Continuing to Share the Work, Week 2

Entry begun on Delta Flight 3470 in advance of landing at Logan Airport on Thursday, April 30, 1: 35 PM

After April 17 our exhibition was now officially open and up for all to see during the Covington library’s regular hours.  But for us, the true opening would come with the Arts Fest itself, still six days away.  And before either Emma Rose or I could consider our preparation for the Arts Fest complete, she still had to make two more official presentations of the work we had done, her Honors Capstone presentation on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 22, followed by the official critique of her BFA Senior Show by Art department faculty on the afternoon of Thursday, April 23.  These academic events were now preceded by a more recent addition to our schedule on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 21.  We had been invited to speak about the Moby-Dick Arts Fest on Cincinnati Edition, the interview program hosted and broadcast by WVXU, the local PBS radio affiliate at 91.7 FM.

Photograph of Emma Rose Thompson, Caitlin Sparks, and the author by Jay Gray

Photograph of Emma Rose Thompson, Caitlin Sparks, and the author by Jay Gray

I had been interviewed on Cincinnati Edition in advance of my voyage last summer on the whale ship Charles W. Morgan,  It was even more exciting to be interviewed on the show with Emma Rose about the Moby Fest.  Pete Ridemeyer, the producer, and Mark Heyne, the interviewer, indicated they had room for one more person in the studio, so we invited Caitlin Sparks, who got off work that Tuesday afternoon long enough to join us.  The half-hour interview was recorded as if it were live, but it was actually being taped for broadcast at 1:35 pm on Friday, April 24, the day the Arts Fest itself was to begin with the evening Symposium at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Because Caitlin and Jay Gray were to be documenting the upcoming four-day Arts Fest for a YouTube feature, we asked Pete if it would be ok for Jay to take some footage of the three of us while we were taping the interview.  There was not room for a fifth person in the studio while the interview was underway, but there was room for Jay to take a few candid shots before or after the interview took place.  Furthermore, it would be fine for Jay to take live video footage from outside one of the studio windows while the interview was going on.  Caitlin was allowed to wire herself for sound so that Jay would have a live audio feed during the interview and would not have to match the video he shot with the sound to be made available on the archived radio broadcast.

Caitlin, Emma Rose, and myself in recording studio with Mark Heyne, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

Caitlin, Emma Rose, and myself in recording studio with Mark Heyne, video still courtesy Jay Gray / Numediacy

The interview itself was pretty much a joy.  Emma Rose and Caitlin had never been interviewed by a PBS radio show, and this was only the third time for me (I had been on WVXU for my book on NKU’s women’s basketball team as well as for the whale ship voyage).  Each knew her subject very well, so I had told them it would all go very well once Mark had asked his first couple of questions.  The station threw us a nice curve ball to begin with—by starting the interview with the recorded voice of Orson Welles reading from the “Call me Ishmael” paragraph that opens the novel.  What a pleasure to be on the radio with two students such as these, doing what we all could to inform a broad audience of unseen listeners about Moby-Dick itself, the exhibition, the catalog, the Marathon reading, and the two Symposia, the one that would shortly follow the broadcast itself at the Cincinnati Art Museum on Friday evening, and the all-day symposium at NKU on the Monday (

We all pretty much worked in the major things we had hoped to cover in the interview, and we left the studio very happy for having had this opportunity.  Caitlin had done new thinking about the four photographs she had taken of herself in the Captain Ahab set she had mounted in recycled window frames, and she spoke very effectively about the thoughts and feelings she had expressed through them.  I had found occasion to mention Caitlin and Jay’s Numediacy artistic partnership, and their new show at the Weston Gallery at the Aronoff Center in downtown Cincinnati.  Emma Rose had very expertly directed the conversation from the exhibition, to the catalog, to the Marathon Reading, to the Symposia, making sure that all were mentioned.  The interview was over before we knew it, and here was Jay coming into the studio to take couple of candids of us in headphones, leaving just enough time for me to get a photograph of Emma Rose, Caitlin, and Jay before we all headed back across the river to resume our separate activities in Northern Kentucky.

emma rose, caitlin, jay

Emma Rose and her mother awaiting her Capstone presentation

Emma Rose and her mother awaiting her Capstone presentation

Wednesday, April 22, was another big day for Emma Rose, and for me as her mentor.  She was to make her Honors Capstone presentation on her Emily Dickinson exhibition and catalog.  An Honors Capstone is a six-hour course spread over two successive semesters, and Emma Rose actually done much more than the equivalent of two three-hour courses over the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters.  The title of her Capstone presentation was “I took my Power in my Hand: NKU Students Create Emily Dickinson Art.”  The format was for the student to make a presentation for about 17 of the scheduled 25 minutes, allowing about 8 minutes for questions.  This presenatioin was in room 135 of the University Center, and we had both come here on Monday afternoon for the rehearsal that is required, or at least highly recommended, for each Capstone presenter.  There are a certain number of points to be covered in each Capstone presentation, a specified time in which to cover them, and a specific set of equipment belonging to that particular room.  As soon as Emma Rose had worked through these, I knew she would be ready for Wednesday’s presentation.  Her mother Diane came on Wednesday.  They sat together in a row directly in front of me, and their hair matched in color of a lovely haystack on the screen saver of the video monitor before the presentations began.

I love Honors Capstones because the students come from very different departments and, in one way or another, are trying to reach beyond the boundaries or strictures of their major field of study.  The student who preceded Emma Rose on Wednesday combined Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Computer Graphics in designing labels, logos, and a business strategy for a hypothetical microbrewery inspired by Cincinnati’s Seven Hills.  Emma Rose in her capstone presentation emphasized the design and creation of the Dickinson exhibition and catalog.  She explained how much she had learned by applying for grants, acquiring photographs and digital rights, and bringing together insights and techniques she had acquired from a variety of disciplines (Anthropology, Art, and English), not only in creating the catalog and installing the exhibition, but in planning the lectures by Dickinson artists, the Dickinson song recital, the Marathon Reading, the panel discussion featuring student artists, and the Dickinson Tea Party.

ERT capstone 5

Coming in the midst of the midst of our Moby-Dick preparations, this was an enjoyable way to review what we had done several months ago in our Dickinson project, and it probably assured us both that the many moving parts of our upcoming Moby Fest would indeed come together successfully.  The faculty and students present were very responsive to the range of sources on which Emma Rose had drawn, as well as the range of talents she had shown, in executing this highly ambitious project that had become more and more challenging and satisfying the more we got into it.  These faculty and students were receptive because they were used to thinking and working expansively themselves.  Emma Rose gave special attention to the Zalla Awards from the Honors Program that had enabled us to publish enough copies of the Dickinson catalog to be able to give one to each student artist in the exhibition.

ERT capstone 14

At the end of the Wednesday Capstone presentations, Belle Zembrodt, interim director of the Honors Program, had driven to the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky airport to pick up Don Dingledine, our guest speaker for the next day’s Honors Capstone Convocation.  Don is an English professor from the University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh whom I had met at the International Conference on Herman Melville and Walt Whitman at George Washington University in June 2013.  Don is very devoted to Honors teaching and had published an essay on teaching Moby-Dick as a model of Honors learning that impressed Belle so much she invited him to be this semester’s Capstone speaker.  Because of his interest in Moby-Dick, Don agreed to stay on for the Marathon Reading over the weekend and to be a panelist in our pedagogical session on “Moby-Dick Art in the Classroom” during the all-day Symposium at NKU on Monday, making him a perfect fit for both Belle and me.

downloadjoe's crab shackI had only met Don briefly in Washington, D. C., so I enjoyed the opportunity to have a leisurely lunch before driving him to campus in advance of his Convocation address at 5 pm the next afternoon.  He was staying at Comfort Suites in Newport, Kentucky, less than a mile from my home in Bellevue, and we had only a two-minute walk over to Joe’s Crab Shack overlooking the Ohio River.  Don likes good coffee, so we made another relaxed stop at Avenue Brew in Bellevue before heading out to campus, where I had a three o’clock appointment as the guest committee member on Emma Rose’s critique for her BFA Senior Show in the Art department.

senior show wall 1I had originally expected the critique to take place in the exhibition space in Covington, but this was not the case.  The critique of the show she had curated and installed on all three floors of the Covington branch of the Kenton County Public Library instead took place in the Main Gallery at NKU in which Emma Rose’s two-year project was represented by the Arts Fest poster, her wall text briefly describing the exhibition, and the pedestal with the exhibition catalog and the invitation to the show.  The examiners consisted of Emma Rose’s mentor in the Art department, another Art department faculty member, and myself as a guest examiner.  The protocol, I was told, was for the student BFA candidate to make an opening statement about his or her intentions and process in executing the Senior Show, followed by a series of questions pertaining to such issues as installation techniques, intended audience, appropriateness of the venue, and the relation of the exhibition to the field of Art History.

