sign-up sheet for our Moby-Dick Marathon Reading on our website  As of Saturday night we had only filled about a third of the 144 ten-minute slots required to complete the twenty-four-hour Marathon that was now only a week away, so in addition to encouraging Todd and others at the Covington Arts opening to sign up, I extended the invitation to those attending the 10 am service the next morning at Trinity Episcopal Church.  One of my fellow choir members signed up right away, and a number of my friends in the congregation were to sign up during the intervening week.


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