Rising Sun Horizon

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.

Viewers look at Stella’s Sphynx at Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, October 1991

Viewers look at Stella’s Sphynx at Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, October 1991

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.

Artwork in display case, Moby Comes to Covington, April – May 2015

Artwork in display case, Moby Comes to Covington, April – May 2015

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.

Mary and her daughters with Snuggles

Mary and her daughters with Snuggles

Abby and John with her "wings" in progress

Abby and John with her “wings” in progress

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.

John Campbell pointing to Dickinson “Rascal” panel at Cincinnati Public Library

John Campbell pointing to Dickinson’s “Rascal” panel at Cincinnati Public Library

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.

Matt Kish, And God Created Great Whales, the first of his Extracts drawings for April 201

Matt Kish, And God Created Great Whales, the first of his Extracts drawings for April 2016

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.”

Jay Gray zeroing in on Jessica Wimsatt’s Reliance while Caitlin Sparks is speaking with Beth Schultz

Jay Gray zeroing in on Jessica Wimsatt’s Reliance while Caitlin Sparks is speaking with Beth Schultz

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.

Screenshot of detain from DEA2 home page

Screenshot of detail from DEA2 home page

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.

Vicinity of William Brisbane’s mid-nineteenth-century Cheviot farm land near today’s water tower

Vicinity of William Brisbane’s mid-nineteenth-century Cheviot farm land near today’s water tower

Japanese warrior and sword at Cincinnati Art Museum

Japanese warrior and sword at Cincinnati Art Museum

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!”

Jacci Den Hartog, Coming Down, 2008. Author’s photo at Cincinnati’s downtown Weston Gallery, June 19, 2015.

Jacci Den Hartog, Coming Down, 2008. Author’s photo at Cincinnati’s downtown Weston Gallery, June 19, 2015

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.

 

 

 

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Looking Ahead to 2016

Blog entry begun on Thursday, June 4, 8:00 am

We had already sent Steven Matijcio the catalog for the Covington show, but I was eager for him to see this diverse array of local Moby-Dick artwork in person–especially since he had just now officially announced the Kish and Del Tredici exhibition for 2016.

Announcement CAC MD 2016

Because Steven is still relatively new to the Cincinnati area, I thought he would also be interested in seeing how the renovated Covington Public Library worked as a venue for an exhibition as wide-ranging and diverse as this one.  He had two new shows of his own opening at the CAC that Friday evening, but he still took the time for a very leisurely stroll through our entire show in which showed as much interest in some of the first-time artists as in those who had been professionally trained, noting that untutored work is sometimes “fresher and more direct,” unburdened by restraints or dogma.  It was very interesting for Emma Rose and me to see which works caught the eye and mind of someone like Steven, and we had many pleasant surprises.  I was also glad that he was able to see the show in the company of Emma Rose, who, in additon to her work on this show, has gotten to know both Kish and Del Tredici through their recent visits to NKU.

The author with Shawn Buckenmeyer at Marta Hewett Gallery on April 17, 2014

The author with Shawn Buckenmeyer at Marta Hewett Gallery on April 17, 2014

I was eager for Marta Hewett to see the Covington show because of her interest in scheduling a show of local Moby-Dick artists as a companion to the Kish and Del Tredici show at the CAC.  She and I have been discussing such a show for several years now, and the two-man show at the CAC would provide the perfect occasion, especially since she and I had been discussing the possibility of an all-female Moby show.  I had shown Marta reproductions of work by local artists such as Kathleen Piercefield, Abby Schlachter Langdon, Carola Bell, and Danielle Wallace over the years, but the Covington show was a perfect chance to see their works in person.  It was also a chance to introduce Marta to the work of more recent artists such as Mary Belperio, Danielle Kleymeyer, and Caitlin Sparks,  Marta’s visit to the Covington show also gave me an opportunity let her know that some of these local artists–including Piercefield, Langdon, Belperio, and Sparks–were already in the process of generating new Moby-Dick art that could be considered for a show in 2016.  Marta, like Steven, enjoyed seeing the distribution of artworks throughout the building, and she was also very taken a number of the artworks by untrained artists.  I was glad that she, too, had a chance to meet Emma Rose, who is intimately familiar with the work of all the artists we might be considering for a 2016 show, including I & Q by Shawn Buckenmeyer, whom I had I last seen in Marta’s gallery a few weeks before her tragic death one year ago.

claire and class 3

Claire Illouz showing her Whiteness book to my NKU Moby students in February 2011

Emma Rose and I were both happy when Marta confirmed at the end of our walk through the Covington show that she would definitely like to have an exhibition of Moby-Dick artists concurrent with the one that will open at the CAC next April.  And much has already happened since our walk with Marta on May 15.  When I wrote Claire Illouz, the Moby-Dick book artist from France who had premiered her Emily Dickinson artist book here at NKU in February, that Marta Hewett will be definitely be having a Moby-Dick show here next spring, Claire immediately wrote back to say she would like to create new work to be considered for the show.  After coming to NKU for the premiere of her Dickinson book in February, Claire is returning to the United States in early August to make a presentation about her Moby-Dick artist book, The Whiteness, at Melville’s Arrowhead home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  This will be Claire’s first visit to Melville’s home, which will probably help to inspire whatever she submits for the Marta Hewett show next spring.  I plan to be at Arrowhead for Claire’s presentation on August 3, when I expect to learn more about what she has in mind for Cincinnati in 2016.

aileen and marta  2 2-14 002

Marta Hewett and Aileen Callahan at Marta Hewett Gallery,  July 12, 2014

Aileen Callahan in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is another artist who was happy to hear that Marha Hewett is definitely planning to hold a Moby-Dick show concurrent with the Kish and Del Tredici show next spring.  In Beth Shultz’s hour-long survey of new Moby-Dick art at the NKU Symposium on April 27, Aileen Callahan was one four artists that Beth singled out for sustained excellence in the creation of visual art in response to Moby-Dick over the last twenty yearsthe other three were Matt Kish, Robert Del Tredici, and Matt Milloff.  Aileen often comes to Cincinnati in the summer to help her sister Claire, a professor of guitar at the College Conservatory of Music, run a summer guitar festival.  Last year I had introduced her to Marta Hewett at her gallery in the hope that Aileen could someday exhibit there, and now we would appear to have the perfect opportunity.  As soon as I notified Aileen that the show for next year has now been confirmed, she immediately wrote back to say she has already been thinking of the kind of works she would like to submit for a show in Marta’s gallery.  She also sent the image of a new charcoal drawing in her ongoing series on the whale’s skin that has just gone on display in a juried show at Danforth Art in Framingham, Massachusetts.  It is called Carbuncles of Skin and shows this very prolific artist at the very top of her form.