Entrance to the Prado Museum in Madrid

Entrance to the Prado Museum in Madrid

Senior Show critiques are appropriately intimate and confidential.  They are open only to the candidate and the examiners.  Their purpose is not to reach out to a broader audience in the manner of Emma Rose’s oral presentation of her Senior Show to diverse listeners a week earlier, but rather to address in very specific terms the needs and concerns of the degree-granting department and its examining faculty.  As the guest faculty member in this “critique,” I learned a great deal about the challenges of ambitious interdisciplinary projects for both students and faculty.  Without revealing any details from this confidential critique, it would be fair to say that the two art professors did not share Emma Rose’s feeling that the Covington Public Library was a suitable venue for her exhibition Moby Comes to Covington, nor did they embrace her decision to include Moby-Dick artwork by untrained English and Honors students with that of some of the star artists and alums of their department.  In terms of my own interdisciplinary associations, the dynamics of this critique made me think of a painting by Goya I had seen at the Prado Museum when teaching in Spain in 1976, a scene in a novel by Ken Kesey I began teaching at NKU in the 1970s, and an amendment to the U. S. Constitution I had studied when I was a political science major at Whitman College in the 1960s, planning to be a lawyer.

Don Dingledine delivering his Honors Capstone address

Don Dingledine delivering his Honors Capstone address

One hour after the critique of Emma Rose’s Senior Show ended in the Main Gallery. Don Dingledine gave his Honors Convocation address entitled “’Ahab has his humanities’: Love, Landlessness, and the Liberal Arts” in UC 135.  He used Moby-Dick as the launching pad for a lecture that explored human experience in a variety of disciplines with regard to themes common to Honors learning no matter what the subject.  The “Landlessness” in his title referred to the quest for truth in the novel epitomized by the “Lee Shore” chapter—the need for us to push out beyond boundaries that might constrict or suffocate us, or stunt our intellectual or emotional growth.  “Love,” on the other hand, in the novel as in our lives, is the contrasting value of interconnectedness that is essential even for the “landless” in embracing such human values as empathy and reciprocity.  This talk showed me exactly why Don is an exceptional teacher who is widely admired in the world of Honors learning (and who has won the outstanding teaching award at his university several years in a row).  After his talk I enjoyed a relaxed dinner with Don and Belle at Brio’s restaurant in Newport.

The Honors luncheon at which Capstone students were honored for their work was the next day, Friday, April 24, at noon.  Each Capstone presenter in the room was to receive a substantial medallion for her or his high-level imaginative work.  As these students filtered into the room for the luncheon, I saw each one as embodiment of Don’s “landlessness” (the imaginative ambition of their projects) and “love” (the support from family, friends, and faculty).  Don Dingledine’s charge at the luncheon was to give a short inspirational talk, which he did to perfection, doing something he said he had never done before, speaking from inspiration rather than from a prepared text or detailed outline, the inspiration in this case coming from a chance conversation he’d had with a waiter in Chicago.  I was glad that Emma Rose’s parents were both able to be here to see her be honored for her Capstone project, and it was a great pleasure to be able to sit with them during the ceremony and to see her receive her medallion.

Emma Rose with here parents and Don Dingledine at the Csapstone luncheon

Emma Rose with here parents and Don Dingledine at the Capstone luncheon

Zac Holtkamp with Honors Capstone medallion

Zac Holtkamp with Honors Capstone medallion

Two other Honors Capstone students I enjoyed seeing at the ceremony were NKU athletes Kaitlyn Gerrety and Zachary Holtkamp.  Kaitlyn was a graduation senior and starting center on this year’s very successful women’s basketball team.  The subject of her Capstone presentation was “Diary of Death Row.”  Zac was graduating senior an a leading runner on our men’s cross-country team.  The subject of his Capstone project was “Assessing the Effect of Parasitic Blow Fly Larvae on Carolina Chicadees.”  Zac had been an outstanding student in my Honors Freshman Composition class during the 2011 Fall Semester, and it’s been a pleasure to follow his college career and see the beautiful beard he has grown.

After the ceremony, Emma Rose and I had a chance to speak at some length with Don Dingledine, which in itself was the perfect transition from our weeks of preparation for the Moby Arts Fest to the opening event which was suddenly now only hours away at 6:30 that evening.  Caitlin, Emma Rose, and I were all so busy that afternoon that none of us heard the WVXU broadcast at 1:35 of the interview we had done on Tuesday, but we knew it would be archived on the station’s website for later listening at leisure, when some little leisure might eventually be had.


Beginning to Share the Work, Week 1

Entry begun on Monday, April 20, at 7:30 am

While Emma Rose and I were finalizing the pictorial layout of the show during the week of April 6, we were also attending to the verbal side of things.  Emma Rose began creating labels for the show after we had most of the artwork in place, and I began creating a “finding aid” aid that would help the library staff and patrons locate works in different parts of the building.  The library staff had already been getting a lot of queries about the works themselves and who had created them, so they had been very happy when Emma Rose had labels on most of the works by the end of the week.  For the finding aid I used my amateur photos of the actual installation, rather than the more professional photos Emily Wiethorn had taken of each separate work for the catalog, because this would be more helpful in actually locating works in the building.

Whale wall with labels

Whale wall with labels

On Monday, April 13, we had the first meeting in the exhibition space of the representatives of the four student groups who are going to help us run the Moby Marathon, as they had the Dickinson one.  This was “one of those days.”  Three of the six students who had planned to come could not make it for one reason or another, so it was impossible to complete the planning we had hoped to do for having two people fore each of three four-hour shifts on both Marathon days.  We did get quite a few of the times blocked out, though, and we also made some excellent progress in discussing various food and drink options for the two Marathon days and selecting the menu for the catered reception on the Monday evening.  After doing what business we could, we took a stroll through the exhibition itself and, as always, everyone was impressed.

celebration booklet 2015On Tuesday, April 14, Emma Rose made the first of several presentations she will be making on the joint project that has kept us both so busy for the last two years.  This one was the first of three she is making as part of NKU’s Celebration of Student Research and Creativity. This annual Celebration takes place in the middle of April, and students from my classes in Literature and the Arts have been involved in every one since the very first Celebration in 2002.  In 2002, Melissa Gers, Camilla Asplen, Ellen Bayer, Rob Detmering, and Joel Spencer made a group presentation about the creative projects they had done in my Fall 2001 class in Dickinson and James, all of which were included by then in the website Melissa had made of the work of the entire class (

Joel Spencer, Ellen Bayer, Melissa Gers, Camilla Asplen, and Rob Detmering at NKU's first Celebrartioin of Student Research and Creativity in 2002

Joel Spencer, Ellen Bayer, Melissa Gers, Camilla Asplen, and Rob Detmering at NKU’s first Celebrartion of Student Research and Creativity in 2002

In the April 2014 Celebration, Danielle Kleymeyer, Mary Belperio, Shawn Buckenmeyer, and Veronica Mitchell made a group presentation of the artworks they had created in my classes in Moby-Dick in the Arts during the Spring and Fall of 2013.

four presenters with teacher 2

Danielle Kleymeyer, Mary Belperio, Shawn Buckenmeyer, and Veronica Mitchell at the 2014 Celebration

Now, thanks to the work of Emma Rose during the last two years, the work of all of these Celebration students–and many others who had presented in intervening years–is currently on display in either the Dickinson exhibition at NKU or the Moby-Dick show in Covington.

emma rose celebration 10Emma Rose’s Celebration presentation last Tuesday was in the same room as last year’s Moby group, Steely Library 102.   She was grouped with other students whose projects derived from History or English classes, and I enjoyed the cross-pollination (from one of the History presenters I learned some new things about the Klu Klux Klan). The focus of Emma Rose’s presentation was the catalogs she had created for our two exhibitions.  Its title was “Documenting Student Artwork Inspired by Herman Melville & Emily Dickinson.”  As she reviewed the steps by which we had selected the material for each catalog, applied for grants to hire a photographer, and transported all of the works to and from the photo studio before Emma Rose had then designed each catalog to put all the images and words together in such an informative and attractive way, I was deeply grateful again for all the work we had been able to do together over these last two years.  Emma Rose had concluded her abstract for this Celebration presentation by writing that “these catalogs give a comprehensive view of what Dr. Wallace’s students have created over the past two decades,” and that is certainly true.

After Emma Rose’s presentation that day I met two of our Moby artists at the exhibition space.  Carola Bell took two of my courses early in the century and created three excellent monotypes featured in the exhibition: the small Moby-Dick in the display case, the large Shades of Ahab on the white wall outside the meeting room, and Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton at the foot of the staircase beneath Abby’s Life Buoy.  Carola is currently an assistant registrar at the Cincinnati Art Museum and it is always interesting to catch up on her work (in which she often accompanies extremely valuable works of art to highly desirable destinations as a courier).

Carola Bell and Bill Fletcher outside the display case with works by each

Carola Bell and Bill Fletcher outside the display case containing works by each

Bill Fletcher came even earlier in my teaching career.  He was a stalwart member of “the class that never ends” in 1996 and 1997.  Bill became a double major in Radiology and Philosophy with a minor in Honors and his conversation always shows the range and depth of those interests.  He is currently a radiologist in his home town of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, southwest of Cincinnati on the Ohio River, and I always enjoy catching up with what he is thinking and doing.  We did so this evening over dinner at Molly Malone’s, an Irish pub a block away from the Covington library.  Bill’s two artist books, taking him deeper and deeper into Ahab, created in his freshman and sophomore years, are both in our display case in Covington.  I am really glad that Emma Rose was able to design the catalog in such a way that we could reproduce each two-page spread of text and image from each of his books.

