Shawn, Vali, and Alison

Began this entry Sunday morning, May 24, 5:50 am

Alison Lundergan Grimes looks to be about the same age as Shawn Buckenmeyer (Daniell). I just checked the internet, and Alison is one year younger, born in 1978. Both were experiencing exceptional personal and professional growth early in 2014. I do believe that Alison embodies many of the values of self-actualization and self-expression that Shawn embodied in the life she led and the art she created. I did not have a chance to converse with Shawn about politics. But I’m quite sure she would have been as enthused as I am about the senatorial race in Kentucky, and as hopeful as I am that like-minded voters in Campbell County can have a strong voice in its outcome. The “Voyage of one Shawn” is ending prematurely at very moment that the “Voyage of one Alison” is gaining national recognition. Given the history of Mitch McConnell, there is certain to be a “Bloody Battle in Kentucky” over the summer and through to the fall to the November 4 election.

Vali Myers, Stella Maris, NKU Honors House

Vali Myers, Stella Maris, 2001 giclee print from 1998 drawing, NKU Honors House. Photo Emily Wiethorn

Shawn was not one to remain confined to one location for long, so sometime this summer Chuck will carry her ashes to Italy, where they would have been honeymooning in early June. He will release them somewhere in the Bay of Naples, where they will enter into rhythms of the ancient Mediterranean. I like to imagine her remains, still buoyant, floating alongside the island that Vali Myers depicted at the heart of Stella Maris, the drawing in pen, sepia, and watercolor that she completed in 1998 (posted here). The island in the center of the drawing is the one Vali saw every day from the refuge for endangered animals she had established high up in a steep valley ocwelooking the Bay of Naples high above the town of Positano, between Sorrento and Solerno on the Italian coast.

Vali drawing White Whale in Stella Maris accompanied by her loving creatures

Photo of Vali drawing White Whale in Stella Maris accompanied by her loving creatures, gift to the author

Vali had mentoned to me that Stella Maris is the name of the Pagan goddess of the sea worshipped along this coastline before the dawn of Christianity.  She liked the fact that the island she saw through the tunnel of her secluded valley resembled the body of a female at rest. The Stella Maris of her drawing is weeping like a crucified Christ for the sins of the modern world, specifically for the destruction mankind has inflicted upon its fellow creatures. The white whale depicted at the upper right is rising one more time against the men who have attacked it.  The welcoming space below the teardrop of the Mediterranean sea sustains and shelters living creatures representing those that Vali actually sheltered in her own nature refuge (as seen in the photo she sent me of herself drawing the white whale in Stella Maris surrounded by her creatures curled in comfort)..

Vali Myers, Moby Dick, NKU Honors House

Vali Myers, Moby Dick, 1996 giclee print after 1974 drawing, NKU Honors House. Photo Emily Wiethorn

Rob Kallmeyer, one the students in my class in Moby-Dick and the Arts in 1996, had fallen in love with Vali’s 1974 drawing entitled Moby Dick when we saw it in Beth Schultz’s exhibition Unpainted to the Last on an overnight trip to Northwestern University. He found a way to telephone Vali in her Italian valley and had several very inspiring conversations with her that then led my correspondence with Myers about her Moby Dick drawing as well as the Stella Maris then underway. We ended up ordering special giclee prints of each work that now hang in the Honors House in which most of my Moby classes have been held.

The Fall 2013 Moby class in which Shawn enrolled met for three hours one night a week. On one of those nights we took an “art walk” through four buildings on campus that house Moby-Dick art. We were only a few weeks into the course but Shawn was already “in the process of figuring out what direction to take in my project” at the end of the semester. During our art walk, the artist she was “drawn to the most was Vali Myers: “Her use of dots to create beautiful, surreal, curved lines and shapes is what drew me to her piece Moby Dick. There’s so much going on.  In the fore front we have a lounging, sensual female unabashedly lying naked across the bottom of the canvas. Is she mother nature? A female representation of Ishmael? I almost envision her as a genie in a bottle. In the background we have Moby Dick and a ship battling. Notice a few dead bodies swirling in the waves. On both sides of the canvas, we have two faces, one looking angrily at the woman while the other looks at the battle between the ship and Moby Dick. Perhaps the faces are Man; looking, judging, angry men. The lounging female doesn’t seem concerned. I found it interesting when we were discussing eco-feminism and the fact that Myers wanted the whale to win. I don’t know much about eco-feminism, so I’ll have to do some research and maybe find a way to apply it to my project.” She certainly did.