Aileen Callahan, Carbuncles of Skin, 2015

Aileen Callahan, Carbuncles of the Skin, 2015

It’s amazing how exhibitions happen or don’t happen in ways that cannot be predicted.  Emma Rose and I had hoped for a Moby show in 2015 in the Main Gallery at NKU that was turned down by the Faculty Advisory Committee there, causing us to seek another venue that would have been the Covington Arts Gallery at its Seventh Street building had that venue not been sold to a microbrewery after making our show part of its 2015-16 season.  Then, when the new Covington Arts Gallery site on Pike Street proved to be much too small for our proposed Moby show and Marathon, we found the Covington Public Library, which turned out to be far superior to what any of the other venues would have been.

Cov Library Still005

Covington branch of Kenton County Public Library. Video still courtesy Numediacy

The CAC and Marta Hewett shows I am now helping to plan for 2016 have followed a similar errant trajectory.  My original impetus for contacting either of these galleries more than two years ago was the decision of the Cincinnati Opera to mount Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center, literally half a block away from the CAC, in June 2016.  That decision by Cincinnati Opera had prompted me to seek out sites for four different Moby-Dick art shows that could run in nearby Cincinnati venues concurrent with the opera production—one at the CAC, one at the 21c hotel adjacent to the CAC, one at the Weston Gallery adjacent to the Aronoff performance space, and one at the Marta Hewett Gallery.  I had made considerable progress in proposing shows to each of these venues, but I was a afraid last fall, when Cincinnati Opera suddenly decided it would have to postpone Heggie and Scheer’s opera for several years, that the four art venues would postpone any plans of their own.  It was doubly gratifying when Steven Matijcio decided to propose the Kish and Del Tredici Moby show to his board for 2016 even in the absence of the opera—and when Marta Hewett said she would want to go ahead with her show if the CAC went ahead with its.  It was actually during the weekend of our recent Moby-Dick Arts Fest in late April 2015 that the CAC announced Kish and Del Tredici for April through August of 2016, opening the way for the visits to Steven Matijcio and Marta Hewett made to our Covington show before it closed on May 15.

Lobby of the Contemporary Arts Center, newly renovated in 2015

Lobby of the Contemporary Arts Center, newly renovated in 2015

snuggles over our fireplace

Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane auditioning over my dining room fireplace

Things have continued to develop quickly since the May 15 walk-through with Marta Hewett.  I had taken Mary Belperio’s Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane home to Bellevue from the Covington show until I could find time to return it to her.  When I met her at a coffee shop near her Price Hill home the next weekend, I was happy to tell her that Marta Hewett was indeed having a Moby show next year to which Mary could submit the new fabric piece of Queequeg’s head she had been contemplating for some time now.  As we spoke about some of the other artists likely to be involved, and about the NKU Symposium in which she and Abby had both made presentations, she was very interested in hearing about the new work that Abby was herself contemplating for the Marta Hewett show.  She also realized that she had taught Abby’s daughter Kalli to swim at a pool on Price Hill several years ago.  As a result, Mary and Abby are now planning to meet periodically and maybe even to collaborate in some way as they each create new work for 2016.  Since I had Mary’s Snuggles piece at my house for a week before returning it to her at Price Hill, I gave it an audition on the brick wall over my dining room fireplace.  If Mary should ever agree to sell it (her two daughters would very much miss it), I would love to add it to my collection and take it out to school each time I teach the “Counterpane” chapter.

Nothing is more exciting to me as an English-teacher turned curator than to think of new works being created for new exhibitions.  In addition to Abby and Mary now sharing ideas in Cincinnati about what they might create for the Marta Hewett show, Kathleen Piercefield is generating new ideas of her own while taking an advanced printmaking class from Andrea Knarr over the summer.  And Veronica Mitchell’s daughter Monica is actually in the process of finishing new Moby-Dick works I have not yet seen.  When I first thought two years ago of helping to organize a Marta Hewett show as a companion to the opera production then scheduled for Cincinnati, I was thinking of a show consisting primarily of local works already then existing, many of which have now recently been shown in Moby Comes to Covington.  There are certainly many works from the Covington show that would do very at Marta Hewett show, where I expect a number of them would be sold.  But it now appears that that show is likely to have a very strong contingent of new works now gestating in the minds and hearts of local artists such as Mary, Abby, Kathleen, and Monica in addition to Aileen in Massachusetts and Claire in France.  If I had to float a title for the 2016 show now, it would be “Moby-Dick through Women’s Eyes, Minds, Hearts, and Hands.”

Poster for April 2015 exhibition of Robert Del Tredici's nuclear photographs Quebec City

Poster for April 2015 Del Tredici exhibition in Quebec City

While all of these new creative energies have begun to point to the newly confirmed Marta Hewett show, Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici are of course thinking a lot about new Moby-Dick works they will be generating in advance of next year’s CAC show.  Seeing Matt four days in a row at the recent Moby Arts Fest, as well as well as at the farewell gam in my Bellevue home, gave me a good chance to hear more about what he is currently planning.  Robert Del Tredici has recently been very busy creating major photography exhibitions in Boulder, Colorado, as well as in Toronto and Quebec City in Canada.  Last week, after giving the keynote address at a conference on Critical Topography at Reyerson University in Toronto on May 22, Bob wrote to let me know that he currently has “Ten Moby Dicks on the assembly line in the cave.”

