Continuing to Share the Work, Week 2

Entry begun on Delta Flight 3470 in advance of landing at Logan Airport on Thursday, April 30, 1: 35 PM

After April 17 our exhibition was now officially open and up for all to see during the Covington library’s regular hours.  But for us, the true opening would come with the Arts Fest itself, still six days away.  And before either Emma Rose or I could consider our preparation for the Arts Fest complete, she still had to make two more official presentations of the work we had done, her Honors Capstone presentation on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 22, followed by the official critique of her BFA Senior Show by Art department faculty on the afternoon of Thursday, April 23.  These academic events were now preceded by a more recent addition to our schedule on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 21.  We had been invited to speak about the Moby-Dick Arts Fest on Cincinnati Edition, the interview program hosted and broadcast by WVXU, the local PBS radio affiliate at 91.7 FM.

Photograph of Emma Rose Thompson, Caitlin Sparks, and the author by Jay Gray

Photograph of Emma Rose Thompson, Caitlin Sparks, and the author by Jay Gray

I had been interviewed on Cincinnati Edition in advance of my voyage last summer on the whale ship Charles W. Morgan,  It was even more exciting to be interviewed on the show with Emma Rose about the Moby Fest.  Pete Ridemeyer, the producer, and Mark Heyne, the interviewer, indicated they had room for one more person in the studio, so we invited Caitlin Sparks, who got off work that Tuesday afternoon long enough to join us.  The half-hour interview was recorded as if it were live, but it was actually being taped for broadcast at 1:35 pm on Friday, April 24, the day the Arts Fest itself was to begin with the evening Symposium at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Because Caitlin and Jay Gray were to be documenting the upcoming four-day Arts Fest for a YouTube feature, we asked Pete if it would be ok for Jay to take some footage of the three of us while we were taping the interview.  There was not room for a fifth person in the studio while the interview was underway, but there was room for Jay to take a few candid shots before or after the interview took place.  Furthermore, it would be fine for Jay to take live video footage from outside one of the studio windows while the interview was going on.  Caitlin was allowed to wire herself for sound so that Jay would have a live audio feed during the interview and would not have to match the video he shot with the sound to be made available on the archived radio broadcast.

Caitlin, Emma Rose, and myself in recording studio with Mark Heyne, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

Caitlin, Emma Rose, and myself in recording studio with Mark Heyne, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

The interview itself was pretty much a joy.  Emma Rose and Caitlin had never been interviewed by a PBS radio show, and this was only the third time for me (I had been on WVXU for my book on NKU’s women’s basketball team as well as for the whale ship voyage).  Each knew her subject very well, so I had told them it would all go very well once Mark had asked his first couple of questions.  The station threw us a nice curve ball to begin with—by starting the interview with the recorded voice of Orson Welles reading from the “Call me Ishmael” paragraph that opens the novel.  What a pleasure to be on the radio with two students such as these, doing what we all could to inform a broad audience of unseen listeners about Moby-Dick itself, the exhibition, the catalog, the Marathon reading, and the two Symposia, the one that would shortly follow the broadcast itself at the Cincinnati Art Museum on Friday evening, and the all-day symposium at NKU on the Monday (

We all pretty much worked in the major things we had hoped to cover in the interview, and we left the studio very happy for having had this opportunity.  Caitlin had done new thinking about the four photographs she had taken of herself in the Captain Ahab set she had mounted in recycled window frames, and she spoke very effectively about the thoughts and feelings she had expressed through them.  I had found occasion to mention Caitlin and Jay’s Numediacy artistic partnership, and their new show at the Weston Gallery at the Aronoff Center in downtown Cincinnati.  Emma Rose had very expertly directed the conversation from the exhibition, to the catalog, to the Marathon Reading, to the Symposia, making sure that all were mentioned.  The interview was over before we knew it, and here was Jay coming into the studio to take couple of candids of us in headphones, leaving just enough time for me to get a photograph of Emma Rose, Caitlin, and Jay before we all headed back across the river to resume our separate activities in Northern Kentucky.