Emma Rose’s two-age spread for Bill Fletcher’s 1996-97 Mad God artist book

Emma Rose’s two-age spread for Bill Fletcher’s 1996-97 Mad God artist book

Entry continued on Delta Flight 3470 from Cincinnati to Boston, Thursday, April 30, 11:55 am

On Wednesday, April 15, Emma Rose and I spent much of the early afternoon labeling the remaining works, tethering works on easels to the easels themselves, and otherwise refining the presentation and security of the art on display.  That evening I had dinner with Caitlin Sparks and Jay Gray to discuss in more detail my offer to commission their Numediacy art collaborative to document our four-day Arts Fest in a form suitable for posting on YouTube.  It was interesting to hear how these young video artists living in Covington were approaching this opportunity.  Given Caitlin’s performance in my Spring 2011 class in Moby-Dick and the Arts, and Jay’s in my Advanced Composition class on Exploring the Arts, I cannot imagine any video artists who could do it better.

Minadora Macheret next to her Emily Dickinson Double Letter Box

Minadora Macheret next to her Emily Dickinson Double Letter Box

After dinner with Caitlin and Jay, I met Minadora Macheret back in the exhibition space.  Minadora is an outstanding poet who recently defended her Thesis project in our MA in English program. As an undergraduate, she had created the Double Letter Box now in our Emily Dickinson exhibition.  Minadora is representing the Association of English Graduate Students in helping to run our Moby Marathon. She had been unable to attend the group meeting on Monday so we set up this special meeting tonight so she could see the exhibition and the Reading Room and confirm the shifts at which she would work.  She had already signed up for the afternoon shift for Sunday, and she now volunteered as well for Saturday morning, since that was the most conspicuous gap in our coverage at this point, and it was imperative to get the Marathon off to a good start.   I am very grateful to her for her support of both of our Arts Fest initiatives.

Opening bars for chorus in Bach's Ascension Oratorio

Opening bars for chorus in Bach’s Ascension Oratorio

After meeting with Minadora I walked two blocks to my Wednesday night choir rehearsal at Trinity Episcopal Church in Covington.  In addition to our weekly services, we are currently preparing to perform Bach’s Ascension Oratorio at our Evensong concert on May 17.  Our weekly choir rehearsal is always a deep reservoir of focus and recreation for me in the midst of the multi-tasking required by my Dickinson and Moby-Dick projects this semester.

ert beginingThursday, April 16, was a big day for Emma Rose, as she was one of eight BFA candidates making their “Senior Show” presentations to a huge audience in the Main Gallery at 3 in the afternoon.  The other presenters were studio artists with the artworks actually on display in the Main Gallery itself.  Emma Rose, as an Art History major who had created an exhibition in an off-campus location, gave her oral presentation standing in front of the Arts Fest poster, a wall text presenting her rationale for the Covington exhibition, and a pedestal on which she displayed the exhibition catalog and her postcard invitation to the exhibition and the major Arts Fest events.  Her presentation was the first of the eight, and the large gallery was absolutely crowded with well over a hundred people—classmates, faculty, friends, and family of the eight artists.

ERT Senior show inviteEmma Rose summarized her curatorial choices and installation procedures very clearly and she invited the audience to attend the show in Covington before its close on May 15.  After describing some of the programming with which we were supplementing the exhibition itself, she opened some sample spreads from the catalog to illustrate the chronological structure of the whole and the internal structure of the entry for each student artist, with the classroom presentation photo and the student bio followed by the artist statement from the class and Emily Wiethorn’s photograph of each art work.  Emma Rose pointed out, of course, that Emily’s own Senior Show as a BFA photography major was in a nearby corner of the gallery.

Emma Rose and her mother Diane at Senior Show presentation

Emma Rose and her mother Diane at Senior Show presentation

All BFA Senior Show presentations were included in the Artistic Presentations section of this year’s Celebration of Student Research and Creativity, and Emma Rose’s abstract for this presentation in the Celebration booklet concluded by indicating that “this project gives a comprehensive view of how teaching literature through art can be a rewarding experience.”  Gallery director David Knight, who has assisted my literature students in displaying their Moby-Dick art ever since “the class that never ends” in 1996-97, was her co-sponsor for the installation of the Covington show.  Emma Rose’s mother Diane attended this Thursday afternoon presentation, and I was happy to get a photo of them together when it was over.

On Friday, April 17, the day of the “soft” opening of the Covington show, we both spent a good deal of the day in the exhibition space, tinkering with this and that, discussing with library staff various logistical issues we would have to address during the Marathon weekend now only a week away, and being present for anyone who happened to come to the exhibition on the day it officially opened.

Covington Arts Galllery at 2 West Pike Street

Covington Arts Galllery at 2 West Pike Street

The next night, Saturday, April 18, we attended the opening of the exhibition for which our Moby show had originally been chosen.  Except it was now in an entirely different location.  Last year curator Saad Ghosn had chosen our Moby show for an exhibition by the Covington Arts Gallery in its large space at 7 West Seventh Street.  When that space was sold to the developers of a new microbrewery, Saad had to move our show, which included two other artists, to a very small space at 2 West Pike Street.  The new space was far too small for our Moby show and its related programming, so Saad released us to seek out another, which turned out to be the Covington Public Library two blocks away. Without having to worry about how to include us, Saad had brought a third artist into his April 2016 exhibition, so it was a very stimulating three-woman show that Emma Rose and I attended on this Saturday evening of a very busy week.

Covington arts 5Under the title Flight, Saad exhibited the work of three artists who “address the notion of passage” and “memory” in “dialogue with the cyle of life.”  Jan Nickum took up the subject of flight with larger-than-life, naturalistic paintings of birds.  Marsha Karagheusian depicted a memory specific to her Armenian heritage with figurative ceramic reliefs recalling the genocide of her ancestors at the hands of the Turks one hundred years ago.  Sharmon Davidson continued her recent exploration of flights of the imagination in mixed-media relief drawings incorporating found objects suggestive of an entire continuum from the cosmic to the mundane.

bob & todd at cov art gallery

The author with Todd Jennings at opening of Flight exhibition at the Covington Arts Gallery

The pleasures of the show were greatly deepened for me by the opportunity to spend some quality time with Sharmon’s husband Todd Jennings.   Todd had been an unforgettable student in my American literature classes when he came to NKU around 1980 after working for a decade on tugboats up and down the Ohio River.  Coming off the boats, Todd’s grammar was rusty, but his thought was as cogent as his love of argumentation was strong.  I still remember the essay exam in which he summarized Melville’s Billy Budd with this sentence: “It’s a crucifixion, matey.”  Todd was working as a house painter to pay his way through college and one summer he painted Joan’s and my three-story wood-frame house in Bellevue on very high ladders.  He had become a special education teacher after graduating from NKU, a job at which he had met Sharmon before their marriage now a decade ago.  Todd is currently working for the IRS in Covington, and I am guessing he is one of the most free-thinking employees in that federal agency.  It was wonderful to catch up with him and get to know Sharmon and her art work much better too.  I learned this night that Todd had been unable to finish Moby-Dick when I had assigned it in my class, but he said he might give it a shot at the Marathon Reading this weekend anyway.

Andrew Johnson and Emma Rose Thompson at Covington Arts opening on April 18

Andrew Johnson and Emma Rose Thompson at Covington Arts opening on April 18

Emma Rose and I had taken flyers and invitations to the opening of the Flight exhibition since our show was only two blocks away and had originally been conceived as part of Saad’s exhibition.  Emma Rose’s boy friend Andrew had come with her and they lingered for quite a while enjoying the lively scene.  This was a beautiful springtime evening during which the crowded gallery kept its one door open to the sweet night air, so Andrew did not mind just hanging out while Emma Rose and I spoke with Todd, Sharmon, and the other artists.  I was happy when Andrew joined Emma Rose for a photo in front of one of Jan Nickum’s larger-than-life birds.

Throughout this busy week I had of course been monitoring the electronic sign-up sheet for our Moby-Dick Marathon Reading on our website  As of Saturday night we had only filled about a third of the 144 ten-minute slots required to complete the twenty-four-hour Marathon that was now only a week away, so in addition to encouraging Todd and others at the Covington Arts opening to sign up, I extended the invitation to those attending the 10 am service the next morning at Trinity Episcopal Church.  One of my fellow choir members signed up right away, and a number of my friends in the congregation were to sign up during the intervening week.