Anticipating the Moby-Dick art that might be filling the spaces of the Contemporary Arts Center and the Marta Hewett Gallery one year from now is quite a bit like wondering early in the semester what kind of projects might be be presented at the end of course in Moby-Dick and the Arts.  And in some ways following the process is as interesting as seeing the final result.  It is what happens in the classroom between the first week of class and the presentations during the last two weeks that shapes what gets created.  The same is somewhat true of the two exhibitions now being planned for next year.  Kish and Del Tredici may not be seeing each other in the meantime, but they met each other at NKU in November 2013, long before Steven had chosen them for the CAC in 2016.  They will be thinking of each other, and of each other’s work, as they prepare for Cincinnati, and they will both be in touch with Steven and me as co-curators.

Robert Del Tredici and Matt Kish inscribing books to each other in November 2013

Robert Del Tredici and Matt Kish inscribing books to each other in November 2013

Some of the artists who are creating works for the Marta Hewett Gallery will be getting together in advance of this show.  Aileen Callahan has just confirmed that she will again be visiting Cincinnati for her sister’s guitar festival.  When Aileen and I meet for lunch in mid-July, we will invite local Moby artists who are creating new work for the Marta Hewett show to join us for lunch as well as a visit to the gallery.  If these plans come to fruition, that afternoon of gestatoin might be as exciting, in its way, as the final delivery that will be celebrated on opening night next year.  By the end of that show, we might all end up as close to each other as my students often are after presenting their work to each other at the end of a semester.  During the final exam period I give the class an informal, handwritten examination in which they all answer a series of questions about each other’s final projects.  The way they articulate their admiration for what their classmates have created is always another of the highlights of the course.

2013 Moby & Arts class commenting on each other's creations in final exam period

2013 Moby & Arts class responding to each other’s creations in final exam period

Taking Down Exhibitions

Entry begun on Friday, May 29, 1:35 pm

taking down emily 1 The Dickinson exhibition ended on Saturday, May 8, one week before the Moby exhibition ended on Saturday, May 15, so Emma Rose and I took them down on two successive Mondays, May 11 and May 18.  It is so much easier to take an exhibition down than to install it.  We were fortunate in that there had been no damage to any of the works in either show.  So all we had to do was to take each work down carefully and return it to the owner or site we had borrowed it from.

taking down emily 3 I felt a twinge of sorrow taking down our four beautiful Dickinson fabric pieces from the Eva G. Farris Reading Room, but it was great to see Lindsay Alley’s white poem dress and Stacey Barnes’ dramatic garden quilt back in their permanent home in the Honors House.  Among the Portrait pieces, I will miss seeing Nicci Mechler’s larger-than-life image of Dickinson in my office (where I had been keeping it until the exhibition went up), but now I will have my newly framed copy of Sarah Dewald’s Modern Daguerreotype as a treasured replacement.  From our Landscape section, Zack Ghaderi’s abstract charcoal drawing will be returning to Emma Rose’s collection, and Jovana Vidojevic’s purple lilac painting is following Jovana back to Serbia in the hands of a friend who has agreed to be its courier.  Among the works in our Human Figure section, John Campbell has reclaimed his large Bandaged Soul drawing, and his ten-panel Emily Dickinson screen will soon be going on display at the Cincinnati Public Library.  Of the works in the cases on the Third Floor of the library, Carola Bell’s artist book Only Safe in Ashes will now be returning to the person from whom she had borrowed it before loaning it to me for safekeeping in advance of the show.

taking down email 2 gasry takes down QQThe Dickinson show had only taken about an hour deinstall, but the Moby take-down was a little more complicated.  We chose Monday as the primary day because we could both be there as long as we needed, beginning with the opening of the building at 9 am, and we did need most of the day to get it done.  One huge help was that Kathleen Piercefield arrived very early in the day to disassemble her larger-than-life Queequeg and to gather all of the other works she had loaned to show (which included Holly Doyle McAtee’s Queequeg as well as eight other Piercefields beyond the four I had loaned to the show from my office).  Gary Pilkington was exceedingly helpful, as always.  This time he was the one who crawled over the rock garden railing.  Gary freed Queequeg from the light standard that had supported him so nicely.  This rendered Queequeg a loose fish once more, but only briefly, because Kathleen had to break him into his eight component parts so he would fit in the back of her car.

QQ in  trunk 2

freeing shear 2Since we were starting by removing Queequeg and its four companions from the base of the rock garden, my next challenge was to free Danielle Kleymeyer’s Shear from its attachment to a bracket over the stairwell.  This painted metallic relief by a Political Science major now practicing law in Louisville had been one of the stars of the show, twisting slowly in the air currents and giving viewrers plenty of opportunity to see both the pristine white Moby side and the darker, fractured Ahab side.  I am very happy that Shear, too, will be returning to its permanent home in the Honors House, but I wish we had a place there, such as we did here, in which both sides could be easily visible.  This work is not very heavy, so it did not feel like having a marlin on the line once I got hold of it, but it was very sharp and quite delicate, so I did have to be quite careful when freeing it from our fishline and wrestling it in over the rail.

freeing shear 5

kathleen reaches for QQShear would be going out to NKU with the other larger sculptural pieces, so for this day I had again borrowed Joan’s Chevy Equinox.  As before, Shear would go down as the lowest layer of art behind the driver’s seat, followed by Abby’s two body casts and whatever else could be fit in the vehicle for this trip.  We had had to remove Abby’s Life-Buoy from its position suspended over the east edge of the rock garden in order for Gary to lower Kathleen’s Queequeg down to the floor below, so I had temporarily hung the Life-Buoy on the ledge near Abby’s Queequeg in her Coffin I.  In doing so, I realized that these two shapes had only had a chance to hang together once before, at Gallerie Zaum in 2009.  QQ I was now on her way back to my office at NKU, with her younger sister QQ II going back to her perch over the stairwell at the Honors House.  Life-Buoy would be returning to her creator/mother’s home in the Delhi area of west Cincinnati, where she hangs in a hallway and is apparently unfazed by accidental bumps from people in a hurry.  Abby reports that Kalli still seems to feel a particular attachment to this shell and container of her early life.

