Entry begun Thursday, May 21, 2:35 pm
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
Another 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.
Another 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.
One 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 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.
One 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.
Now 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.
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.
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.