Entry begun on Friday, July 24, 8 am
In his 1850 essay “Hawthorne and his Mosses,” Melville suggested that “Shakespeares are this day being born on the banks of Ohio.” This rather brash assertion by the young American then writing the early chapters of Moby-Dick is also a pointed response to an assertion by Sir Joshua Reynolds, deceased leader of England’s London’s Royal Academic of Art. In his Discourses on Art, Reynolds had ridiculed the “opinions of people” on “the banks of the Ohio” who are far removed from “the refined, civilized state in which he live” in London. I will post here my photo of the banks of the Ohio, looking across to northern Kentucky from Cincinnati, on June 21, 2015, the day before I flew to Japan.
After having proofread much of this blog on the flight to Japan on June 22-23, I was drafting a new Introduction for my book on Frederick Douglass in Cincinnati as I flew home on July 3. On the day before I flew to Japan, I had received two reader reports from the press that is considering the manuscript. The readers had liked my subject, my research, and the potential of the book, but they and the press wanted the book to be shorter than the length to which it is heading. And the press wanted fewer illustrations than I was hoping to use. (One of the great things about a blog is that you can use as many images as you need.) I was glad to get these reports before I flew to Tokyo because that gave me an opportunity to discuss the situation with two colleagues whose advice I greatly admire. I spoke with Bob Levine between two sessions at the conference, and with Sam Otter on the bus to Kamakura. I hope that the new draft that I began to write as I flew home will lead to a more streamlined, yet substantial, book.
I was happy, soon after returning home, to receive the new 2015 issue of the Daguerreian Society Quarterly that includes my newest spin-off from the Douglass and Cincinnati project, an esay about daguerreotypes of the anti-slavery lecturer Lucy Stone that I discovered in manuscript boxes among the Blackwell Family Papers at the Library of Congress. Some of the written material in the manuscript boxes had enabled me to attribute two of the images to Cincinnati’s African-American photographer J. P. Ball—and to date them within a year of Stone’s joint appearance with Frederick Douglass at Sarah Ernst’s three-day Anti-Slavery Convention in April 1854.
In 2014 I had reproduced another newly attributed image by Ball in the Daguerreian Society Quarterly, this one a triple daguerreotype Ball had taken of Cincinnati abolitionists Edward Harwood, William Brisbane, and Levi Coffin in 1853. I had been thinking of Brisbane a lot while I was in Japan because of the praying black parishioners who were murdered in Charleston’s “Mother” church earlier in June. Brisbane was a former slaveholder and Baptist preacher from South Carolina who had freed his slaves and moved to Cincinnati in 1838, where he was a tireless anti-slavery advocate until moving to Wisconsin in 1853. Throughout his time in Cincinnati Brisbane was very active in the city’s black as well as white Baptist churches–another reason I kept thinking of his interracial legacy as the news continued to come for South Carolina. Last week I sent an opinion piece on Brisbane as “Cincinnati’s South Carolinian Abolitionist” to one national newspaper, one in South Carolina, and one in Ohio. If any of them decide to publish it, I will mention that in this or a subsequent entry.
One week after returning home, I greatly enjoyed the lunch and gallery visit I had planned with Aileen Callahan and five local Moby-Dick artists. Except that Aileen was unable to attend. She had an accident at home from which she is recovering nicely now, but which prevented her from flying out to Cincinnati to help her sister Claire with this year’s guitar festival. Kathleen Piercefield was also unable to come, laid low by a cold apparently much worse than the one I brought back from my trip to Japan. The rest of us met as planned. After sharing two large pizzas at Dewey’s near the University of Cincinnati, we caravanned to Marta Hewett’s gallery to learn more about the Moby-Dick show Marta will be hosting in April 2016. Our lunch together was highly enjoyable. Because I know each of these Moby artists so well, and because all of them made presentations at the NKU Symposium on April 27, I had assumed that they all knew each other. But that was not the case, since some had spoken in different sessions of the Symposium. Once Mary had introduced herself to Caitlin by accidentally spilling a full glass of ice water over Caitlin’s skirt, we had a great time sharing ideas about the upcoming exhibition.
Each of these artists had works from the recent Covington show she could potentially contribute to the Marta Hewett show in April show, but each was already planning to create new work to submit for that show. Abby Langdon is projecting an aerial white whale and a tattooed self-portrait fabric piece. Danielle Wallace would like to create the large painting of the wreck of the Pequod that she had envisioned during my class before making her Moby-Dick Tea Set instead. Caitlin Sparks continues to think about a large 3-D sculpture of Moby-Dick that will somehow express her deep ecological concerns. And Mary Belperio is still envisioning a fabric piece of Queequeg’s head, accompanied by an artwork that would connect her current work in the healing arts with Moby-Dick. I would have loved for this lunch to go on and on, as Caitlin continued to dry, but I had told Marta we would try to be there soon after 1 pm.