Installing Moby, Week 2

Entry begun Saturday, April 18, 9:55 am

During the week of Monday, April 6, we had two major areas of the exhibition to attend to, plus a number of “loose fish” to bring into play.  One of the latter was Kevin Schultz’s Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish, a photo collage he had assembled around the “negative space” of a white whale.  I had been storing it for him in advance of the exhibition and when I brought it out of the storage space I saw that a few of the photos had curled and two had fallen off.  Kevin is a double major in English and Journalism who is now completing his senior year, so he was able to retrieve it from my office at the school and make the necessary repairs.  Kevin’s combination of image and text makes the perfect introduction to the works we are showing in the Local History room on the third floor of the library.  The quote he embeds in the body of the absent whale ends with Ishmael’s question, “And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and Fast-Fish, too?”

kevin with cabinets 2

Deeper in the Local History room we had been reserving a place for Jordan Small’s charcoal drawing entitled Ahab.  This work has been on extended loan to the office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences for two years.  When the current dean agreed to loan it to our exhibition, I brought it to the library and placed it on a tripod near the Captain Ahab photos by Caitlin Sparks in front of the north window.  Two views of Ahab—Jordan’s intense, in-your-face portrait of the kind of man he knows all too well versus Caitlin’s more evocative and elusive vision.

jordan's ahab 2

As Emma Rose and I were installing our sequence of works along the cabinet tops in the local history room, we realized that we would have room in the rest of the building for two more works by one of the artists, Amanda Monds, that were still in her possession.  Amanda’s charcoal drawing, in which Queequeg is staring down death, is the fourth work on the row of cabinets just beyond Kevin’s photo collage.  The two other works we were hoping to add were Unsolved to the Last, her painting of a tattooed sperm whale, and Ahab, an abstract portrait of the captain in three colors.

amanda with 3 mobys vertical

amanda hadley jona by case

Amanda is a recent graduate of the English department who is now teaching first-grade in Indpendence, Kentucky.  She has also married and has given birth to a beautiful girl.  Amanda was happy to loan her two additional works to the show, and she brought them to the library with daughter Hadley and her mother-in-law Jona.

matt with retouched paintingAnother “loose fish” was Your eyes are my eyes, Matt Ruiz’s acrylic painting inspired by the communion between man and whale in “Grand Armada” chapter.  I had been storing it for him in advance of the exhibition, but during the Emily Dickinson Exhibition in February he had decided that he would like to make a few revisions on the canvas he had painted two years ago.  He had taken it home after the Dickinson event and now he was bringing it back with it looking just as he wanted.  I had been hoping he could serve as trouble-shooter-in-chief during the Moby Marathon, as he had during the Dickinson one, but he had since gotten the job he was hoping for at the Cincinnati Zoo and will be working all day on both the Saturday and the Sunday.  He will be able to work the last Marathon shift on Sunday night, and will be taking his turn at reading as we near the end of the book.

Emma Rose trying to separate small super magnets

Emma Rose trying to separate small super magnets

Now that we had most of our artworks in place on the top two floors, it was time to make our final decisions about the main display case.  We knew we wanted the two posters of digital art by Ben De Angelis on one side of the case and the linoleum cut of the Whale Dinner by Ronnie Sickinger on the other.  Displaying Ben’s works was a challenge because they had no backing and could not be shown on a tripod.  Gary Pilkington solved that problem by offering a vertical metallic display stand to which the could attach the posters with magnets.  The first magnets we tried did not hold, so at this juncture we learned about “super magnets” and got some.

 Ben’s posters fast to the metal

Ben’s posters fast to the metal

Ronnie Sickinger’s linoleum print on the other side rested nicely on a tripod, but it needed some support, so I got some foam board from Michael’s cut to size.  We knew we wanted this on the right side of the case because his image of some whales sitting down to feast on whalers contrasts so nicely with Camilla Asplen’s artist cookbook The Whale as a Dish (Ronnie’s image is a riff on Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving Dinner).  It is fun to watch people come up to this work and take a double take.  At first we had thought this was the only work by Ronnie we would have room for in the show, but when some new space opened up for us on the Children’s floor we realized we might be able to use his other two linoleum cuts as well.  Ronnie is a high-school English teacher in Indiana and I hope I can get hold of him by the time of the Marathon Reading.

3 whale & dish works

Within the body of the display case, there would be many ways to deploy the variety of work we had been storing there since the beginning of the installation.  Some of our choices were ruled by necessity.  Gary said that Nancy Vagedes’ ceramic white white whale looming over Ahab in his whale boat was too heavy for a glass shelf and would have so sit on the bottom of the case.  We did take advantage of the fact that the shelves themselves were adjustable.  But the most telling decision was made by Emma Rose independent of any external factors.  She realized that Danielle Wallace’s Moby-Dick tea set could still be read as a tea set even if its cups were deployed throughout the case. This allowed up to put Ahab’s cracked tea cup, for example, near Ahab’s Iron Crown and the Ahab Family Portrait on the top left shelf.  We placed the cups depicting the last days of he chase on a lower shelf, so you can see those members of Ahab’s crew where are dying inside the Chase cup as well as Fedallah lashed to the side of the white cup named for him.

ahab shelf

lower right case

Originally we had wanted Nancy Vagedes’ ceramic white whale in front of Rob Detmering’s thee Pasteboard Mask paintings up on the top left shelf, but we found that the juxtaposition worked just as well at the bottom of the case on the left.  Even though the tapering body of Moby Dick himself slants through one side of the Rob’s Polka Dick painting, the transition from Peppermint Ahab on the left through Polka Dick in the middle to Cobweb Ishmael on the right is still strongly felt.  Rob had mentioned in his artist statement that the white bars in the rigid Peppermint Ahab painting, and the large white dot in the spacious Polka Moby painting, and the white hexagon at the heart of the Cobweb Ishmael had all symbolized, for him, presence and allure of the white whale.  Here Nancy’s white ceramic shape activates Rob’s symbolic intention.  Rob is now a literature reference librarian at the University of Louisville, and he is hoping to come up for the Marathon.

lower left clean

As soon as we had arranged the display case pretty much as we wanted it, I took a photo of Emma Rose standing next to the case and we moved on to the last major area in the library, the Children’s section of the building at the foot of the stairwell.

emma with case and right wing

Once we found out we could borrow those two other pieces from Amanda, and also a second large work that Katie Davidson offered for the show when I picked up the one she had already agreed to loan, we realized that we could fill two walls on this lowest level of the building—the long wall to the left as you enter from the stairwell and the shorter wall that runs at right angles to it.  One advantage of this space over other parts of the library is that there is a wire and tracking system by which we could hang works that have wires or other hardware on the back.  Unfortunately, only one of the eight works we had now chosen for this level were so fitted.  We became expert in the use of Velcro command strips which can hold the back of an artwork securely to the wall without leaving any mark on the wall when removed.

The long wall was just the right length for seven of the eight works we had chosen for this level of the library.  We knew we wanted to put a linoleum cut by Ronnie Sickinger at either end of the seven.   At the far left we put his Birth of Ishmael, a variation on Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.  At the far right we put his Gothic Whales, a variation on Grant Wood’s American Gothic.   In the center we decided to put the one work that hung from a wire, the photo collage I had made of my Spring 1996 class on the day we visited the Block Museum at Northwestern University in late February to see Beth Schultz’s Moby-Dick exhibition Unpainted to the Last.

all seven children's 2

Northern Kentucky Students at Unpainted to the last i Evanston, Illinios, in February 1996

Northern Kentucky students at Unpainted to the Last in Evanston, Illinois, in February 1996

In January 1996 we had studied Moby-Dick itself.  We had spent most of February studying Schultz’s companion book to the exhibition, also entitled Unpainted to the Last.  Upon arriving at the museum, I had asked each student to take half an hour to wander through the exhibition to find the single work that most strongly impressed them in person.  When we gathered together to hear why each student had chosen the work he or she did, I took the photographs that are currently on the lower floor of the library in Covington.  It was after that trip to Evanston that members of this class asked if I would be willing to “toss” my syllabus for the rest of the semester “overboard” so they could create an art exhibition of their own to which each class member would contribute.  Fred North’s two Lee Shore paintings in 1994 and the group exhibition mounted by this class in 1996 were the combined inspiration for the exhibition that is now materializing twenty years later in Covington.

NKU Moby students mount their own exhibition in April 1996

NKU Moby students mount their own exhibition in April 1996

The photo immediately above of the artwork exhibited by the entire class in April 1996 includes quite a few of the works we have recently installed in the Covington exhibition.  At the far left of the 1996 installation was Abby Schlachter’s Queequeg in her Coffin I, now in the alcove of the stairwell.  To the right of Abby’s first body cast was Brian Cruey’s suite of four photographs, now on the stack fronts in the Local History room.  On the first pedestal to the right of Brian’s photographs was Bill Fletcher’s first Ahab artist book, now directly below Ahab’s Iron Crown on the upper left of the display case;  To the right of the second pedestal was Aaron Zlatkin’s Spouter-Inn Painting: Revealed, now in the rock garden.  And to the right of Aaron’s painting was the collage of the photos I had taken two months earlier at the Evanston exhibition, not yet framed.

ronnie ellen and katiel with labels 2On the left side of the long wall on the lower level of the of the Covington library, we mounted Ellen Bayer’s My Symphony from 1998 and Katie Davidson’s Moby-Dick—The Story from 2003 to the right of Ronnie Sickinger’s Birth of Ishmael.  In Ellen’s painting the unpainted shape of the white whale frames the one tear that Ahab drops into the sea.  Katie gives us the whole story of the novel in a seamless trajectory of abstract color and shape.  Ronnie’s Ishmael, stranded on Queequeg’s coffin, covers his private parts the way Venus does in Botticelli’s seashell.

emily amanda and ronnie with labelsOn the right side of the same wall we mounted Emily Grant’s I Spy Melville from 2010 and Amanda Monds’ Ahab from 2011 to the left of Ronnie’s Gothic Whales.  Emily in her I Spy collage incorporates images from popular culture the way a student writing a research paper incorporates footnoted sources.  The bright center of Amanda’s Ahab is being swallowed and compressed by Ahab’s inner demons.  In Ronnie’s riff on American Gothic, the whales are holding harpoons rather than pitchforks, and their faces are flattened from the volume they have at sea.