Cover of catalog for Vali Myers retrospective in Australia, 2013-14

Cover of catalog for Vali Myers retrospective in Australia, La Trobe University Museum, 2013

Vali Myers died of cancer in Melbourne, Australia, in 2003. At the time of Shawn’s death in April 2014, six of Vali’s Moby-Dick drawings were part of major retrospective of her career on tour through her native country of Australia. The exhibition had opened at La Trobe University in Melbourne while Shawn was taking our art walk through the Honrors House in September. On April 14, when Shawn was giving her Celebration presentation, the exhibitioin had just arrived at the Maitland Regional Art Gallery, where it will still be on display when the Charles W. Morgan is scheduled to sail into New Bedford on June 25.  In addition to reproducing Vali’s Moby Dick on the cover of the catalog, the organizers of the exhibition invited me to contribute an essay discussing all of the works in the show with a Moby-Dick component.  I called my essay “Vali Myers, Moby-Dick, and Eco-Feminism,” and stressed that Vali’s lifelong engagement with the novel made her a pioneer in the eco-feminist movement that that has resulted in some of the finest literary and artistic responses to Moby-Dick in our new twenty-first century.

Vali’s admiration of the whale, not the men who were trying to kill it; her deep fellow feeling for the living creatures she assisted in her wildlife refuge and celebrated in her art; her unapologetic embrace of a female perspective centered in a female body; her prophetic sense of a sacredness in nature that mankind has mindlessly desecrated; and her extraordinary graphic ability to address all these themes in the context of Melville’s Moby-Dick—in all these ways Vali Myers has already inspired an impressive variety of female artists across this country and around the world. Here in my own classes in Highland Heights, Kentucky, male as well as female artists have been inspired by Vali’s example. In the photo posted here, Shawn and her I & Q are accompanied by the three other female students who presented their Moby-Dick creations in the April 2014 Celebration: Danielle Kleymeyer, Mary Belperio, and Ronnie Mitchell.

Danielle Kleymeyer, Mary Belperio, Shawn Buckenmeyer, Ronnie Mitdchell, and their teacher at 2014 Celebration

Danielle Kleymeyer, Mary Belperio, Shawn Buckenmeyer, Ronnie Mitchell, and their teacher at 2014 Celebration

Vali Myers, Holy Ghost, 2001-02

Vali Myers, Holy Ghost, 2001-02, p. 62 in Dusk to Dawn catalog

The academic thread of the “Voyage of one Shawn” that has suddenly ended will be completed in December when she will be awarded a posthumous M. A. degree in English from Northern Kentucky University. The corporeal component of her life voyage will find its last expression when Chuck releases her ashes into the Bay of Naples sometime this summer, enacting her own personal variation on Ishmael’s image of those who have “placelessly perished without a grave” as he contemplates those marble tablets memorializing sailors lost at sea in the Seaman’s Bethel in New Bedford where they can still be seen today (“The Chapel,” chapter 7).


As for the spiritual element of Shawn’s life voyage, I would compare that with Vali Myers’ Holy Ghost (2001-02), the last major work Myers completed before her death. There is no whale in this drawing, but this is her last homage to Moby Dick, for she had written to me of the giant squid, “which lives in the deepest valleys of the ocean,” as being the natural prey and worthy opponent of her beloved sperm whale. In this work, Vali imagines herself taking her final rest under the sheltering arms of that enveloping creature, now as peacefully at rest as the recumbent female shape of the island at the center of Stella Maris (which reappears, heavily shaded, just below the horizon line in Holy Ghost). Turn one of Shawn Buckenmeyer’s corporeal, spiritual female nudes from vertical to horizontal and you have a fitting companion to Vali’s peaceful self-portrait at the bottom of the drawing..

Mark Milloff, Stripping the Whale, NKU Honors House

Mark Milloff, Stripping the Whale, 2005 giclee print after 1985 pastel, NKU Honors House. Photo Emily Wiethorn

By the time that Shawn Buckenmeyer (Daniell) is awarded her posthumous degree in December 2014, we will know the fate of the maiden “Voyage of one Alison Lundergan Grimes” into some of our nation’s most violent political waters. She is likely to encounter the senatorial equivalent of the passage in Moby-Dick in which the sharks feed on the body of the whale with such “incredible ferocity” they “viciously snapped, not only at each other’s disembowelments . . . but bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely voided by the gaping wound” (“The Shark Massacre,” chapter 66). I am hoping that she will survive like the White Whale that turns on its bloody pursuers in Vali’s Moby Dick and rises with its fiercest pursuer lashed to its body in Vali’s Stella Maris, winning the election that will enable her to make the U. S. Senate a more functional body for the common good.