It was great to have some quality time with Marta and to see the gallery space some of our work will be helping to fill in April. Marta has definitely decided to mount a Moby-Dick show concurrent with the two-man show scheduled for the Contemporary Arts Center. And she likes my idea of her show being an all-female Moby show. Abby, Danielle, Caitlin, and Mary will all be active candidates for such a show—as will be Claire Illouz from France, Aileen Callahan from Cambridge, Kathleen Piercefield from Dry Ridge, and others who may come along. Marta was very interested what those present were currently thinking, and we began to get a pretty good idea of how much work, in what kind of media, might might fit in the available gallery space. Marta invited those present to begin sending her ideas and images as soon as they took shape, so that she and I could begin making selections in January.
My next curatorial meeting was with Steven Matijcio of the Contemporary Arts Center to begin planning the two-man Moby-Dick show, featuring Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici, that he had scheduled from April to August 2016. He welcomed the idea of including Emma Rose Thompson in our planning, to the extent that her schedule allows, so the three of us met in the lobby café of the CAC on the afternoon of Monday, July 20. This meeting, too, was a joy. Steven brought a floor plan of the space designated for the show. Kish and Del Tredici have both created massive bodies of Moby-Dick art to which to which each is still adding new work today, so our first job was to begin to identify available works from their past projects while allowing sufficient room for the new. At this first meeting we identified at least four distinct stages in each artist’s Moby-Dick journey, each of which we would hope to represent well by works available locally, from collections at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and from the artists themselves.
Our current count of available Kishes includes 46 of the original drawings he made for his 2011 book Moby-Dick in Pictures, 12 drawings of individual crew members of the Pequod commissioned by the Melville Society Archive in New Bedford, a projected series of drawings of individual whales in the “Cetology” chapter of the novel he has always envisioned as a major component of the CAC show, and a new series of drawings inspired by the “Extracts” section of the novel he had begun just before I left for Japan (one of which I will post here).
From Del Tredici’s half-century of engagement with Moby-Dick, we have access to about 40 of the pen and inks he drew for the Illustrations to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick he created in the mid-1960s, about a dozen of the twenty large gestural screenprints he made a the turn of the century, and all 45 of the three sets of drawings on “metallic” paper he created between 2013 and 2015, with more still to come. Shortly before our meeting, Del Tredici pulled a rabbit out of his hat by sending Steven images of a number of his photographs of the nuclear industry from the 1980s and 1990s that he now sees as addressing the essence of Moby-Dick. All three of us love this idea and hope to incorporate a suite of these photos, too, in the show. The three of us will meet again in August in NKU’s Steely Library Archive, which holds a rich array of original works by both artists, to begin the process of actually choosing from the images at hand.
Since coming home, I have also been busy proofing the second half of this blog (which I had not taken on the place) while writing and posting entries Japan. Those entries kept getting richer as friends, colleagues, and the conference organizers sent additional images I was able to post. During the last few days I have also made some welcome additions to the Arts Fest entries from earlier in the year. Numediacy sent me links to live recordings individual talks in the April 24 Symposium at the Cincinnati Art Museum they have now edited and posted on Vimeo (which I have now added to the end of my entry for that event). NKU Media services sent me links to the live recordings of the individual speakers in the April 27 Sumposium at NKU that they have edited and posted on YouTube (now inserted in entries for that event). And Kimberly Gelbwasser has now posted two of the Copland songs she sang at the February 13 Dickinson recital on YouTube so that I could insert it in that entry (and post it here). Again, how wonderful it to be able to make such insertions, and revisions, in an ongoing blog.
One very nice surprise came as I was doing all of this catch-up work. After meeting Veronica Mitchell’s daughter Monica at the Covington Marathon and Reception, I had been excited to know that she was about to finish some ceramic works inspired by Moby-Dick. I had hoped to invite her to the July 11 gam with local Moby artists, but I had not been able to get in touch because I did not have an email address and did not know her last name. This week I received an email from Monica Namyar to which she attached images of three new Moby-Dick works, two of which have already been accepted for an exhibition at Xavier University opening in late August. We now have an eighth female artist to consider for the Marta Hewett show. I look forward to seeing her Moby Dick cup and her Queequeg and Ishmael relief in person at the end of next month. In the meantime, I have her permission to post images of them here. The Moby Dick is 5 1/2 inches high. The Queequeg and Ishmael relief is 23 inches wide.
During the first week of my return from Japan, Cincinnati got all the rain we had missed during the rainy season in Japan, often with brutal bursts of overnight thunder. These last three days, however, have been ideal. Low humidity. Clear blue skies. Highs in the low eighteeis. Perfect weather for walking the nearby flood wall in Dayton (clearly visible on the far side of the river in the photo at the beginning of this entry). On the first night I was more or less alone as I walked the wall with dusk coming on. On the second night I had all kinds of company. A coal barge heading upstream in front of Rose Church as the sun went down. Two Latino girls walking with their grandmother, one seven years old, the other five, the elder sharing Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23. And my first Canada geese of the year, first heard squawking in the hillside shadow over on the Ohio side of the river, but suddenly materializing right over my head, with just enough time for me to catch them with my iPhone before they lifted high away into the blue, “too silver for a seam” (J 328).