The installation on the lower floor of the building was completed a few days later when we mounted Katie Davidson’s Obsession at a right angle to the long row of seven.  The obsession is Ahab’s, his demented gestural energy disfiguring the blood-red sea and obliterating the melange of words jammed together in the shape of a maimed whale.

katie's obsessoin

The installation process always brings unexpected challenges and pleasures.  One of the pleasures while working on the children’s floor came when a very small girl, maybe six years old, came down the staircase and saw Carola Bell’s monotype Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton on the tripod to the right. “That looks like Picasso,” she said decisively.  Kids of all ages seem immediately intrigued by Abby Schlachter’s inscribed body casts and the pregnant shape of her Life Buoy belly.  Each successive week we have come to feel more and more that this public library is the best possible place for our show.

carola measurements 2

Carola Bell’s Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton

piazza in reading room One of the last “loose fish” that remained was Janet Cheek’s diorama of Melville’s Piazza from my American Short Story class in 1999.  Janet had been intrigued by Melville’s 1856 short story “The Piazza,” inspired by Arrowhead, the home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in which Melville had finished Moby-Dick in 1851.  Janet’s sweet construction of cardboard, wood, and stone would sit flat anywhere.  We found the perfect place for it in the middle of the Local History room on the third floor.  Not long after placing it there, I learned from Claire Illouz, our featured guest at the Dickinson Fest in February, that she has been invited to make a presentation about The Whiteness, her artist book about Moby-Dick, at Arrowhead in August.

The piazza side of Melvilles Arrowhead home

The piazza side of Melville’s Arrowhead home

Claire’s August 3 presentation at Arrowhead will follow by one day the premiere of a new musical work commissioned from Claire’s mother Betsey Jolas by the Tanglewood Music Festival.  The Tanglewood Festival occupies the plot of land on which Nathaniel Hawthorne had lived iin Lenox in 1850 and 1851, when Melville had ridden over on his horse from Pittsfield for artistic inspiration.

Installing Moby, Day 4

Entry begun Friday, April 10, 4:45 am

Another long series of thunderous storms has kept me awake for at least an hour now, so I may as well began this entry about our fourth installation day, last Friday, April 3.  This was a very satisfying day because Emma Rose and I now had most of our hundred-plus works under one roof and were able make some final decisions about what to show where in many different areas of the building.  Deciding these things together resulted in a much better show than anything I could have created myself.

Now that we had most of Kathleen’s works frorm Dry Ridge and most of the major works that had remained in my office, I brought most of what I still had in my house in Bellevue to the library that morning.   One of the works I first brought in was Shawn Buckenmeyer’s I & Q.  I immediately grabbed a tripod and took it up to the balcony over which the quilts were hanging, because I wanted to see how it would look next to the Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane that Mary Belperio had brought in the day before.  These two works in entirely different media dramatizing the loving friendship of Ishmael and Queequeg looked great together, and I was entirely satisfied.  Emma Rose also thought they went well together, but she felt we needed one more work to go with them, since three works often relate more richly than two.  I found out what she meant later in the day when I saw that she had brought Jessica Stone’s Fast-Fish—Loose-Fish to join them, a perfect match in color, shape, and theme:

three on balcony 2

Jessica’s Fast-Fish–Loose-Fish, Shawn’s I & Q, and Mary’s Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane

seven whales

Our biggest challenge in the morning was choosing those works that would look best on the large slatted wall outside the back of the meeting room on the main floor.  We drew upon the five we would have shown the horizontal wall that was now no longer available, and the nine we had originally chosen for this wall, to create the best possible combination, both visually and thematically.  We knew we wanted to start with Piercefield’s Moby Dick: a mighty mildness.  A nice contrast to that singular, colorful, horizontal image would be Laura Bird’s narrative, vertical woodcut in black and white, A Tale in Ninths.  From there it seemed natural to add Cara Dyne’s Three Perspectives on the Whale, whose horizontal Moby Dick in paint on canvas was swimming in the opposite direction from the Moby Dick in Kathleen’s mixed-media print. These three fit the upper area of the available space very nicely.

We knew we wanted Piercefield’s From the Headwaters of the Eternities and Stephen Wheeler’s The Worsting of Ahab somewhere on the lower level, and they fit quite well, both visually and thematically, directly under Piercefield’s Moby Dick diptych.  The eye of the whale in Kathleen’s Headwaters print takes us deep into the life of the whale and its companion creatures long before man existed, whereas the rise of the White Whale in Stephen’s depiction of the Third Day of the Chase takes us to the end of Melville’s novel—and Ahab’s life.

Piercefield's Moby Dick, Piercefield's From the Headwaters of the Eternities, and Wheeler's The Worsting of Ahab

Kathleen’s Moby Dick, her From the Headwaters of the Eternities, and Stephen’s The Worsting of Ahab

Veronica Mitchell’s horizontal depiction of Moby Dick on the Third Day of the Chase is a beautiful complement to Stephen’s vertical rendering, and its three-part design as a triptych in tile relates well to Laura Bird’s nine-part print and Cara Dyne’s three-part painting above it.  Thematically, Carola Bell’s Shades of Ahab monotype leaves us with the abstract reside of Ahab’s obsessive quest, her mastery of the medium giving perfect expression to the “great shroud of the sea that rolled as it rolled five thousand years ago.”  The dark green and orange against the patches of white in Carola’s print gives new expression to the brighter green and orange in Cara’s three-part painting, whose bright blue bathing the whale’s tail in its left section deepens the darker blue in the right section of Veronica’s triptych.

Clockwise from top left: Laura’s A Tale in Ninths, Cara’s Three Perspectives on the White Whale, Carola’s Shades of Ahab, Veronica’s The Third Day #2

Emma Rose and I loved working on this slatted wall because it was very easy to move the works up or down or to the side to achieve the best balance among them.  Once they were attached to the wall, she immediately saw that they would be more effective in a “jigsaw” arrangement (as opposed to the more uniform straight rows I might myself have aimed for).  After we had the seven works in place on this wall, we now had to find places for the remaining works that would have been here according to our original plan.

We have already seen that Emma Rose found a place for Jessica’s Fast-Fish—Loose-Fish next to Shawn’s I & Q and Mary’s Snuggles up on the balcony.  Yesterday we had found the perfect spot for Kathleen’s Pip: Surrender next to Aaron’s Spouter-Inn Painting and Fred’s Lee Shore in the rock garden.  We now took our remaining “loose fish” from this wall up to the Local History room to see if we could find a home for them there.

Yesterday we had hung Kathleen’s map of the Voyage of the Pequod on the east side of the central pillar and her Ahab: thou must not follow on the north side.  Today we completed the circuit.  First, we hung Laura Bird’s Freedom and Cara Dyne’s Reader’s Response to Moby-Dick on the west side of the pillar.  We love the contrasting kinds of freedom depicted and explored in contrasting media.

laura & cara

Laura’s Freedom and Cara’s Reader’s Response to Moby-Dick

On the south side of the pillar we placed Kathleen’s The Women of New Bedford directly under Caitlin’s Whiteness triptych.  Seeing them together, I was amazed at the degree to which the elusive whiteness of the vertical female figure in Kathleen’s Women of New Bedford resembles that of her horizontal counterpart in Caitlin’s Whiteness sequence.

caitlin and kathleen women 2

Soon after we had fastened these three “loose fish” to the central pillar on the third floor, Kathleen and John Piercefield arrived with her monumental Queequeg for the rock garden.  She had written the night before that they had decided to wire and clamp his eight panels together and bring him whole. They had wrapped him very securely against the weather and we had arranged for them to bring him into the building through the freight door in the southeast corner of the building.  They were quite a sight as they brought him into the main reception area and carried him, with the help of a librarian, downstairs to be unpacked and lifted up into the rock garden.

Here comes Queequeg

Here comes Queequeg

Looking for a home

QQ turning the corner

opening QQ 2

opening QQ 3

Once Queequeg was out of his wrapping, Kathleen ascended the ladder and she and John brought him up into the garden and leaned him against the bright orange light standard.  He fit just as we had expected, resting securely on a small wooden board to cushion him from the rocks.  From now until May 15, Queequeg in his own proper person will dwarf everyone who enters the building behind him, but without their knowing it unless they walk up or down the staircase and see him from the north side.

Queequeg on the rocks

Queequeg on the rocks

What a difference a day makes!  Queequeg fills up the rock garden like it was made for him.  His noble stature and golden tones play off beautifully against Fred North’s Ishmael sailing off into the “howling infinite,” Aaron Zlatkin’s white whale impaling himself on the mast-heads, and Kathleen Piercefield’s Pip struggling for his life.  One essential figure was missing from this dramatic ensemble, the obsessed captain whose virulent obsession drives the plot of the novel and takes his entire crew, save one, down with him.  So the fifth artwork we placed in the rock garden was Ahab’s Leg by Christopher Roach, its golden color, beyond its black strap, a lovely match with the pervasive color of Queequeg’s print, but its ultimate fate, severed from its body and abandoned on the rocks, in the sharpest possible contrast to the glorious selfhood of the upright harpooneer.  My favorite view of the rock garden ensemble is from high above on the stairway, where, even in a diminished perspective, each of the five works is clearly seen, pulling the eye down with a vortical force similar to that which sucked the Peqoud and its sailors out of sight.

five on rocks from on high

Kathleen loved the spots we had found for Pip: Transcendence yesterday and for her Moby Dick, Headwaters, and Women of New Bedford prints this morning.  After she and John headed back to Dry Ridge, Emma Rose and I made our plans for the coming week.   After she left to teach her dance class, I stayed for an hour longer, taking some photos for this blog and catching up on emails that had come in during the day.