Grand Contested Election and Unbearable Loss

Entry begun on Friday, May 23, 5:20 am

I can’t go back to sleep so I may as well begin this entry. In the opening chapter of Moby-Dick, the narrator imagines a program drawn up by “those stage managers, the Fates” in which his own “Whaling Voyage by one Ishmael” appears as a “sort of interlude” between “Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States” and “Bloody Battle in Affghanistan.” The grand contested election for me this summer is the one in Kentucky in which Alice Lundergan Grimes is challenging Mitch McConnell for the U. S. Senate seat in which he, as the minority leader of the Senate, has essentially tried to nullify the last two presidential elections, the ones that elected Barack Obama in 2008 and reelected him in 2012. Obama had no chance to win Kentucky’s electoral votes in either of those elections, winning only about one third of the popular vote, so I spent much of each campaign in Hamilton County, across the Ohio River in Cincinnati, whose huge grass roots effort helped Obama win each election in Ohio and in the nation. Grimes and McConnell each won their primary election by a wide margin on Tuesday night, she against four competitors who all finished in single digits, he against Matt Bevin, a Tea Party Republican who lost to McConnell by a 2-1 margin.

alison 1

Alison Lundergan Grives at Bellevue Vets May 22, 2014

After seeing the respective acceptance speeches of McConnell and Grimes on Tuesday night, I was thrilled to hear that Grimes was coming to last night’s Campbell County Democratic Party Unity Rally here in Bellevue, the town in which my wife Joan and I have lived since 1980. The rally was at the Bellevue Vets Club, about four blocks from our house. Alison Grimes arrived right on time, at the beginning of a rally that introduced a full slate of Campbell County Democrtic candadates for this November’s election. We had a full house, an ample potluck dinner, and a candidate who has an excellent chance of defeating McConnell in the fall and sending him home after 30 years of partisan obstructionism in Washington. He in his acceptance speech on Tuesday had tried to tie her tightly to President Obama, who remains unpopular in the state. Earlier in the campaign he had snidely called Grimes an “empty dress.” In her appearance at the Bellevue Vets tonight she was young, statuesque, flexible, bright, resourceful, pragmatic, personable, and inspiring. Speaking a few feet from us for about fifteen minutes without notes, she touched on many of the points she had made in her acceptance speech Tuesday night. She emphasized that President Obama is not on the ballot in Kentucky (“our election in November won’t change who is in the White House, but it can change who is in the Senate”) and she declared most elegantly that “I am not an empty dress and I can think for myself.” It’s great to have a national race on this side of the river to work for.

One of the pleasant surprises of last night’s rally was to see Ashley Tongret of the Cincinnati Opera, with whom I had worked in arranging a public screening of the PBS Great Performances broadcast of Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera at my university last November. She had heard that I will be on this summer’s whaling voyage and said that Jamie Jones, one of her friends from graduate school, now teaching in Michigan, was to be on a similar voyage that is departing from somewhere in Connecticut soon. She checked her smart phone and found that Jamie is on the first leg of the Morgan’s 2014 voyage, scheduled to leave New London for Newport, Rhode Island, on June 14.

Shawn Buckenmeyer with I & Q

Shawn Buckenmeyer with I & Q at Celebratoin of Student Research and Creativity, April 14

I can’t write about my excitement from the visit of Alison Lundergan Grimes to Bellevue last night without writing about the death of Shawn Buckenmeyer (Daniell) less than a mile away in Newport, Kentucky, on Saturday, April 26, our Training Day at Mystic Seaport.  Shawn Buckenmeyer (1977-2014) had been born in Groton, Connecticut, where the tug boat Kingston II had already served the naval boat yard for decades.  Shawn was a student in my graduate class on Moby-Dick and the Arts during the Fall 2013 semester. Her final project for the class was a painting she called A Story of I & Q in which she expressed the love between Ishmael and Queequeg in the form of two female figures joined across the body of a white whale. I took the photo posted here at NKU”s Celebration of Student Research and Creativity on April 14, eleven days before Shawn died suddenly in her sleep. At the Celebration, she presented her I & Q along with Moby-Dick art by three other women from my most recent Moby classes, all of whose work will be featured at our exhibition Moby Comes to Covington in April 2015.

Shawn was to have been married to Chuck Heffner next Friday, May 30. They had planned a honeymoon in Italy. Instead we will be having a Memorial Art Exhibition of her work at the York Street Café in Newport tomorrow night. I have written a tribute to Shawn for the electronic art journal AEQAI scheduled to be posted today. I’ll complete this entry after our event for Shawn tomorrow night.