emma rose, caitlin, jay

Emma Rose and her mother awaiting her Capstone presentation

Emma Rose and her mother awaiting her Capstone presentation

Wednesday, April 22, was another big day for Emma Rose, and for me as her mentor.  She was to make her Honors Capstone presentation on her Emily Dickinson exhibition and catalog.  An Honors Capstone is a six-hour course spread over two successive semesters, and Emma Rose actually done much more than the equivalent of two three-hour courses over the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters.  The title of her Capstone presentation was “I took my Power in my Hand: NKU Students Create Emily Dickinson Art.”  The format was for the student to make a presentation for about 17 of the scheduled 25 minutes, allowing about 8 minutes for questions.  This presenatioin was in room 135 of the University Center, and we had both come here on Monday afternoon for the rehearsal that is required, or at least highly recommended, for each Capstone presenter.  There are a certain number of points to be covered in each Capstone presentation, a specified time in which to cover them, and a specific set of equipment belonging to that particular room.  As soon as Emma Rose had worked through these, I knew she would be ready for Wednesday’s presentation.  Her mother Diane came on Wednesday.  They sat together in a row directly in front of me, and their hair matched in color of a lovely haystack on the screen saver of the video monitor before the presentations began.

I love Honors Capstones because the students come from very different departments and, in one way or another, are trying to reach beyond the boundaries or strictures of their major field of study.  The student who preceded Emma Rose on Wednesday combined Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Computer Graphics in designing labels, logos, and a business strategy for a hypothetical microbrewery inspired by Cincinnati’s Seven Hills.  Emma Rose in her capstone presentation emphasized the design and creation of the Dickinson exhibition and catalog.  She explained how much she had learned by applying for grants, acquiring photographs and digital rights, and bringing together insights and techniques she had acquired from a variety of disciplines (Anthropology, Art, and English), not only in creating the catalog and installing the exhibition, but in planning the lectures by Dickinson artists, the Dickinson song recital, the Marathon Reading, the panel discussion featuring student artists, and the Dickinson Tea Party.

ERT capstone 5

Coming in the midst of the midst of our Moby-Dick preparations, this was an enjoyable way to review what we had done several months ago in our Dickinson project, and it probably assured us both that the many moving parts of our upcoming Moby Fest would indeed come together successfully.  The faculty and students present were very responsive to the range of sources on which Emma Rose had drawn, as well as the range of talents she had shown, in executing this highly ambitious project that had become more and more challenging and satisfying the more we got into it.  These faculty and students were receptive because they were used to thinking and working expansively themselves.  Emma Rose gave special attention to the Zalla Awards from the Honors Program that had enabled us to publish enough copies of the Dickinson catalog to be able to give one to each student artist in the exhibition.

ERT capstone 14

At the end of the Wednesday Capstone presentations, Belle Zembrodt, interim director of the Honors Program, had driven to the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky airport to pick up Don Dingledine, our guest speaker for the next day’s Honors Capstone Convocation.  Don is an English professor from the University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh whom I had met at the International Conference on Herman Melville and Walt Whitman at George Washington University in June 2013.  Don is very devoted to Honors teaching and had published an essay on teaching Moby-Dick as a model of Honors learning that impressed Belle so much she invited him to be this semester’s Capstone speaker.  Because of his interest in Moby-Dick, Don agreed to stay on for the Marathon Reading over the weekend and to be a panelist in our pedagogical session on “Moby-Dick Art in the Classroom” during the all-day Symposium at NKU on Monday, making him a perfect fit for both Belle and me.

downloadjoe's crab shackI had only met Don briefly in Washington, D. C., so I enjoyed the opportunity to have a leisurely lunch before driving him to campus in advance of his Convocation address at 5 pm the next afternoon.  He was staying at Comfort Suites in Newport, Kentucky, less than a mile from my home in Bellevue, and we had only a two-minute walk over to Joe’s Crab Shack overlooking the Ohio River.  Don likes good coffee, so we made another relaxed stop at Avenue Brew in Bellevue before heading out to campus, where I had a three o’clock appointment as the guest committee member on Emma Rose’s critique for her BFA Senior Show in the Art department.

senior show wall 1I had originally expected the critique to take place in the exhibition space in Covington, but this was not the case.  The critique of the show she had curated and installed on all three floors of the Covington branch of the Kenton County Public Library instead took place in the Main Gallery at NKU in which Emma Rose’s two-year project was represented by the Arts Fest poster, her wall text briefly describing the exhibition, and the pedestal with the exhibition catalog and the invitation to the show.  The examiners consisted of Emma Rose’s mentor in the Art department, another Art department faculty member, and myself as a guest examiner.  The protocol, I was told, was for the student BFA candidate to make an opening statement about his or her intentions and process in executing the Senior Show, followed by a series of questions pertaining to such issues as installation techniques, intended audience, appropriateness of the venue, and the relation of the exhibition to the field of Art History.