Caitlin Sparks and Jay Gray with White Whale Triptych

Caitlin Sparks and Jay Gray with White Whale triptych

Caitlin had said she had hoped to frame her three White Whale photos and get them to me by the end of the week.  Now, shortly before closing time on Friday, here she was with Jay, eager to walk upstairs and see how they looked in their designated place.  The three photos looked perfect on three successive stack fronts, and their elusive, alluring white bodies related well to those in Caitlin’s three Whiteness photos on the pillar below them to the right (as well as to the white female figure in The Women of New Bedford).  Caitlin and Jay looked as wonderfully as the art works did.  Today was exactly one week since their opening at the Weston Gallery had dramatically raised their profile as an artistic partnership in Greater Cincinnati.  After setting the White Whale photos high on the stack fronts, we discussed some of the ways in which their Numediacy partnership might document the upcoming Moby Arts Fest.  I will be commissioning them to document the four-day sequence in whatever way they think best, the end result to be posted on YouTube with a link to this blog.

Emma Rose and I felt we’d had an excellent week.  We had taken one day a time as its opportunities and challenges allowed.  This venue accommodated, and showcased, our artworks more capaciously and more professionally than we had imagined.  By the end of the week we could say, with Emily Dickinson, “[We] made slow Riches, but [our] Gain / Was steady as the Sun.”  We were weaving the “crosswise threads” of our matt-making pattern into a strong, shapely, living fabric.

Installing Moby, Day 3

Entry begun on Sunday, April 5, 7:15 am

Today is Easter Sunday, and I have time to get started on this entry before I drive over to sing in the choir at Trinity Episcopal Church, two blocks from the Covington library.  One of my fellow parishioners, Katie Davidson, is one of my Moby artists, and we are planning to exchange her artwork today for the copy of the catalog inscribed to her.

Thursday began as badly as the weather reports had predicted.  At about four the morning the leading edge of the storm front came in with one of those continuous low rumbles that sounds like a very heavy train or a straight-line tornado.  It was relatively quiet after that sound passed, and I was able to sleep again until awakened by a brutal burst of thunder and lightning that made me turn off my computer as a precaution even though I have a surge protector.

Emma Rose and I were planning to arrive at the library at 12:30, after my appointment with my eye doctor.  It was now three weeks after my second cataract surgery, so he would now be giving me a new prescription for my glasses.   At the library at 2:00, Emma Rose and I had scheduled a meeting with Christian Glass, a reporter from The Northerner, and Kathleen Piercefield was planning to bring her Moby pieces between 2:30 and 3:00.  Her home in Dry Ridge is about twenty-five miles south of Covington, and the storms were expected to be even more severe down in that direction, so I had emailed her in the morning not to come unless it was safe for her as well as the artworks she was planning to bring.  She had planned her day around this drive, so she was going to make it if she could.

Emma Rose’s mother Diane had a vacation day at work, so she came to the library to help watch over our things while we were elsewhere in the building.  This allowed us to make much better use of our time, and it also meant that we could bring in more pieces than otherwise without inconveniencing the library.  There was a pretty decent break in the weather when I arrived after the eye appointment, so we decided it would be good for me to run up to the University and get some of the framed pieces that remained in my office while we waited for Christian and Kathleen to arrive.

Mary Belperio with Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane

Mary Belperio with Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane

Before I left, we had a nice surprise.  Mary Belperio arrived with Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane, her abstract, tactile representation of Ishmael and Queequeng in bed together at the beginning of chapter 4.  I had been to Mary’s graduation party in December and both she and Snuggles looked better than ever.  I grabbed an easel and we took the artwork up to the spot Emma Rose and I had chosen for it, near the rail on the third floor balcony from which the quilts are hanging.

When I got back with today’s quota of artworks from my office, Emma Rose was already in the midst an interview with Christian Glass from The Northerner.  He had come down to the library because it was the only way to schedule an interview while we were working here this week, and we were both very impressed with his questions and his skill as a listener.  Soon after the interview with him, Kathleen arrived from Dry Ridge, and the fun began.

Kathleen Piercefield with Pip: Transcendence

Kathleen Piercefield with Pip: Transcendence

Kathleen has created many of the largest and most beautiful works in the show, and she had spent the whole morning packing prints into boxes as the storm buffeted her house.  I was bringing some her framed works from my own collection to the show, but she was today bringing many more.  These ranged in size from the 52-inch-wide Moby-Dick print that is the banner image for this website; to prints of intermediate size including a portrait of Ahab with Pip, two portraits of Pip alone, and the map of the Voyage of the Pequod; to smaller portraits of Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah.  This was a veritable cornucopia of art, and Emma Rose and I felt like kids will be feeling on Easter egg hunts today as Kathleen pulled one artwork after another out of each securely wrapped and well-cushioned box.  I was especially thrilled to see her hold up Pip: Transcendence, an extraordinary print I had first seen when she exhibited it in Rockford, Illinois, in April 2009.

One placement was easy.  We took Kathleen’s original drawing for the map of the Voyage of the Pequod right up to the Local History room, where we had envisioned in hanging directly above the map case.  It looked as perfect there as we had hoped.

kathleen map 1

While we were up in this room, we found a space around the corner on this same central pillar that could hold Ahab: Thou must not follow, her dramatic, haunting evocation of Ahab’s relation to Pip late in the novel.  The photographs immediately above this mixed-media print are the ones that Michelle Cruey took of Melville’s South Street Seaport neighborhood during a visit to New York City in 2006.  We would later give the photos a backing that would reduce the glare.

michelle & kathleen 2

Our next destination was the rock garden.  Kathleen was eager to get into it so she could measure the exact height of the orange light standard against we had recently proposed installing her more-than-life-size Queequeg in his own proper person.  This mixed-media print on eight linked canvas, measuring 92 inches high by 40 inches wide, was our biggest challenge in mounting this show, and when the earlier idea of leaning it against the brick wall near Abby’s body casts did not work out, this appeared to be the next best choice.  If we could fit Kathleen’s Queequeg against this light standard rooted in an enclosed garden of rocks, we would not have to worry about library patrons running into it or dislodging its base.  Lashed to the back of the standard, it could stand straight up without fear of falling forward.

kathleen descendingKathleen had brought a metallic tape measure much longer than the standard six footer.  She was eager to get into the garden but she did not want to duplicate the “contortionist” motions she had seen me go through on the Facebook page.  All three of us decided the best way up in to the rock garden was not over the rail but rather using a tall ladder that allowed us to climb into the east end of the rock garden from the foot of the staircase after we had gotten the Life Buoy out of the way by transferring it to the other side of the staircase while we were going up and down on this side.

Once Kathleen got up into the garden, she was happy to see that the orange light standard could support Queequeg’s 92-inch height with about eight inches to spare.  She also found that his width, if centered on the pole, left sufficient clearance from the garden wall on the left.  So she immediately decided to pack him up tonight and bring him tomorrow, so long as the weather allowed.

Emma Rose and I now turned to our immediate objective in the garden on this day, to see where Kathleen’s vertical print entitled Pip: Surrender could best be placed in relation to Fred North’s Lee Shore and to Aaron Zlatkin’s Spouter-Inn Painting—Revealed, the painting we had left sitting on the rocks the day before.  Once we had thought about bringing Kathleen’s Queequeg into the garden, Emma Rose thought it would be great to surround him with companionable artworks.  Kathleen’s physical depiction of Pip’s spiritual struggle when abandoned at sea was in this sense a perfect counterpart to Fred’s Lee Shore and Aaron’s Spouter-Inn Painting as we awaited the arrival of the Queequeg that would anchor the rock garden as a whole.

Fred's Lee Shore, Aaron's Spouter-Inn Painting, and Kathleen's Pip:Surrender in rock garden

Fred’s Lee Shore, Aaron’s Spouter-Inn Painting, and Kathleen’s Pip: Surrender in rock garden

Once we had a plan for filling out the large rock garden to the south of the stairwell the next day, we could then turn to the much smaller configuration of rocks on the other side of the stairwell, right behind the head of Queequeg in her Coffin I.

emma abby far and nearEmma Rose felt this second rock surface as a curatorial challenge we had somehow to meet.  And I had been feeling the need for some third work to provide a link between the two Queequeg body casts.  I had already thought of Pip: Transcendence as being spiritually compatible with these works.  As soon as Kathleen brought it out of the box, with its contrast between Pip’s vertical, corporeal head and his horizontal, etherealized body, I wanted to see how this print would look between and above Abby’s two Queequegs.   I was very happy when Emma Rose carried it over to the edge of the smaller rock bed, stretched up, and set it there on a small tripod.

Alcove with five bodies

Alcove with five bodies

Before Kathleen left for Dry Ridge, Emma Rose and I took her to the back of the main reading room to see the places we had reserved on the stack fronts for her smaller portraits of Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah.  She helped us install them, and we were all quite happy with the results, both among the three works themselves and in relation to the other images with which we were filling out this end of the room.  Kathleen had also brought Holly McAtee’s Queequeg, which is part of her own collection, with her today, so we could now hang it on the stack front next to the one with Holly’s Self-Portrait in Moby-Dick.