Entry continues on Saturday, May 24, 10 pm

Untitled painting in Shawn's Memorial show, May 24

Untitled painting in Shawn’s Memorial show, May 24

We had a moving celebration of Shawn’s life tonight. The third floor of the York Street Café was packed with people who loved her, the great majority of whom I had never met.   Tonight ee who know her during the last two years in the M A. program at NKU became keenly aware of what a relatively small, though deep, part of her life we had known. The walls of the room, and a few of the tables, were packed with her art. Before tonight I had only seen I & Q and the one work she donated to an auction to benefit AEQAI at a Cincinnati gallery on April 17. I loved seeing the bright colors, the bold figures, the raw emotions, and the challenging themes of her art. Yes, most of her figures were female, and a great many of them were unclothed, but this led to more variety than sameness in artistic treatment. The spirit and the flesh wrestled in a long dance throughout the room, the viewers winning. She had a subject, she had a palette, she had a touch, and she had a voice. I could see an eroticized face from Eduard Munch in one painting, and a female pleasure zone from Vali Myers in another, but Shawn’s touch and voice were unmistakable throughout.

Untitled painting at Shawn's Memorial show

Untitled painting at Shawn’s Memorial show

I was happy to see I & Q just inside the door. Shawn’s mother Suzzana and her fiancé Chuck had chosen what they considered the best of her works, most of which were untitled and undated, and it was fun for me to wonder if the six or seven I liked best were the most recent. Many, like I & Q, were not for sale, but those that were, were going fast, the proceeds going to the Shawn Daniell Memorial Fund for the Arts that Chuck has already set up to benefit students at NKU ( Chuck and his mother had asked if I would speak, which I did. I emphasized the exceptional growth I had seen in Shawn from the time I met her as a student reporter in February 2011 to the day she presented I & Q at NKU’s Celebration event in April 2014, a framework that had also guided my tribute to Shawn that was posted on AEQAI today ( The evening’s other speakers were the young man who had served as matchmaker for Shawn and Chuck; Daniel Brown, who had been grooming Shawn to become the editor of AEQAI when he retires; and her brother Fred. We each addressed different facets of the exceptional woman we had known, and we all did our best to sustain the spirit of celebration more than the loss.

In a special session for Shawn at our English Department Graduate Colloquium at NKU on May 3, my colleague Jen Cellio read a short story Shawn had recently completed for a writing class. I had never heard her fiction before.  This story, about a young girl’s response to relentless hazing by her classmates, was honest and compelling. Shawn had just begun to work on the graphic novel that would have been her M A capstone project. With her unique abilities in visual art, her newly found talent as a writer of fiction, and her deep understanding of the relation between image and word, her graphic novel was likely to be fabulous. All we can do now is be grateful that we knew her. A number of our graduate faculty attended tonight, and so did many graduate students who loved her deeply and cherished both her creative and editorial work. Three of them, Nicci Mechler, Lauren McGee, and Minadora Macheret, are with Chuck in front of I & Q in the photo posted here.  Each of the three had presented creative projects from my Emily Dickinson class at previous Celebratoin events.

Nikki, Lauren, Minadora, and Chuck with I & Q on May 24

Nikki, Lauren, Minadora, and Chuck with I & Q on May 24

A Little Lower Layer

Just as student paragraphs are made vivid when supported by specific details, the same is true of a provisional travel plan. One unknown component of the summer exhibition at the Whaling Museum when I met with Christina and Michael in April was the new work that the Melville Society Cultural Project had commissioned from Matt Kish as our 2014 Archive artist. Kish was to be creating for New Bedford images that were inspired by Moby-Dick but entirely different from the 552 drawings he had published in Moby-Dick in Pictures in 2011. These would be larger than those for the book and they would be independent images, not drawn on found paper. He had proposed two subjects, a gallery of various whalers on the Pequod or a gallery of various whales in the ocean. Christina, Michael, and I all wanted to include these new works in the summer show, but we did not yet know what they would be.

Matt Kish, Queequeg, new drawing May 2014

Matt Kish, Queequeg, first of a set of drawings for 2014 commission for the Melville Society Archive

I found out a few days ago when Kish sent me a digital file of his new Queequeg, who was to be the first of eleven whalers from the Pequod he expected to complete by the time I left for New Bedford on June 23. In doing the new drawing, Kish was thinking about how lithe and muscular Queequeg and the other harpooners needed to be to succeed in thier work. I am eager to see Kish’s new depictions of Queequeg’s fellow crewmates. The gallery of whales will have to wait for a later day. Christina and Michael and I have agreed to feature the new Kishes, when we see them, as much as possible—which will mean trying to project, as much as is possible in advance, other images from the collection that will go best with them.

Vanessa Hidgkinson,  Squeeze of the Hand, 2013

Vanessa Hidgkinson,
Squeeze of the Hand, 2013

I’ve been in touch with Vanessa Hodgkinson, who will be one of my crewmates on the Morgan, because of several interests we have in common. Vanessa is a visual artist from London whose project for the voyage is to explore, through research and her own experience, the subject of women on whale ships. I met Vanessa during the Moby-Dick Marathon in New Bedford this January when she exhibited some Moby-Dick-inspired art at a gallery a few blocks from the Whaling Museum. We knew then that we had each applied for a spot on the Morgan this sumner, but we would not know until March whether either of us would be accepted. Apart from the voyage on the Morgan, I was interested in Vanessa as one of many female artists who have in the last decade been strongly drawn to Moby-Dick.