 

QQ1 and Life Buoy 2When I worked with longshoremen in Seattle during the summer of 1967 after completing my M. A. in English in New York, I was not as strong as most of my companions as we loaded heavy equipment into an LST for a voyage to Alaska.  I did, however, learn one principle from my fellow workers that has served me very well ever since: you can carry a lot more than you think, without hurting your back, if you have the same amount of weight in both hands.  One of the first healthy applications I made of that rule was to begin carrying multiple tote bags to and from school instead of the beautiful leather brief case my Dad have given me as a graduation present when I got my Ph. D.  That leather brief case was pretty heavy in itself, but when I was teaching four courses a semester in the 1970s and sometimes carrying a heavy anthology for each of the four, my back got sore in a hurry, and not just from being hunched over grading papers.  It was considered rather unmanly to ditch the professorial briefcase for a handful of tote bags, then considered womanly, but they were almost weightless in themselves and made it very easy to evenly distribute the load.  When we freed Abby’s first body cast from the fishline, there was really nowhere to place it, so I asked Emma Rose if she could hold it in the air until I freed the second–after which it was easier to walk up the stairs and out to the Equinox with one in either hand than it would have been to take them down and then out of the building in any other way.

with abby's casts

Once I had Danielle’s Shear sculpture and Abby’s two body casts flat in the back of the Equinox, I had room for Nancy Vagedes’s ceramic white whale to ride in the passenger seat next to me.  Remembering that Emma Rose had put Landon Jones’s wax sculpture of Ahab’s head in a seat belt when driving him around, I decided to the same with Nancy’s ceramic whale, for I certainly would not want it to go “forehead to forehead” with my glove compartment if I had to make a quick stop.  Nor would I have wanted to knock Captain Ahab and his whaleboat off of Nancy’s beautiful ceramic sea (especially after having now met Nancy’s son at the reception, he presumably having been in 1997 the ten-year old son who had helped her fashion Ahab’s little harpoon).  The drive up to the school with this precious cargo was uneventful.  Dave Kime at the Honors House helped me get Shear and Queequeeg in her Coffin II back in their customary spots.  I carried Queequeg in her Coffin I and Nancy’s ceramic depiction of Captain Ahab’s Worst Nightmare from the Equinox up to my office one at a time, for even a longshoreman might have had trouble balancing these two works in separate hands.

Nancy Vagedes, Captain Ahab’s Worst Nightmare, in the passenger seat

Nancy Vagedes’ White Whale sculpture in the passenger seat

ERT tales dpmw CS AhabBack at the library, Emma Rose was very efficient at removing velcroed paintings from the wall on the Children’s level and harvesting other 2-D works from our small cabinet-top easels and from the metallic slats on the walls, pillars, and book stacks.  Gary had brought several long tables into the meeting room on which we could set the works as we took them down.  It was kind of fun to fish the seven quilts up from over the balcony.  The only significant delay we had in taking down the show was caused by the plastic loops we had used to lash some of the larger artworks to the tripods on which they were displayed.  These loops proved too tough to cut through with scissors, a situation Gary remedied by finding us some wire cutters.  Emma Rose had the honor of removing Caitlin’s Captain Ahab creations from the tripods near the north window on the Third Floor, since she had had the original inspiration to display them there.

First page of A Closer Reading by Tony de los Reyes

First page of A Closer Reading by Tony de los Reyes

We left the smaller works in the display case for last, and the last of those to be removed were the tea cups in Danielle’s tea set.   Sitting alone in the otherwise empty case, they reminded me of A Closer Reading, the found poem that artist Tony de los Reyes had composed from words he extracted from “Loomings,” the opening chapter of Moby-Dick.  Except that he had not actually extracted them.  He had instead left each chosen word where it was on the page of the novel on which he had found it, removing instead all other words that had surrounded it, resulting in a minimalist presentation similar to that of Danielle’s tea cups bereft of their neighbors in the display case.  Danielle’s ceramic cups are pretty durable, but I wrapped each one separately in a sheet of newspaper before gently putting it in a box for the trip back home to my Bellevue dining room, where they remain almost as close to Nancy Vagedes’ 2001 Moby-Dick Anniversary Dish as they were in the exhibition..

Danielle's tea set in nearly empty case

Danielle’s tea set in nearly empty case

Once we had all of the works off of the walls, tripods, balcony rails, and stack fronts, as well as out of the rock garden and display case—and in once case out of a closet—there wasn’t much to do but take all of the works now on the tables of the meeting room out to my office at the University or to my home in Bellevue.  Joan’s Equinox was well suited to this task, and the trunk of Emma Rose’s car was full, so I happily gave her the afternoon off while I transported works to one destination or another, in many cases hanging them, or placing them, where they had been hung or placed before.  At home, Joan is known as the thoroughbred and I am the Clydesdale.  This was my Clydesdale afternoon.

Some of the works that individual artists had loaned to the show I brought home to deliver to them later.  The one work that had been boxed up in a closet in the library after the Marathon weekend went onto a long suspended shelf in my basement because I had nowhere else to store it.  I needed every inch of Joan’s Equinox to get Christopher Roach’s life-size drawing of himself as Ahab wearing only his peg leg home to Bellevue.  The coffin-like box covered with a black plastic bag looks a little uncomfortable there in the basement, the way we 38th Voyagers first felt when we crawled into our below-deck bunks on the whaleship Charles W. Morgan last summer, but I am glad I have at least this place in which to store it as a “sleeping-partner” until the next opportunity comes to bring it up to be seen.  As for Ahab’s peg leg and leg harness from the base of the rock garden, there’s a nice spot for them in the corner of my study here at home.

Christophers Ahab drawing rolled up in a box on a shelf in my basement

Christopher’s Ahab drawing in a box and black hood in my basement

caitlin with captain ahab 2

Caitlin on the day we installed her Captain Ahab creations in early April

When I got back to the library from one of my trips home in the mid-afternoon, I took a break from the from the transport of artworks for a meeting in the office of branch manager Julia Allegrini. Like everyone else, my wife Joan, a sociologist, had been extremely impressed with how this particular library serves its wide range of patrons.  She and Julia and I were meeting with Jay and Caitlin of Numediacy to discuss the possibility of some kind of video documentation of what this library does.  After the meeting, Jay and Caitlin and I spoke a little about the YouTube video they were to be making of the four-day Moby Fest, and Caitlin reclaimed the three sets of Moby photos that had made such a strong impression in the Local History room.  I expect we will be seeing these on display again here in the Greater Cincinnati area before too long.