Kathleen’s Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah on stack fronts in back of the main reading room.

Kathleen’s Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fedallah on stack fronts in back of the main reading room.

After Kathleen advised us on the hanging of the portraits on the stack fronts, she headed home to begin the process of preparing Queequeg for installation in the rock garden the next day. She and her husband John would have to test and secure all elements they had recently devised for wiring and clamping all eight canvases so they can stand together as one.  Given the dire weather forecast (it had rained hard on and off during her trip here today), they would have to protect tomorrow’s precious cargo from any exposure to rain and cushion it against any harmful physical contact (for which a couple of sword-mats would be nice to have).

Withmadonna of the tripod most of the major pieces in the show now under one roof, Emma Rose and I would be able to finalize some major areas of the exhibition the next day.  We are planning to arrive at 9:30 in the morning and work until 5 in the afternoon.  It had been very helpful to have her mother with us today and she is able to come again tomorrow.  Before we left the rock garden I had asked Emma Rose if I could take a photo of her holding one of our tripods. The fact that she is an Art History major who had spent her Spring Break seeing paintings in Florence and Rome made me think somehow of Raphael and the names by which he distinguished the various Madonnas he painted.  So I like to think of the photo of her here as the Madonna of the Tripod.  Or, if not that, the Madonna of the Rocks.


Installing Moby, Day 2

Entry begun Saturday, April 4, 1 pm

Honors House-5974I was happy that Professor Dave Kime could be at the Honors House to help me get Danielle Kleymeyer’s Shear down from its perch high over the door into the office of Honors Director Belle Zembrodt.  I thought we might need a work order from Physical Plant to get it down, but Dave was able to step up onto a chair, reach up into the midsection of the sculpture, and lift it off the support.  This was the same metallic relief whose razor-sharp edges had cut into Danielle’s leg and fingers while making it, and whose epoxy glue had gravely poisoned her dog, but Dave had no problems getting it down or taking it out to the car, where we laid it on the six-foot stretch that ran all the way up to the backs of the driver’s and passenger’s seats, leaving plenty of room for the two body casts we would soon be laying over it side by side.  After covering Shear with a blanket, we went in to slip Abby’s Queequeg in her Coffin II off the wall.  She had healed nicely from her ankle surgery, and was looking nearly good as new.

QQs tin car 2015After driving from the Honors House to the parking lot in front of Landrum Hall, I went up to get Queequeg in her Coffin I from my office.  I had moved her twice before for local exhibitions, so it was easy to lift her off the wall and head to the elevator with her.  I always forget, though, the attention she always draws.  Just about everyone seems to want to know what she is, how she was made, and why.  This tends to be even more so at close quarters in the elevator.  I felt a little twinge of excitement as I slipped her into the back of Joan’s Equinox alongside her sister figure.  This moment was their first reunion in eighteen years!  I took a photo to celebrate the moment, but their corporeal togetherness was cruelly undercut by the bright sunlight that sliced through just below their knees.  Not to be forgotten, the white tail of Danielle’s whale poked out beneath QQ I.

All three of these works would be rather awkward to set aside while you were working on something else, so just as soon as I brought them in the library, Emma Rose and I got to work at hanging them.  After exploring a few other options, we decided to hang Shear in middle of the stairway over the landing that leads to the lower floor.  This placement met our three primary concerns: that we hang it (a) securely; (b) where it cannot be easily reached; and (c) where its contrasting “Moby” and “Ahab” sides can easily be seen.  We have both always loved this work—Emma Rose had been a member of the Spring 2013 class in which Danielle created it—but never so much as now, when we first saw it hanging, and twisting slowly, in this wonderful space.

Ahab side of Danielle's Shear

Ahab side of Danielle’s Shear

Moby side of Danielle's Shear

Moby side of Danielle’s Shear

Once we had Shear in place, we turned to one of the most important challenges of the installation, hanging Abby’s two body casts in ways that would (a) relate to each other and (b) be secure on the wall.  We had originally hoped to hang them side by side on the high brick wall just a few feet north of the stairwell.  But Gary had made clear from the beginning that we would not be able put hanging screws in the brick wall.  Nor was there any hanging system such as the tracks and wires by which we had hung the Dickinson pieces in the Steely Library.  There were two air vents about ten feet up on the brick wall that we thought would be strong enough to hold the body casts, and Gary agreed.  The problem was that one of the vents is almost directly above important information for responding to emergencies in the building, which would have been partly covered by the second cast.

shadow on brick  9-20

Our first decision was to hang Queeequeg in her Coffin II from the one vent nearest the window, where the strong, clear writing that covers her body could be easily read by someone standing near the wall.  Queequeg in her Coffin I was more of a challenge, because we had no way to hang her, too, against the brick wall.  This problem resolved quite nicely when we realized that if we hung her from one of the brackets for the stairwell rail above and across from her sister figure, her own form would snuggle into the corner of the lower alcove directly across from her counterpart on the brick wall.  This solution, born of necessity, put the two shapes in richer relation than if we had been able to suspend them side by side as we had originally hoped to do.

emma facing abbys

After hanging these two shapes, we decided to find a spot for their younger, smaller protean sister, the Life Buoy whose shell Abby had cast when pregnant with her daughter Kallisto (Kalli).  We liked the idea of hanging it in close relation to the Children’s section here on the lower level, so we looked for a way to suspend it above the wider alcove on the other side of the stairwell.  As with Shear, we had three priorities: to hang it (a) securely; (b) where it could not easily be reached; and (c) where both sides could be easily seen.  One side of this Life Buoy is the hard outer shell of the cast on whose night sky surface the constellation for which Kalli was named glows.  Inside the shofter inner shell, Abby’s writings as a young mother are collaged alongside photos and other images representing her infant daughter.

emma life buoy 2

Outer shell of Life Buoy with constellation

emma life buoy

Interior space of Life Buoy with texts and images

Testing out Fred North's Lee Shore in rock garden

Testing out Fred North’s Lee Shore in rock garden

After hanging Life Buoy off the south side of the lower staircase, it was time to populate the rock garden occupying the southwest corner of the stairwell.  Gary has always considered this space to be underutilized, and he invited us to think about displaying suitable works above the rocks on easels.  I immediately thought of the large canvas painted by Fred North in 1994 that had opened the way for the other hundred-plus works in this exhibition.   Fred’s Lee Shore is 40 inches high by 30 inches wide, large enough in scale to read well on an easel in a rock garden.   Such a location would be highly appropriate since Melville’s “Lee Shore” chapter dramatizes the plight of a “storm-tossed ship” that must sail directly out into the strorm because “one touch of land, though it would but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through.”

The glassed-in railing on the stairwell aide of the rock garden was a little too high simply to climb over, especially since the garden was a little deeper on the far side than the stairwell landing.  So Gary had brought me a little two-step ladder that might help me get back and forth if needed.  That worked quite well when climbing over the rail into the garden, but for some reason it was not quite so easy coming back.  Emma Rose captured my awkward return in a quartet of photos she posted on Facebook–much to the delight of some of my friends.  I can see from the last photo why I had a deep bruise on my left forearm the next morning.  That woman on the other side of the glass window missed an entertaining sight.  I had set a second painting on the rocks after positioning The Lee Shore in the far corner, but we had only one easel handy, so we left its final disposition for another day.

emma bob rocks 1

It felt good to be back on land, as it were.  Or maybe it is more accurate to say back on board, since one of my Moby artists now out in Nebraska had immediately commented on the Facebook post with “Man overboard,”  Emma Rose and I now decided to spend the rest of the afternoon thinking about two areas of the main floor of the library: (a) the large slatted wall outside the back of the meeting room and (b) the upper stack fronts at the end of the reading room.

The weather report for the next two days included possibly violent thunderstorms on Thursday and constant, heavy rain on Friday, so I decided to make a quick run to my home in Bellevue in Joan’s Equinox to get the large Moby pieces by Carola Bell, Stephen Wheeler, Veronica Mitchell, and Cara Dyne that we would we would want to have on hand the next day as we decided how to respond to the loss of that long horizontal wall to the right of the display case.  For today, we could hang some of them temporarily on the large oblong wall across from the horizontal one.  And upstairs there was room to store a new work immediately underneath the Whiteness triptych in the window transom that Caitlin had brought in earlier in the day, now hanging on the south side of the central pillar in the Local History room.

Caitlin’s Whiteness photos in repurposed window tansom

Caitlin’s Whiteness photos in repurposed window tansom

While I was away getting the large Moby pieces, Emma Rose could think about what would look best high on the stack fronts in the back of the main reading room.  She could also begin to think about how to arrange the display case, which we were currently using mostly for safe storage.  In the morning I had brought in Nancy Vagedes ceramic Moby-Dick sculpture along with Abby’s two body casts and Danielle’s Shear.   For now, we were storing it at the bottom of the display case in front of Camilla Asplen’s The Whale as a Dish cookbook.  Nancy’s rising ceramic whale is an imposing piece even down near one’s feet, making Ahab in the little whaleboat look even smaller than he is.

lower layer display case

geico moby in passenger seat 2Earlier in the day, Nancy’s ceramic White Whale had rested comfortably against the passenger seat of the Equinox as I drove into the library parking lot.  I had parked facing the sun, leaving Moby comfortably in the shade, with only a lovely glow on his forehead.  By contrast, Ahab’s harpoon and head were bleached by the bright sun.  I had not thought, like Emma Rose, to protect my sculptural cargo with a seat belt, but Moby seems happy being free.  In the photo, I see him as the automotive equivalent of a “loose fish” in the ocean.  Sitting in Joan’s passenger seat, he would be a wonderful stand-in for the iguana in the Geico auto insurance commercials.