Talise Trevigne as Pip in Heggie and Scheer's Moby-Dick

Talise Trevigne as Pip in Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick (copyright Karen Almond Dallas Opera)

In 2013 I published a book on Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera, which had premiered in Dallas in 2010 and which cast Talise Trevigne, a soprano, as the African American cabin boy Pip. The opera is coming to Cincinnati, near my home in northern Kentucky, in June 2016. I am in the process of organizing a number of Moby-Dick art exhibitions in the city to coincident with the run of the opera, and I am expecting that Vanessa might be creating something from the voyage on the Morgan that could be featured in one of those exhibitioins. With this in mind, she has put me in touch with Jessica Rinland, another young British artist who has been making works about whaling, and I have been trying to get Vanessa in touch with Talise Trevigne.

All of this came together in a surprising way for me when I called Bow van Riper, the research librarian at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to see exactly what materials they might have on either the history of whaling or the Wapanoag culture when I arrived for a few hours on June 24. I had skimmed over their online finding aids on both subjects. After asking some questions specific to my own research interests, I said I’d had noticed that one of the finding aids listed some materials relating to women on whale ships, a subject of great interest to one of my June crewmates on the Morgan. He mentioned that quite a bit had been done with Laura Jurnegan, a local girl whose parents had taken her on a whaling voyage when she was six, but that there were certainly others as well, and he would be glad to have some materials for me to look at and the day I arrived. From that conversation I Googled “Laura Jurnegan” and found the website Laura Jurnegan: Girl on a Whaleship that had been recently created by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum with assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a number of Massachusetts funding agencies.

Laura Jurnegan as a young adult

Photograph of Laura Jurnegan as a young adult by O’Neil studio, Martha’s Vineyard Museum

The image posted here of Laura as a young woman was taken by a photographer in New Bedford. Exploring this fascinating website made me wonder if this young woman from Martha’s Vineyard had been the same young girl whose real-life experience had inspired Vanessa’s friend Jessica to create Electric Oil, one of the Rinland films Vanessa had forwarded to me (and winner of the ICA award for Best Experimental Film at the 2013 London Short Film Festival). Yes, indeed, here is a passage of the text that Jessica wrote to accompany her film: “In 1868, Laura Jernegan, a 6 year old girl from Massachusetts, USA set out on a three year whaling voyage. During this voyage, she wrote a journal about her life on the whaling ship.” That young girl’s handwritten journal, which is reproduced and transcribed on the website, is one of the things I will be sure to see in Edgartown before boarding the Morgan on June 24.

Stowing Down and Scanning the Horizon

Began writing this entry Wednesday, May 21, 8 am

Tug pushing the Morgan down the Mystic River

Tug pushing the Morgan down the Mystic River

 Last Saturday the Charles W. Morgan began its voyage in grand style, passing down the Mystic River and around on the ocean to New London, Connecticut, where she will be fitted up for the first transit of the voyage per se to Newport. Rhode Island.

Students writing final exam, May 8, 2014

Students writing final exam, May 8, 2014

My weekend in northern Kentucky was more prosaic, as it takes a lot of time at the end of the semester to sort things out and stow things away, to clear the decks for what is to come. In my office at home I had to decide what to keep from my recent classes, make a detailed list of the final projects in the class on Dickinson and the Arts, and create a binder that preserves each student’s artist statement, my photo of each student presenting her or his final project to the class, and companies, and each student’s comments about the final projects in the ‘lite’ final exam. After compiling the binder, I made copies of those parts of it that were pertinent to add to the consolidated binder I have created for all the Dickinson classes, integrating these new materials into the master list of art works, the sequence of artist statements, and the photographic files that I will soon be passing on to Emma Rose so that she can begin designing and laying out the catalog for the Dickinson, as well as the Moby-Dick, exhibition.

My NKU office May 2014

My NKU office May 2014, photo Emily Wiethorn

Sorting out and storing things in my home office also means doing the same for my office at the University. This year the need is especially pressing because designing the two catalogs for the exhibitions next spring will require timely access to all of the course materials and art works from previous courses that will come in to play. This semester ended with my office at the school stacked high with piles of manila folders that I’d been bringing from home for two years without room for them in my overstuffed file cabinets. I have also collected many more Moby-Dick and Emily Dickinson art works than I have room for on my walls, either at the office or at home. During the last academic year, I had been taking all of the individual art works in my office to the Fine Arts building so that Emily Wiethorn, the student photography major we have hired for both of our catalogs, could take individual photos of each one. While this was going on, it did not matter what my office looked like, but this Monday Emily came to photograph my office for the Campus Guide to Moby-Dick Art at NKU that Emma Rose and I are creating to accompany the exhibition in Covington next spring, so it was necessary to get my office looking reasonably presentable. The photo of the office inserted here shows Moby-Dick and Dickinson art works reaching back to 1996 and 2006, respectively.