The last hours, days, and week of an exhibition are always bittersweet, especially if it has gone well.  You are happy you have been able to show the works you had selected and installed, but sad that they must come down.  One of the pleasures Emma Rose and I had during the last week of this particular exhibition was to walk through the show in the company of two of Cincinnati’s leading art professionals.  Steven Matijcio of the Contemporary Art Center came to see the show on Tuesday evening, and Marta Hewett of the Marta Hewitt Gallery came on Friday afternoon.  Seeing the show with each of them eased some of the dissonance of not having been granted this courtesy by the art faculty who critiqued Emma Rose’s BFA Senior Show.

 

Ernst House, MEL Camp, Numediacy

Entry begun Wednesday, May 27, 9:45 pm

The month of April was so completely devoted to the installation of Moby Comes to Covington; the presentations of our work to the Celebration, Honors Capstone, Senior Show and WVXU audiences in advance of the Art Fest itself; the preparations for the kick-off Symposium at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Marathon Reading at the Covington Public Library, the all-day Symposium at NKU, and the Reception for guest speakers and student artists back at the Covington libary—all of this followed by the four-day marathon of the Arts Fest itself—that I had had very little chance to do any extensive work on the book I am writing on Frederick Douglass in Cincinnati.  I had learned in early April that the editors of an excellent press to whom I had submitted a substantial part of my manuscript had sent it on to two external referees for a recommendation. This review process often takes at least two months, so this had left me free to work on everything related to the Moby-Dick Art Fest while I was waiting for the publisher’s verdict.   I am still waiting now to hear from the publisher, but in the four weeks since the Arts Fest ended I have been getting back into the Douglass project in some exciting ways while also trying to catch up with the Arts Fest itself in my blog.

springtime view of house 2015My return to the Douglass project began the day after the Arts Fest ended when I drove Beth Schultz to the home of Sarah Behrendt, a lifelong friend from a lake in Michigan at which their families had summered together ever since Beth and Sarah, both in their late seventies now, were little girls.  Sarah lives in the Green Hills township about fifteen miles northwest of Cincinnati and Beth wanted to be there by noon, so that left the morning free to take her to the house overlooking Mill Creek in which Andrew and Sarah Ernst had entertained Frederick Douglass on his first visit to Cincinnati in 1850—and also to grave site in Spring Grove Cemetery a few miles to the north in which Andrew Ernst had been buried in 1860, followed by Sarah in 1882.  I had been sharing highlights of my research into the Cincinnati collaboration of Douglass and the Ernsts with Beth over the phone for two years now, and it was wonderful to able to show her these remarkable sites in which my local research and story were anchored.  I was glad we were able to make a leisurely visit to each site, because I learned a lot by having Beth with me.  In the manuscript I had recently submitted to the publisher, the photo I had inserted of the Ernst house had been taken in December; the large tree that shelters the front of the house was leafless.  On this beautiful April day it was sprouting fresh green leaves.

south side chimneysBeth has an eye for nineteenth-century history, and for the creatures of the natural world, as keen as her eye for Moby-Dick art.  We began by walking behind the house and looking at the steep hillside on which Andrew Ernest had carved out the Spring Garden Nursery that by the 1840s had made him the “pioneer horticulturalist of the West.”  That hillside is still essentially uninhabited (except for a Self-Storage compound at its foot) and Beth immediately identified the species of the hawk that slowly circled the hilltop before landing in a tall tree. When we turned our attention to the side of the house seen from the plateau that stretches to the south, she immediately observed that the three evenly spaced chimneys indicated that each of the interior rooms had its own chimney, which would help in dating the house itself.

beth with horseshoeTurning our attention to the land surrounding the house, Beth noticed a little wooden shed with some horseshoes on its roof.  She picked up several horseshoes and immediately saw brand names that would help an expert to date them.  She also picked up one that had no name—and that appeared to be much older than the others because it had square rather than round holes. This made her think this horseshoe might possibly date from the time of Douglass’s first visit to this house, when he arrived by horse and carriage.  When I returned a week later with two other companions and met the man who lives in a nearby house, which probably dates from the 1880s, I learned that he had himself brought all but one of these horseshoes onto the property—but that the one with the square holes was a much older horseshoe because it had belonged to the man who owned his house before he did, who was a hoarder of old artifacts from the site.

beth holds old horseshoe 2

brick imprintsWe had plenty to see down in front of the house too.  Beth noticed that some of the stonework was very rough-hewn, suggesting a possible origin in the first half of the nineteenth century.  She pointed out that the stone wall leading to the house along Ernst Street had decorative elements denoting wealth.  In the parts of the front wall that were brick not stone, she noticed the names of several brickmakers cut into the top of the brick itself, which would help with dating.  And she noted on the ground beyond the stone wall some rectangular stones with a sculpted design resembling drapery (which also might date back to the time of the Ernsts and indicate something about their taste).

beth says drapery patterns

Beth noticed other telling details when we crossed Ernst Street and descended the steep steps where the surviving stonework suggests the pond with the golden fish and the water lilies that nineteenth-century visitors such as William Brisbane and Frederick Douglass described with such enthusiasm.  But even apart from these details, she was surprised and impressed by how much of the land of the original nursery surrounding the house remains undeveloped today.  This, plus the beautiful views up the forested hill behind the house and across Mill Creek Valley to the mansions of Clifton Heights, and following Mill Creek to the north in the direction of the Spring Grove cemetery—all of these things made Beth think, even more than I had, of this house and its surrounding grounds as a prime candidate for historical preservation and renovation.

