Part 5. Moby-Dick Arts Fest, April 24-27, 2015

Entry begun at Marriott Hotel, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Sunday, May 2, 5 am

We had some logistical concerns on Friday, April 24, the day of our evening symposium at the Cincinnati Art Museum.  Sam Otter and his wife Caverlee had to get up at 3:30 in the morning near Berkeley, California, to make the 6:30 flight from the San Francisco airport to Minneapolis, where a connecting flight was scheduled to land in Cincinnati at 3:54 in the afternoon, two and a half hours before the start of our event.

I felt badly for Sam and Caverlee for having to get up so early in the Bay Area on the day he would be speaking in Cincinnati, but I felt even worse for Beth Schultz traveling from her home in Lawrence, Kansas, to Kansas City, Missouri, for a 9:30 am flight to Chicago whose connecting flight was scheduled to land in Cincinnati at 4:20 pm.  The challenge Beth faced was that major thunderstorms and possible tornadoes were predicted in the Kansas City area at the time her plane was scheduled to take off.  If her flight from Kansas City to Chicago were cancelled or seriously delayed, it would be extremely difficult for her to reach the Cincinnati airport in time to arrive at the Cincinnati Art Museum in time to be the opening speaker at our Symposium scheduled for 6:30.

Beth’s 4:20 arrival time was only half an hour after Sam’s, so I had borrowed my wife Joan’s Equinox in hopes of meeting them both soon after Beth’s flight had landed.  I would then drive them both to Comfort Suites in Newport with just enough time to check in, get oriented, and head over to the museum for the 6 pm target that that Shannon Karol had set for the arrival of all speakers.

Comfort Suites, on the riverbank in Newport, Kentucky

Comfort Suites, on the riverbank in Newport, Kentucky

The logistical key to the whole day was Beth’s flight out of the thunderstorms in Kansas City.  When I saw online that her plane had taken off for Chicago, about an hour after Sam’s plane from San Francisco had left for Minneapolis, I felt sure our evening event would go well.

After Emma Rose and I and her parents had enjoyed some relaxed time with Don Dingledine after the Honors Capstone luncheon, I had walked over to the English department to get the two boxes of inscribed Moby-Dick catalogs that Ann Harding had been distributing to student artists who had come to pick them up there.  Before driving out to the airport , I took the catalogs to the Covington Public Library so they would be available over the weekend to student artists who came to read in the Marathon or see the exhibition.  After I attending to a few other details at the library, where Gary Pilkington had already arranged the Reading Room and reception area for the next morning, I drove out to the airport to wait for Sam’s and Beth’s planes to arrive.

Sam’s plane from Minneapolis was delayed by about 25 minutes, getting him to Cincinnati, and to the long escalator up to the Baggage Claim, about four minutes after Beth made her ascent.  We now had just enough time to drive to Comfort Suites in Newport so Sam and Beth could check in and get refreshed before we took the Big Mac bridge over the river to the Art Museum.  As Sam put it, he and Beth each had time for “a shower or a bite to eat.”  He opted for the shower while Beth and I walked over Joe’s Crab Shack for a quick bowl of chowder before driving with Sam across the river.

Where in the above account is Sam’s wife Caverlee? She had intentionally gotten “bumped” from the Minneapolis to Cincinnati flight in return for quite a hefty voucher for to be used on a future flight.  She was comfortably ensconced with a river view at Comfort Suites when Sam got back from the evening lecture.  She had loved the view from her room of the Big Mac bridge in the evening light, and had attached the photo below to an email she sent while we speakers were still at the symposium.

Big Mac Bridge from Comfort Suites in evening light, April 24, photo courtesy Caverlee Cary

Big Mac Bridge from Comfort Suites in evening light, April 24, photo courtesy Caverlee Cary

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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 (http://wvxu.org/post/herman-melvilles-moby-dick-will-be-celebrated-nku-art-readings-and-more).

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.

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 (http://www.nku.edu/~emily).

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 mobydick.nku.edu.  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.