At the same time that I’ve been sorting out and stowing down materials from previous classes, I’ve been trying to make arrangements for the whale ship voyage on June 25 and the exhibition and symposium in New Bedford that will follow immediately after. When Wyn Kelly and I drove from Boston to Mystic on the day before the Training Day in April, we had stopped in New Bedford in the afternoon so I could make preliminary plans for the summer exhibition with curator Christina Connett and maritime librarian Michael Dyer at the Whaling Museum. Christina and I had worked out in advance a title for the exhibition—The Art of Seeing Whales—and I had sent a preliminary list of art works from the Melville Society Archive and the Elizabeth Schultz Collection at the Whaling Museum that could potentially be integrated with art and artifacts from the Whaling Museum per se. Christina and her assistant Melanie Correa had pulled the works from the Schultz Collection I had listed and had also unpacked all of the framed images for Thanasis Christodoulou’s Pictorial Chronology that had recently arrived from Volos, Greece.

Captain Frankllin F. Smith, New Bedford Whaling Museum

Isaac Sheffield, Portrait of Captain Franklin F. Smith, New Bedford Whaling Museum

When we met with Mike Dyer in the Center Street Gallery in April to discuss how to integrate the Melville-related material with with items from the Whaling Museum’s general collection, Mike thought it might be good to include portraits of actual whaling captains from New Bedford along with artistic depictions of Captain Ahab by Kish, Christodoulou, and other visual artists. When Mike soon thereafter took me into the storage room to see portraits of such New Bedford captains as Franklin F. Smith and such women of New Bedford as Louisa Seaburg Cushman, it was clear to me that these historical portraits, and other artifacts Michael had mentioned, could augment the exhibition in a wonderful, and even perhaps unique, way.

Louisa Seabury Cushman, New Bedford Whaling Museum

Portrait of Louisa Seabury Cushman, New Bedford Whaling Museum, painter anonymous

The first necessity in planning my summer voyage was to get to New Bedford early enough on June 23 to be able to meet with Christina about the exhibition before traveling the next day to Martha’s Vineyard, where we will board the Charles W. Morgan at Vineyard Haven at 7 pm. There would be two ferries from New Bedford to Vineyard Haven on June 24, one leaving at 6:30 a.m., the other at 3:45 p.m. The early morning ferry would have put me on the island with twelve hours to kill before boarding the ship in advance of a day on which I wanted to be fresh and rested. The mid-afternoon ferry would get me to Vineyard Haven confortably in advance of the boarding of the ship—if everything went all right and on time. I checked with the Seastreak ferry office and learned that a voyage is very occasionally postponed or cancelled because of mechanical failure or dangerous weather conditions. I didn’t want to take that chance, so I investigated the other ferries that that would run directly to the island that day, departing from New Bedford to Oak Bluff at 9:30 am and 12:30 pm.

Martha's Vineyard Museum

Martha’s Vineyard Museum

Once I learned there was excellent bus service on the island, I was able to come up with a plan for a day trip that would greatly enrich my experience of the next day’s voyage. To learn about the history of whaling on the island, I would take a bus from Oak Bluff to Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Edgartown, reputed to have excellent materials about nineteenth-century whaling in particular. From there I would take a bus to Gay Head, the south-west extension of the island from whose shore the native Wampanoag peoples had hunted whalers long before several generations of white entrepreneurs had established the whaling industry as Melville knew it when shipping out on the Acushnet in 1841 and publishing Moby-Dick in 1851. Beyond this general history, I want to see Gay Head because it is the home of Tashtego, the Native American harponeer in Moby-Dick—and because we will probably be seeing Gay Head, and its famous lighthouse, from the Morgan as we pass by the extremity of the island on June 25.

Gay Head Lighthouse

Gay Head Lighthouse


Began writing part 2 of blog Sunday, May 9, 2014, 7 am

I’m a 38th Voyager in part because I’m a teacher. I have taught Moby-Dick at Northern Kentucky University for more than forty years.  i have taught a course in Moby-Dick and the Arts for more than twenty. In the latter course I leave the last two weeks open for a final project in which each student has the option of writing a research paper or creating an artistic response to the novel. I have been surprised, and delighted, at the number of students who have taken the artistic plunge. Very few have been art majors. Most are English majors or Honors students, and many say, as they present their proposal at mid-semester or share their creation at the end of the semester, “I’ve never done anything creative since the fifth grade.” This voyage is like one of the in-class artistic projects for me. Open space that I have to fill with what feels like the most personal and expressive way of responding to what I and my fellow voyagers have been experiencing from the Training Day until the Charles W. Morgan has carried us from the island of Martha’s Vineyard to the port of New Bedford.