Entrance to the Prado Museum in Madrid

Entrance to the Prado Museum in Madrid

Senior Show critiques are appropriately intimate and confidential.  They are open only to the candidate and the examiners.  Their purpose is not to reach out to a broader audience in the manner of Emma Rose’s oral presentation of her Senior Show to diverse listeners a week earlier, but rather to address in very specific terms the needs and concerns of the degree-granting department and its examining faculty.  As the guest faculty member in this “critique,” I learned a great deal about the challenges of ambitious interdisciplinary projects for both students and faculty.  Without revealing any details from this confidential critique, it would be fair to say that the two art professors did not share Emma Rose’s feeling that the Covington Public Library was a suitable venue for her exhibition Moby Comes to Covington, nor did they embrace her decision to include Moby-Dick artwork by untrained English and Honors students with that of some of the star artists and alums of their department.  In terms of my own interdisciplinary associations, the dynamics of this critique made me think of a painting by Goya I had seen at the Prado Museum when teaching in Spain in 1976, a scene in a novel by Ken Kesey I began teaching at NKU in the 1970s, and an amendment to the U. S. Constitution I had studied when I was a political science major at Whitman College in the 1960s, planning to be a lawyer.

Don Dingledine delivering his Honors Capstone address

Don Dingledine delivering his Honors Capstone address

One hour after the critique of Emma Rose’s Senior Show ended in the Main Gallery. Don Dingledine gave his Honors Convocation address entitled “’Ahab has his humanities’: Love, Landlessness, and the Liberal Arts” in UC 135.  He used Moby-Dick as the launching pad for a lecture that explored human experience in a variety of disciplines with regard to themes common to Honors learning no matter what the subject.  The “Landlessness” in his title referred to the quest for truth in the novel epitomized by the “Lee Shore” chapter—the need for us to push out beyond boundaries that might constrict or suffocate us, or stunt our intellectual or emotional growth.  “Love,” on the other hand, in the novel as in our lives, is the contrasting value of interconnectedness that is essential even for the “landless” in embracing such human values as empathy and reciprocity.  This talk showed me exactly why Don is an exceptional teacher who is widely admired in the world of Honors learning (and who has won the outstanding teaching award at his university several years in a row).  After his talk I enjoyed a relaxed dinner with Don and Belle at Brio’s restaurant in Newport.

The Honors luncheon at which Capstone students were honored for their work was the next day, Friday, April 24, at noon.  Each Capstone presenter in the room was to receive a substantial medallion for her or his high-level imaginative work.  As these students filtered into the room for the luncheon, I saw each one as embodiment of Don’s “landlessness” (the imaginative ambition of their projects) and “love” (the support from family, friends, and faculty).  Don Dingledine’s charge at the luncheon was to give a short inspirational talk, which he did to perfection, doing something he said he had never done before, speaking from inspiration rather than from a prepared text or detailed outline, the inspiration in this case coming from a chance conversation he’d had with a waiter in Chicago.  I was glad that Emma Rose’s parents were both able to be here to see her be honored for her Capstone project, and it was a great pleasure to be able to sit with them during the ceremony and to see her receive her medallion.

Emma Rose with here parents and Don Dingledine at the Csapstone luncheon

Emma Rose with here parents and Don Dingledine at the Capstone luncheon

Zac Holtkamp with Honors Capstone medallion

Zac Holtkamp with Honors Capstone medallion

Two other Honors Capstone students I enjoyed seeing at the ceremony were NKU athletes Kaitlyn Gerrety and Zachary Holtkamp.  Kaitlyn was a graduation senior and starting center on this year’s very successful women’s basketball team.  The subject of her Capstone presentation was “Diary of Death Row.”  Zac was graduating senior an a leading runner on our men’s cross-country team.  The subject of his Capstone project was “Assessing the Effect of Parasitic Blow Fly Larvae on Carolina Chicadees.”  Zac had been an outstanding student in my Honors Freshman Composition class during the 2011 Fall Semester, and it’s been a pleasure to follow his college career and see the beautiful beard he has grown.

After the ceremony, Emma Rose and I had a chance to speak at some length with Don Dingledine, which in itself was the perfect transition from our weeks of preparation for the Moby Arts Fest to the opening event which was suddenly now only hours away at 6:30 that evening.  Caitlin, Emma Rose, and I were all so busy that afternoon that none of us heard the WVXU broadcast at 1:35 of the interview we had done on Tuesday, but we knew it would be archived on the station’s website for later listening at leisure, when some little leisure might eventually be had.


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