Entry begun Thursday, June 18, 8:20 pm
Monday I fly to Tokyo via Seattle. Every other year since 1997 our Japanese colleagues have been flying faithfully to our International Melville Society Conferences in Volos, Greece; Mystic, Connecticut; Hempstead, New York; Lahaina, Hawaii; New Bedford, Massachusetts; Szeczin, Poland; the city of Jerusalem; Rome, Italy; and Washington, D. C. Now the Melville world has the pleasure of flying to Japan.
I first visited Japan in 1991 to attend the opening of a retrospective of artwork by Frank Stella in Kitakyushu on the island of Kyushu. I had learned about Stella’s Moby-Dick series when I saw some of his Wave prints at the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati in November 1989, but I had only been able to track down four of his proliferating Moby-Dick metallic reliefs in the United States during the next two years. Nine Moby-Dick reliefs would be in Kitakyushu, so I decided to go. I made a return trip to Japan in 1994 to see additional works in the series: one in Kochi, one in Osaka, one in Tokyo, two on the island of Naoshima, and four in Sakura. These two trips made possible the book I published on Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick in 2000, and they made me eager to return to Japan the next chance I got, which is now.
I have attended each of the previous international conferences and have often presented papers relating Melville to the visual arts. I am calling this year’s paper “Moby-Dick Art in Kitakyushu, New Bedford, and Northern Kentucky.” I will begin with my trips to Japan 1991 and 1994, move on to the creation of the Melville Society Archive in New Bedford at the turn of the century, and conclude with the recent Moby-Dick Arts Fest in Northern Kentucky. We have only fifteen minutes for each talk, so my Powerpoint presentation will go quickly.
Much has been happening on the Moby front since the exhibition came down in May. Claire Illouz is now definitely scheduled to present her Moby-Dick artist book, The Whiteness, at Melville’s Arrowhead home on Monday, August 3. Claire will be sending new Moby-Dick artwork to the exhibition at Marta Hewett Gallery in Cincinnati next spring. Her new work will now be joining that of Aileen Callahan and that of local Moby-Dick artists in that show. Aileen and I have now scheduled a July 11 at which she will meet local Moby-Dick artists who will then join us in visiting Marta Hewett and her gallery. Since my last post, Caitlin Sparks and Danielle Wallace have each said they would like to create new work for that show. And Mary Belperio, with her daughters, has allowed me to purchase Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane. When I arrived at the Price Hill coffee shop to pick up the work, one of her daughters indicated that she was thirsty by drawing a picture of a girl lifting a glass to her mouth on a napkin.
The day after I met with Mary and her daughters, Abby Schlachter Langdon, from our Moby exhibition, and John Campbell, from our Dickinson exhibition, were both active at the Cincinnati Public Library at 8th Street and Vine. Abby was there as the library’s first “Master Maker.” On this first Sunday she was in a newly developed “maker space” on the second floor of the library to enact her own art-making practice in public. On the next Sunday she would be on hand as a resource to advise others who come in to make art of their own with an impressive repertoire of technological aids, including digital poster printers and 3-D sculpture makers, While Abby was working on a beautiful fabric that will eventually suggest a deep blue waterfall, pooling onto the floor, crowned with ascending angel wings, John Campbell came up from the first floor where he was about to install his Emily Dickinson screen for the summer show of the Cincinnati Book Arts Society. At the opening of the show a few days later it was wonderful to be able to discuss each panel in considerable detail with him, a luxury we had not had during the pressures of the Dickinson Arts Fest.
Emma Rose Thompson has had a welcome break from our two-year marathon running up to, and through, the two marathon arts fests. But we had a good occasion to meet up again when two out-of-town Melville scholars and one out-of-town Dickinson scholar requested catalogs of the respective exhibitions. We had so far jointly inscribed every catalog that we gave to students or sold, so we wanted to keep that tradition going. As we were running out of catalogs, we also had to decide how many to recorder from CJK. We met for lunch in the new café at the Contemporary Arts Center that will be hosting the Kish and Del Tredici exhibition next April, and my co-curator for that show, Steven Matijcio, stopped by to chat with us for a while and to give us a quick tour of two new shows on the second floor, one of them in the space in which Kish and Del Tredici will be installed. Early this week Steven and I got an email from Kish outlining a whole new series of works he is planning to create for next year’s exhibition. In addition to one drawing for each of fourteen whales in the “Cetology” chapter, he plans to make one drawing, on found paper, for each of the eighty “Extracts” that appear in Moby-Dick before its famous first sentence “Call me Ishmael.” He had already created the first three, and he gave me permission to post one of them here.
We had one more important Moby development at the beginning of this week. Jay Gray and Caitlin Sparks of Numediacy finished their 22-minute film of our four-day Moby-Dick Arts Fest. I have now posted it as a separate entry at the end of Part 5 of this blog, where it can be easily viewed in its entirely. When I sent it as a link to Bob Sandberg, the webmaster of the Melville Society, to see if he would like to post it, he immediately put it up at the top of the home page and I began to get appreciative comments from all the members of the Society’s Executive Committee, not only about wonderful work Jay and Caitlin had done in making the film, but also about the quality of the student art work and the range of the Arts Fest events. Such immediacy of response is one of the great pleasures of living in a digital age. I had been only marginally aware of Jay and Caitlin as they gathered their footage and conducted their interviews during the entire course of the four-day fest. It was absolutely miraculous to see how much they wove together, and how smoothly, from our varied events. For them, too, it would appear, “Work might be electric Rest / To those that Magic make.”