I had parked facing the sun to keep its slicing light from cutting through the legs of the passengers behind me.  Now, when I opening the back of the Equinox, a soft harmonizing light bathed the sister figures.  As I saw them resting together there, I thought of Ishmael’s feelings for Bulkington, his “sleeping-partner” shipmate in the voyage of life.

QQs in car 3

Installing the Moby Show, Day 1

Entry begun Wednesday, April 1, 7:20 am

The installation process can change day by day and even hour by hour, so I will try to keep track of our work this week as it unfolds.

Emma Rose and I arrived as planned at noon on Monday, my car holding most of what we planned to work with that day.  We had decided to begin in the Local History section on the third floor, and everything worked out essentially as we had hoped.   Brian Cruey’s sequence of five Moby photographs from 1996-97 look great on the stackfronts leading to the north window, and his sister Michelle’s sequence of four photos taken near South Street Seaport in 2006 face them nicely on the north side of the room’s central pillar.

brian's photosCaitlin Sparks came in carrying her Captain Ahab sequence in two recycled window frames, and they look just as we had hoped they would on either side of the north window facing the buildings across the street.  The pinks of the photos match the colors of the bricks and the spatial dance among the various kinds of window frames is delightful.

captain ahab and brick wall 4

While Caitlin was here we discussed our plans for her other two photo sequences in this room, mounting her three White Whale photos on three stack fronts, and the Whiteness triptych in her window transom somewhere on the central pillar.  She will bring these works in later this week, after she frames the White Whales and finds that window transom somewhere in her basement.  Before she left, we also discussed the possibility of having Numediacy provide some visual documentation of the four-day Arts Fest.  She and Jay live in Covington and have already done a good deal of documentary work in the city.

Our next goal on the first day was to get as much as we could in the main display case downstairs, both to see what we had to work with and as a good storage area for small pieces.  Danielle Wallace’s Moby-Dick Tea Set II looked pretty much as we had hoped on the top shelf of the case as currently configured.  Emma Rose set the tea pot at the far right, leaving room for the three paintings of Rob Detmering’s Pasteboard Mask sequence to provide a colorful, abstract background for the cups themselves.  Since the paintings, like the cups, are inspired by specific characters and scenes in the novel, the visual interplay is deepened by the thematic links—as will become clearer when we get our labels up.  For now, the other objects in the case are randomly placed.  We will see what goes where after all the pieces have arrived.

rob and tea set 2

So far our original plans were going well.  But at this point we found out from Gary that we will not be able to use that beautiful horizontal slatted expanse to the right of the main display case on which we had planned to hang our five most striking depictions of whales.  The artworks currently there are important to the history of the city and the library would have  nowhere to properly store them if they were temporarily removed for our show.  This was a blow that Emma Rose said showed very clearly on my face when Gary gave us the news.  But this is a capacious building with a variety of spaces we can bring into play, so we are confident that we can find an appropriate place for each of these signature works.  One or more of them may migrate across to the large slatted wall onto which we had projected our sequence of nine other works in clockwise sequence last week.  Chance having now delivered “the concluding blow” to our plans for the horizontal space, necessity and free will combine to “produce a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric.”

laura beth Ahab 2Our other main goal for this day was to see what we could do with the quilts by Laura Beth Thrasher we were planning to hang from the balcony rail.  We spread all seven out on tables in the Local History room and decided to use them all.  The two new ones are not in our catalog but we are happy to have them in our show.   Each is relatively small, abstract, and conceptual.  Ahab 2 takes the darkness of Laura Beth’s nautical Ahab into an even deeper and darker psychic space, the beady whites and blacks of his eyes and pupils being stitched with thread upon thread upon thread.


laura beth rootsLaura Beth made Roots for a group project on the roots of inspiration.  She chose as her “roots” the pages from Moby-Dick she expertly collaged into her quilted surface.  These included the opening paragraph of “Loomings” that inspired not only her own Call me Ishmael quilt but also the Coffin Warehouse photo that is the first in Brian Cruey’s series of five photos now on the stack fronts on the third floor.


Emma Rose and I had the idea of hanging these seven quilts from the balcony rail overlooking the entrance to the main floor, but we did not yet have the experience or the equipment for doing so.  Blessedly, Laura Beth had sewn hanging sleeves onto the back of each quilt.  Each of the smaller quilts also had a stick or rod that fit in the sleeve for hanging the quilt.  But the three largest quilts, Moby-Dick, The Whiteness of the Whale, and Call Me Ishmael, were without rods.  We had heard that fish line would work well for hanging the quilts and Gary confirmed that this would be fine.  So we were now in need three long rods and some fish line.

How to hang these?

How to hang these?

Emma Rose had learned during our Dickinson show that dowel rods were usually thirty inches or shorter in length.  We needed rods longer than that for each of our three widest quilts.  To find both the rods and the line we needed, we thought we might need to drive in a loop from the Wal-Mart out near NKU, to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Newport , to Pilot Lumber in Bellevue.  But I had once been in Klingenberg’s Hardware here in Covington, only a block and a half away from the library, and I thought that might be a good place to start.  We entered from the Pike Street side and found what we needed just inside the klingenberg 3door.  Aided by an extremely helpful employee, we were soon walking out of the store with three long, strong, extendable curtain rods, and a whole reel of hundred-pound fish line.

Now were ready to return to the balcony rail and hang our quilts.  We knew we would want Moby-Dick, 54 x 62 ½ inches, in the center.  And we would want to begin with Call Me Ishmael from the viewer’s far left and end with Epilogue at the far right.  From there it seemed natural to hang the two Ahabs between Call Me Ishmael and Moby-Dick, and The Whiteness of the Whale between Moby-Dick and Epilogue, with Laura Beth’s Roots under her Epilogue.

Now we settled into the quiet, patient work of knotting the fish line to each end of each rod before dropping its quilt over the side, fishing it back up toward the rail until its top edges on each side were even with the top of the glass panel beneath rail that we had chosen as our horizon line.  Once we had reached, and secured, the proper alignment, we went on to the next quilt, careful to position each one on a part of the rail along which it could slide, if necessary.  It was a little trickier executing the two double hangs than the single ones, but these actually turned out pretty well too.

all seven quilts

We had gone down to the reception area beneath the balcony several times to check our progress, and once all seven were installed, we liked how they looked, both from the front, looking up from below, and up on the balcony, where you could see the stitching on the back of each quilt, something Emma Rose had foreseen in suggesting that we hang each one directly in front of the glass panel.

seven verso quilts

I am only realizing this as I am writing now, but our quilts are hanging over the rail of the balcony much as sword-mats hung over the rails of a whale ships.  But in this case, the object is not to cushion a blow, but rather to raise the eyes of passersby by, and maybe their spirits too.  As we were working, we saw a lot people, staff as well as patrons, look up at what we were doing.  It was great to see four young kids gazing up at the quilts as their parents were checking out books and videos.  A women who said she works at one of the restaurants out near the university said, “These are just beautiful.”  One tall man paused near the balcony rail as we were working.  I asked if he came to the library very often, and he said, “Every day since I became homeless.”  I asked where he stays these days, and he pointed out through the window, “Over in the Cold Shelter.”  He was curious about the art we were installing and he knew about Moby-Dick, so I asked if he would like to read in the Marathon, but he said he’d pass for now.

This first day had been very satisfying.  We got a good start on the installation and we were beginning to get a feel for the library, its spaces, and its patrons.  We would not be back on Tuesday, because we had each planned our schedule around our 2 pm meeting in my office at the school.

Immediately before meeting with Emma Rose on Tuesday, I met with Dustin Enockson and two of his associates from the Barnes & Noble Bookstore at NKU.  They had offered to sell a variety of books during the course of the four-day Arts Fest,  and this was our first opportunity to discuss the most desirable books and to address some of the logistical issues at each successive venue.

On Wednesday, April first, Emma Rose and I had agreed to meet at the library at noon, after I had picked up four of our large three-dimensional works–Abby Schlachter’s two body casts, Danielle Kleymeyer’s Shear, and Nancy Vagedes’ ceramic White Whale—from the Honors House and my office at the school.  My wife Joan kindly loaned her SUV for this task.

After getting home on Tuesday I was surprised to get an email from Emma Rose.  Before leaving my office that afternoon, we had decided to take a few small pieces home that we could put in the display case the next day.  She had taken Ahab’s Iron Crown by Landon Jones that Robert Del Tredici had recently praised in his email.  To keep Ahab’s crowned head from flying forward if she made a sudden stop, she put him in a seat belt in her passenger seat.  The photo she sent me that night made me think of the last time we see Ahab in the novel.  After he thrust his harpoon at Moby for the last time, “the flying turn” of the whale line “caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat.”

Ahab takes a ride