Dickinson and Arts class on final exam day

Dickinson and Arts class on final exam day, outside Honors House, Northern Kentucky University, Spring Semester 2014

I was not teaching Moby-Dick and the Arts during the current 2014 Spring Semester. My upper-division course this semester was Emily Dickinson and the Arts. For more than twenty five years, I had taught the poems of Emily Dickinson alongside the novels of Henry James. But ever since 2001 students have responded so strongly to Dickinson that I finally decided to drop James and devote my course entirely to her—and the visual and musical artists who have responded to her work. The current course is the second one in which I have offered Dickinson and the Arts. The entire class took the creative plunge. The final projects by fourteen students included two artist books, one pop-up book, one series of original poems, one series of original songs, a painted box with found items, a white dress with inscribed poems, a blog combining dance and photography, and a rich array of visual art: a garden in watercolor on paper, a landscape in charcoal on paper, purple orchids in acrylic on canvas, a cleaving mind in acrylic on canvas, a human drama in mixed media on canvas, and Dickinson poems as graffiti on a nearby city wall as a public art project. On the final exam day, we had a lunch that I brought in from Chipotle and we took a group photo outside of the Honors House in which our class had met.

Kathleen Piercefiled's Moby-Dick: A Mighty Mildness

Kathleen Piercefiled’s Moby-Dick: A Mighty Mildness

In a course like this, you have the voyage and the aftermath. The art work created by students in my Dickinson and Moby-Dick classes have been so expressive that I am currently working with Emma Rose Thompson, a BFA in Art History who took Moby-Dick and the Arts during the 2013 Spring Semester, to curate two separate exhibitions in northern Kentucky during the 2015 Spring Semester. The first will be an exhibition of student art inspired by Dickinson in the Eva G. Farris Reading Room of the W. Frank Steely Library at NKU from January – May 2015. The second will be an exhibition of student art inspired by Moby-Dick at the Covington Arts Gallery from April 17 – May 30, 2015. For the Dickinson exhibition we have selected 40 works by 39 student artists, including many from the recently completed class. For the Moby-Dick exhibition we have selected 106 works by 53 student artists reaching back to 1994. We will be designing and producing a catalog for each exhibit, and each work that will appear in each catalog and exhibition has been photographed during the current semester so we can design the catalogs during the summer. When I will be sailing on the Charles W. Morgan in late June, Emma Rose will be using the In-Design editing program to design the layout for the catalogs we will be self-publishing through We have selected Kathleen Piercefield’s multi-media Moby-Dick print as the banner image for the xave-the-date message Emma Rose is preparing for Facebook.

I mention all of this here because of the many ways in which teaching courses like these is like voyaging in a whale ship. Here is Ishmael’s description of the moment in which he and Queequeg “stood on board the schooner” that would carry them from New Bedford to the ship they would board in Nantucket: “At last, passage paid, and luggage safe, we . . . glided down the Acushnet,” sailing into the realization that “one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for every and for eye” (“The Wheelbarrow,” chapter 13). For each entire voyage, you have the preparation , the voyage itself, and residue, either physical or metaphysical. How does Dickinson’s poetry play into the voyage I will be taking this summer?  Or into the artistic plunges my students have been taking with their final projects? In a stanza such as this:

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses—past the headlands—
Into deep Eternity— (J 76, c. 1859)

Later on May 9, 3 pm

I have just returned from the Spring 2014 graduation ceremony on our campus. Two of my Moby-Dick graduate students graduated today, along with two of my Moby undergraduates, two of my Dickinson undergraduates, and one who took both courses. During the ceremony I sat between two colleagues from the Art department who had some helpful advice for the exhibitions Emma Rose and I are planning for the 2015 Spring Semester. The morning ceremony today was for the graduates in the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Informatics. Sue Rowlands, our new University Provost, crafted a ship metaphor for her message to the new graduates, encouraging them to toss of the bowline from the ship, to set their sails boldly, and to make the life for which they have now prepared themselves an open-ended adventure. Our Commencement speaker, Dr. T. Pearse Lyons, founder and president of Alltech, was even bolder in his use of the sailing metaphor. He advised our new graduates not only to launch out boldly from the shore, but to prepare themselves for the treacherous, mountainous waves they will surely encounter along the way, emphasizing that it is only by failure that you can succeed. Or, as Melville put it in his 1850 essay on Hawthorne: “Failure is the true test of greatness” (NCE 527).