View from Ernst House across to Clifton Heights in winter

View from Ernst House across to Clifton Heights in winter

Side by side in Spring Grove, April 2015

Side by side in Spring Grove, April 2015

From the Spring Garden house we drove to Spring Grove Cemetery to see the gravestones of Andrew and Sarah Ernst side by side in front of the imposing monument to Andrew.  The memorial sculpture is in the shape of a truncated tree on a huge boulder into which are carved ivy, acorns, and flowers under a scroll declaring Durch Tod zum Leben (Through Death to Life).  Andrew Ernst had been one of the founders of Spring Grove Cemetery in the 1840s and many of the trees in its beautifully landscaped expanse had come from his nursery.  I was very happy to be able to visit this site with Beth after our visit to Spring Garden.  I had been hoping to show her where William Brisbane’s daughter had been buried in 1845 but I had not brought my map of the cemetery on this visit and we were not able to find the plot we were looking for on the crest of one of the cemetery hills.  During our visit I learned a lot from Beth about the recent movement toward natural burial of unprocessed deceased bodies in view of the ecological damage done by cremation.  Lawrence, Kansas, the city in which she lives, is apparently one of the first to provide this natural burial option to citizens who request it.

Beth Schultz with Andrew Ernst monument, April 28, 2015

Beth Schultz with Andrew Ernst monument, April 28, 2015

beth with friend 2 +

Beth Schultz and Sarah Behrendt in Green Hills on April 28

Although we had a straight shot up Winton Road from Spring Grove into Green Hills, it took quite a long time to get there.  This northwest quadrant of the Greater Cincinnati area is the one I know least.  Driving through it gave me a greater sense of the distance and terrain fugitive slaves aided by the Ernsts and other Cincinnati abolitionists would have traversed on the way to their next safe house on their desperate flight north of the Ohio River (with Canada being the only truly safe refuge after the passage of the new Fugitive Slave Law in 1850).  Nearly adjacent to Green Hills was Springdale, which had been the home of John Van Zandt, the abolitionist farmer who had aided fugitives in the 1840s and had been arrested and fined for doing so in spite a vigorous defense by Salmon P. Chase that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  Van Zandt lost his case and eventually had his property confiscated, but his humanitarian courage was memorialized in the character of Van Trompe who aids Eliza after her escape across the Ohio River in the early chapters of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, whose serialized publication began in 1851.

The flowering tree in the above photo of Beth and Sarah in Green Hills reminded me of how dazzled Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison had been by the blossoming apple and peach trees at Spring Garden when they came to speak at Sarah Ernst’s Anti-Slavery Conventions in late April of 1852 and 1853, respectively.  (Spring came much later to Rochester and Boston.)  After leaving Beth to spend the night with her friend Sarah, I swung around over into northern Kentucky on I-275 and delivered Moby-Dick catalogs to two of the students who had been unable to come to the Arts Fest.

Site of MEL Camp5 at MIT

Site of MEL Camp5 at MIT

On Thursday, April 30, the day after Beth flew back to Kansas, I flew to Boston for MEL Camp5, the fifth meeting of the devoted group of Melville scholars and technical support personnel who have been developing the Melville Electronic Library for more than five years under the leadership of John Bryant and Wyn Kelley with the support of planning and implementation grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The first meeting had been held on John’s home campus at Hofstra University on Long Island near New York City.  This was our second meeting at Wyn’s home campus at M. I. T. (Massachusetts Institution of Technology) in Cambridge.  From the beginning we had been working in four groups who were to be developing content relating to selected Melville texts that that could eventually be activated within an Electronic Library that could be accessed on our website from anywhere around the world.

Wyn Kelley getting MEL Camp5 up and running

Wyn Kelley getting MEL Camp5 up and running

This fifth MEL Camp was a breakthrough for the project because our team of technical advisors had developed a MEL Cat electronic platform that will allow members of each working group to upload documents and information in a way that can be easily accessed and utilized by any member of the entire MEL Camp team.  Until now we had had to share our findings through individual Dropbox accounts in a process that was often inconvenient and unwiedlly, especially given that the entire initiative is being driven by scholars living far across the country from each other and who are seldom able to meet in person.  For someone as technologically challenged as I am, these camps are a wonderful opportunity to experience new developments in the project in a way that I can (mostly) understand, and to interact with technical personnel from whom I can learn in a hands-on way.

MEL Art team at work.  Photo courtesy Mary Isbell

MEL Art team at work. Photo courtesy Mary Isbell

From Thursday evening into the early afternoon on Saturday we had keynote addresses, panel discussions, technical workshops, and work sessions in which each group could integrate new members and move ahead with its own particular project now that MEL Cat and other new technological advances were to be available.  Our working group on Art has two new co-chairs, Les Harrison from Virginia Commonwealth University and Colin Dewey from California Maritime Institute.  We also have our first member of teaches high school, Jeff Markham, who had just given such a fine presentation on the projects done by his students New Trier High School at our NKU Symposium on Moby-Dick and the Arts earlier in the week.  MEL Camp has always been attended by a wide variety of college and university teachers from throughout the country, but we were all very excited to have such an outstanding high school educator as an active member.  Those of who operate the Melville Society Cultural Project in New Bedford had first been impressed Jeff when he attended the Moby-Dick Marathon at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in January 2014, and the invititions to the NKU Sumposium and MEL Camp5 had quickly followed.

table mates 2

Mary Isbell of the University of New Haven and Dawn Coleman of the University of Tennessee at our Friday night dinner

Five of our six members of the Cultural Project in New Bedford—Wyn Kelley, Chris Sten, Tim Marr, Mary K. Bercaw, and myself—were at this MEL Camp meeting.  We will all be seeing each other again in Tokyo at the end of June for the 10th Biennial International Melville Society Conference, which will also be attended by Beth Schultz, Sam Otter, and Don Dingledine from the recent NKU Symposium.  It is such a blessing to have colleagues like these with such wide-ranging interests and such dedication to one another and to our field.  I know from experience that this is not always the case in other single-author societies.  I would like to think that we owe much of our collegiality to the all-embracing spirit of Melville himself, but some of the past history of our Society proves that that itself is no guarantee.  The leadership of John Bryant and Wyn Kelley certainly has had much to do with the collaborative ethos among those who have been attending each successive MEL Camp, literary scholars and tech wizards alike.  We had leisurely, spirited dinners both nights in Cambridge, and I am sure everyone left this Camp inspired and energized about what we will now be able to create.