Once the Moby-Dick Arts Fest and most of its immediate aftermath was over, I got in touch with Marta Werner and Martha Nell Smith about the possibility of posting this Dickinson and Moby-Dick blog somewhere on the Emily Dickinson Electronic Archive. Their response, too, was immediate and positive. They are very interested in the pedagogy that resulted in all of this student art work, and they had already been thinking about adding a platform for blogs on the DEA2 (as they call the current state of the Electronic Archive), so they plan to make this blog the first one that will go up on their expanded site. If all goes as planned, I will be submitting an edited and updated link by August 1 and they will activate this new feature of their Archive on August 15. I am very grateful for their interest in the way my students have responded to Dickinson through making art, and I am happy that they are also interested in cross-posting this blog on the Melville Electronic Library (MEL) should its editors develop a pedagogical platform for which it would be appropriate.
My primary activity since the Moby Fest ended has been revising chapter 4 of my manuscript on Frederick Douglass in Cincinnati, the one that addresses the lives of Douglass and Cincinnatians in 1853, a year that began with Douglass publishing only work for fiction (the novella entitled The Heroic Slave) and ended with extremely painful, and public, attacks on his personal and professional life by his former mentor William Lloyd Garrison (who had been the featured speaker in Sarah Ernst’s three-day Anti-Slavery Convention in April of that year). It can be extremely painful to think about such bitter personal disputes even a century and a half after they happened, but it is even more so, of course, when underscored by such events of as this week’s murder of nine African-American congregants of the “Mother” AME church in Charleston by a young white man whose head is still full of gross stereotypes against black Americans against which Douglass was battling in 1853, sometimes from his fellow abolitioinists. The most exciting element of my Douglass work in the last two weeks was a visit I made to Cheviot, the Cincinnati suburb in which William Brisbane lived, to meet with two local historians there, Liz and Greg Kissel. It was wonderful to meet them and learn about their work, especially since, with their local knowledge augmented by my study of Brisbane’s personal journal, we were able to pretty much establish the location of the Chevioit farm on which Brisbane had lived in the 1840s and early 1850s, near the water tower that is today a prominent landmark for Cheviot’s border with Westwood.
It feels good to be essentially caught up with this blog two days in advance of my flight to Japan on Monday (especially since I will need to carefully proofread the entire blog as soon as I return, to have it ready for posting on the Dickinson Electronic Archive in August). Yesterday I had lunch with Carola Bell. She one of several student artist-alums who had work in both the Dickinson exhibition in February and the Moby-Dick exhibition in April. I was returning her Dickinson artist book and one of her Moby-Dick monotype prints to her, and she currently works as an assistant registrar at the Cincinnait Art Museum, so we had lunch at the museum café. The museum had recently installed a show of Masterpieces of Japanese Art, so we visited the show after lunch to give me a visual appetizer for my upcoming trip. Screens, scrolls, full-body armor, scholars’ gardens, animals reminding you of The Wind in the Willows, landscapes with rocks, clouds, cranes, and water—what more could the eye or the heart desire?
The exhibition of Japanese art was entirely satisfying, but so was the work of one of the artists in a group exhibition I attended after dinner the same day, yesterday, Friday, June 19. By This Water, at the downtown Weston Gallery, is curated by Michael Solway, a Cincinnati native who has recently returned to his father Carl Solway’s gallery after running a gallery of his own for more than a decade in Los Angeles. Jacci Den Hartog is a Los Angeles artist who has five works in the show that opened last night. All five works are beautiful visually, strong conceptually, immaculate technically, vibrant coloristically, and alive with a tactile allure that makes you wish to touch them. One of them, the her three-dimensional version of Coming Down, was created in 2008 with acrylic on paper-based polymerized modeling medium and steel. Its sculptural descent from high on the wall in one continuous flow measures 79 x 105 x 61 inches. This painted relief is the closest embodiment I ever expect to see of the spirit of one of my favorite Dickinson poems, “My River runs to thee” (J 162). From the source of its flow in the mountains high up on the wall to the spread of welcoming delta at the just right height to wade in, Hartog’s river runs right from the first line of Dickinson’s poem, “My River runs to thee,” to its last: “Say—Sea—Take Me!”
Now it is time to pack for the trip. Put the Japan Rail Pass Coupon with the passport, order some yen from my local bank’s outlet at the airport, confirm my hotel reservations in Tokyo and Kyoto, trim my Tokyo talk to fifteen minutes and save its Powerpoint to a thumb drive, study the conference program carefully to locate the talk I will give and the session I will chair as well as all the talks I will not want to miss, and, at some point (probably as the television broadcast of the U. S. Open golf tournament along the shores of Puget Sound near where I was on my high school golf team is about to end tomorrow night) begin to relax and simply be ready for whatever comes.
I also hope before I leave to transfer this entry from the Microsoft Word file on which I am composing it to the wordpress blog where others can read it. I will want to have a fresh start when I return on the evening of July 3 from ten non-stop days in Japan. I will have a lot of catch-up to do in conveying whatever experiences in Japan speak most directly to the blog I am keeping here.