Jay and Caitlin with double-screen video at opening of Weston show

Jay and Caitlin with double-screen video at opening of Weston show

Soon after getting back from MEL Camp, I had an opportunity to visit the Ernst House and Spring Grove with Caitlin Sparks and Jay Gray of the Numediacy art partnership I have commissioned to produce a YouTube video about the four-day Moby-Dick Arts Fest (the first cut of which I will soon be seeing as I write this present blog entry in late May).  I wanted Caitlin and Jay to see the Ernst House because its hillside site is just up the valley from the South Fairmont community they have been documenting in their part of the group exhibition Too Shallow for Diving now at the Weston Art Gallery in downtown Cincinnati.  Their part of the exhibition includes expert photographs of the interior and exterior of numerous nineteenth-century buildings, some of which have long been abandoned, that will be demolished to make way for a sewage-containment and wetlands-creation project that will bring the waters of Lick Run out of a ten-foot diameter pipe back into the light of day as they run down the hill from where William Brisbane used to live in Cheviot, past where Sarah and Andrew Ernst used to live at Spring Garden, into Mill Creek.  In addition to photographs of historic buildings, Caitlin and Jay made videos of the existing community activities and facilities in South Fairmont.  They also salvaged discarded artifacts from both abandoned houses and public spaces.  Should there ever be a project to preserve or renovate any element from the Ernsts’ former Spring Garden estate, Jay and Caitlin would be the perfect team to document it, so I wanted them to see the existing site.

Early stone work on Ernst site

Early stone work on Ernst site

I always learn new things by bringing new people to this site.  Jay and Caitllin were amazed that a place of such structural integrity and cultural importance was sitting here, its history essentially unknown, so close to where they have been working in South Fairmont.  Once we got to the site Jay realized that he has been seeing this imposing white house every time he drives over Mill Creek on the Western Hills viaduct.  On the day we visited, we were fortunate to meet up with the fellow who lives in the nearby house from which he had salvaged the old horseshoe with the square holes that Beth had seen on the little wooden shed a week before.  Because of their work in nineteenth-century houses in South Fairmont, Caitlin and Jay also had an eye for certain architectural and stylistic details that had escaped my notice.  They were very interested in the clay drainpipes that were threaded through all of the rock walls on the property–from those behind the house, to those fronting the house along what is now Ernst Street, to those in the deep, steep stonework that may have been the foundation of the goldfish pond with lilies that William Brisbane described on this site in the 1850s.  The way someone as sophisticated as Ernst handled water in this natural setting back in the mid-nineteenth setting might be of interest to those working to recreate part of the old Lick Run now in the early twenty-first century.

Gravestone of Andrew Ernsts parents

Gravestone of Andrew Ernst’s parents

We had time on this lovely afternoon to make a quick run up Mill Creek valley to the Ernst burial site at Spring Grove Cemetery.  Fortunately I had learned by now how to take the ramp on State Street to the Western Hills viaduct that would take us right down the Spring Grove exit at the other end.  As we drove north along Spring Grove Avenue we saw a several 19th century industrial buildings scattered among the 20th century ones that made us wonder if any of them dated from the time when Andrew Ernst was traveling to from Spring Garden to Spring Grove and back after the cemetery opened in 1845. I had been to the Ernst family plot several times by now, but I had never seen what Jay discovered behind some very tall hedges up the hill from Andrew’s conspicuous monument: a large memorial stone marking the grave of his father John Zacharias Ernst (1767-1820) and his mother Dorothy Maria Kennen Ernst (1771-1841), “natives of Roringen, Germany.”  Roringen is in central Germany and remained an independent town until it was absorbed by Göttingen in 1973.  Spring Grove was just outside the boundaries of Cincinnati in 1850, much like Roringen in proximity to Göttingen: “The village abuts a large mixed deciduous forest on Metzelbertg (hill) while dropping off onto farmland in the Lutteral (valley) below, in the direction of Göttingen proper” (Wikipedia).

caitlin and jay with redwoodActive ecologists, Jay and Caitlin can recognize species of trees almost as well as Beth recognizes species of birds, and they were delighted to see a little grove of redwoods near the lake across the road from the Ernst family plot.  On this day I had brought my Spring Grove burial map and we were easily able to find the former Brisbane family plot–in which William Brisbane’s dear friends Edward and Julia Harwood are prominently buried–on the crest of the hill overlooking the valley.  I was hoping to find signs of the arbor vitae that Andrew Ernst had planted here near the graves of the two Brisbane children who were buried in this plot in 1845 and 1846, but if such existed, we were unable to find it (the bodies of the Brisbane children themselves had been removed to join that of their father in Wisconsin after his death in 1878).  I had never explored the Harwoods’ monument and related stones with any care, and felt a little closer to their friends the Brisbanes in doing so.  Beyond the beauty of the weather on this early May day, the promise of a new spring season was most beautifully expressed by the fresh green needles on a tall spruce tree.

Harwood monument in former Brisbane plot, winter

Harwood monument in former Brisbane plot, December 2013

What is it about the lives of nineteenth-century figures like Dickinson and Melville, the primary subjects of this blog—or Andrew and Sarah Ernst, the local inspirations for this entry—that speaks so freshly to us today?  One nice thing about a blog is that you do not have to craft a single, perfect answer to that question in order to pass an exam or conclude a book.  You can just keep trying to find the answer as you go.

Fresh needles on spruce tree in Harwood plot, May 2014

Fresh needles on spruce tree in Harwood plot, May 2015

Part 6. Catching Up, Moving On, Looking Ahead

Entry begun Monday, May 25, 10:05 pm

There is something beautiful, yet terrible, about the discipline of writing a blog.  For someone used to writing scholarly books that sometimes take ten years to research and write, two more years to get published, and often another two years to get reviewed, the immediacy of this media is exhilarating.  You can publish it as soon as you write it.  You can write it for an immediate audience, not one a decade and a half hence.  Because of this immediacy you can also aim for instantaneous expression of your thoughts and feelings, hoping that some of the glow of lived life might cling to what you post of what you saw, thought, and felt.  The problem, of course, is that if your subject is itself all-consuming and multi-faceted, and if you are living your life for something more than only the blog while you are trying to write it, you are invariably falling behind.  Tonight is exactly four weeks since our Moby-Dick Arts Fest ended on the evening of Monday, April 27, with our Covington reception and our Bellevue gam, and it was only this weekend that I was able to post that entry and now move on to an account of relevant events that have happened in the four weeks since—before moving on to what is in my immediate, and more distant, future.

In spite of the inherent contradiction of trying to give an instantaneous account of something that may have occurred days, a week, or even a month before, I love the challenge of trying to do so.  There is a certain edge to it like maybe a tight-rope walker feels.  And our consciousness can extend its reach and hopefully preserve its balance in imaginative time longer than our more easily exhaustible bodies are able to do in real time.  I think of two Emily Dickinson poems in this regard.  The first is a late poem, number 1585 in the Johnson edition, dated c. 1883, one of many which her bird song sings for us:

The Bird her punctual music brings
And lays it in its place —
Its place is in the Human Heart
And in the Heavenly Grace —

What respite from her thrilling toil
Did Beauty ever take —
But Work might be electric Rest
To those that Magic make —

What a phrase: “Work might be electric Rest.”  Work can be as refreshing as rest when done for Beauty in the Human Heart.  Toil can be thrilling and electric when the magic makes music that does lay punctually in its place.

ED complete poems pjg Thanks to Thomas Johnson’s own decades of thrilling toil as a scholar, we have had since 1955 the 1775 Dickinson poems that we read at our NKU marathon this February in one collected edition.  But as Emily herself wrote these poems (sometimes more than 300 a year in the early 1860s), they were more like a modern-day blog, posted one after another on the wings of inspiration, often in actual envelopes or notes to her friends, but often written to herself, preserved, tucked away, and sewn together, in hopes someone later might care.  The most blog-like of her writings, perhaps, are those instantaneous phrases she jotted down as they came to her on whatever was handy—a torn envelope, the back of a receipt, the back of a chocolate wrapper—while they were fresh.  These are the Georgeous Nothings that the thrilling toil of Marta Werner had turned into the book of that name just in time for my class in Dickinson and the Arts during the 2014 Spring Semester to savor on one of those graced days in the classroom when “Work might be electric Rest / To those that Magic make—.”

Detail from John Campbell's Gorgeous Nothings Screen for 2015 NKU Dickinson recital

Detail from the Gorgeous Nothings panel of the Emily Dickinson screen that John Campbell created for Kimberly Gelbwasser’s February 2015 song recital after taking my Spring 2014 course

The other poem I am thinking of today in relation to my own current urge to blog is no. 605 in the Johnson edition, one of Dickinson’s several poems about spiders, one of 366 poems she is thought to have written in 1862:

The Spider holds a Silver Ball
In unperceived Hands –
And dancing softly to himself
His Yarn of Pearl — unwinds –

He plies from Nought to Nought –
In unsubstantial Trade –
Supplants our Tapestries with His –
In half the period –

An Hour to rear supreme
His Continents of Light –
Then dangle from the Housewife’s Broom –
His Boundaries — forgot –

The spider is working mainly for himself, out of himself, with no one watching, but he needs something to attach to, so he plants that Yarn of Pearl first here and then there, dancing to traverse the space in between, and from side to side, until the new web is woven, resembling earlier webs in innate design, but adapting to the contingencies of each new time and place, his own equivalent of the “mat-making” process in which “chance, free will, and fate” work “interweavingly together” in Melville’s Moby-Dick.  In Dickinson’s poem, the spider’s “Continents of Light” are easily destroyed by “the Housewife’s Broom,” but he is presumably off to his next work space by then.

A blog entry may not be read at all, but if it is read, the reactions, like the posting itself, can be almost instantaneous–as were the many responses I received yesterday after posting my last Moby-Dick Arts Fest entry.  Of course we do, like the spider, require some external structure on which to weave our web.  If WordPress goes out of business, this blog would be as helpless as the spider web dangling from the housewife’s broom.  This happened to Sarah Dewald shortly after our 2014 Spring Semester class in Dickinson and the Arts.  She had created quite a magnificent blog on the Juxta platform for her final project, but juxta had gone out of business while Emma Rose and I were working on the Dickinson catalog—without informing its users.  This destroyed in one instantaneous, unperceived moment the glorious web of words and images Sarah had woven during the last month of our class.  Fortunately, Emma Rose had harvested some of the blog post title pages before the site went down and was able to include them in a two-page spread for Sarah in our Dickinson catalog.

94-95 Sarah Dewald 2 (1)

After the site went down, I was able to secure from Sarah a digital file of her Modern Daguerreotype photo diptych that I could print and frame for the Dickinson exhibition that Emma Rose and I mounted in early February and took down on May 11. That framed diptych is now in my office at the university.  When I teach my first graduate class in Dickinson and the Arts in the fall, I will be table to lift it off the wall, carry it down the corridor and across the hall, and hang it in the classroom for a new group of students who will be creating research papers and creative projects of their own in response to the poems in the Johnson edition.

Sarah Dewald, Modern Daguerreotype, 2013, created for her blog Dickinson and the Arts, no longer available on juxta.

Sarah Dewald, Modern Daguerreotype, 2014, created for her blog Dickinson and the Arts, no longer available on Juxta.

22-Minute Video of 4-Day Moby Arts Fest

Before the four-day Moby Fest began, I commissioned Numediacy to make a video that they could upload to the web so I could post it to this blog.  They aimed for about 22 minutes because that would be a good length for submission to a PBS station or a film festival. It is wonderful to see two former students create such an artful film from such a wide range of materials.  I envy their talent of artful compresssion.

Jay Gray was a student in my ENG 291 composition course, Exploring the Arts, about five years ago.  His artistic partner, Caitlin Sparks, took my class in Moby-Dick and the Arts during the 2011 Spring Semester.  Together, they had the perfect combination of skills and experience for delivering what they saw and heard in all three venues with ease and acuity. Their film was posted on the home page of the Melville Society website the day I sent it for consideration and immediately received high praise from Melville scholars throughout the country..

Moby Exploration from Numediacy on Vimeo.