Map of the 38th Voyage, outward and homeward bound

Map of the 38th Voyage, outward and homeward bound

A Tug Boat and One Man’s Dad

The tug boat that welcomes all visitors to the Mystic Seaport Museum

The tug boat that welcomes all visitors to the Mystic Seaport Museum

My dad's Sea King coffee mug and 1941 victory mug

My dad’s Sea King coffee mug and 1941 victory mug

As Wyn and I walked from the Shipyard Tavern to the visitor’s parking lot, I felt I had to take a picture of the landlocked tug boat that sits right next to the entrance to the Seaport complex in front of the Visitor’s Center. I had worked on tug boats for seven summers during my youth on Puget Sound, and I had of course mentioned this in my application for the whale ship voyage this summer. During high school I had started as a deckhand on the Sea Sled and the Sea Pride, moving log rafts around Everett’s Port Gardner Bay and up the Snohomish River. During college I had graduated to towing log rafts and gravel barges up and down Puget Sound on the Sea Chicken and the Josie Foss, followed by the summer on the Sea King during which we brought big oil tankers into the refinery at Ferndale. I got these jobs because my father Walt Wallace had worked as a deckhand for Foss Tug & Barge as a college student in Seattle and was now making his career with Pacific Tow Boat Company, a Foss satellite in Everett, where he began as dispatcher and was now manager. One of his signature moves at Pacific Tug Boat was to wean the company away from boats such as the Sea Chicken, with its deep, elegant wooden hull, to shallow, steel-hulled boats such as the Sea Pride that he had designed by himself, modern, efficient tugs that could turn on a dime and were powered by state-of-the-art Caterpillar engines.

USS Nautilus (SSN-571), National Archives

USS Nautilus (SSN-571), National Archives

I figured that there must be something special about the tug that was given such prominence at the entrance of a Seaport Museum specializing in nineteenth-century sailing ships, so I looked it up in the Visitor’s Guide we had been given on the Training Day. The Kingston II is a forty-four-foot tugboat “originally built in 1937 at the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Connecticut.” She “is thought to have been one of the first all-welded vessels,” having been built “from scrap steel by apprentice welders.” I felt a special shock of recognition when I read that she “spent more than 40 years moving submarines, including the first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, at the Electric Boat yard” (Visitor’s Guide 17). One of my strongest memories as a teenager is when my dad took me to see the Nautilus when she spent a night in Everett in June 1958 before going on to moor at Pier 91 in Seattle. My Dad was very excited about the visit of this famous submarine because he was still attached to Naval Reserve in Seattle after having commanded a subchaser in the Pacific during World War II. Dad had joined officer’s training in the U. S. Navy immediately in the summer of 1942, when the national crew race at Poughkeepsie was canceled due to the war. I was born in Seattle in 1944 while he was at sea, and he moved our family to Everett for his job at Pacific Tow Boat soon after returning home. He had loved the Navy and had once hoped I would to go Annapolis, but I was not drawn to the military in the way he was, and would have been disqualified anyway because of a bit of a cross in my eyes.

Racing shells in the Mystic Seaport Museum boathouse

Racing shells in the Mystic Seaport Museum boathouse

My dad died in 1997. I wish he could have known about my upcoming voyage on the whale ship. And I dearly wish he could have been with me when I saw that beautiful stack of crew racing shells in the storage warehouse of the Mystic Seaport Archive.

Walt Wallace (third from right) with championship crew in 1941

Walt Wallace (third from right) with championship crew in 1941

Walt Wallace with wife Barbara and son Bob

Walt Wallace with wife Barbara and son Bob

Working on tug boats in Puget Sound had prepared me for Melville’s Moby-Dick in a way that my eleventh-grade English teacher had not. I did not enjoy the book in high school, but I loved it when I studied it as a junior at Whitman College after spending a summer on the Sea Chicken towing logs the full length of Puget Sound. Beginning in 1998, I have spent part of every summer in New Bedford, where in 2000 we launched the Melville Society Cultural Project in association with the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Since then, six of us have visited the Whaling Museum every January for the Moby-Dick Marathon Reading. Every summer we return to tend to the Melville Society Archive which the Whaling Museum houses for us and to plan special programming for the forthcoming year. This summer we will coordinate a Whaling History Symposium while the Charles W. Morgan is docked in New Bedford. We are also collaborating with the Whaling Museum staff in mounting a special exhibition on The Art of Seeing Whales.

The six of us who administer the Cultural Project in New Bedford have always worked well as a team. After our long history together, it was a special pleasure to have three of us, Mary K, Wyn, and myself, in the same whale boat a week ago Saturday. Only when writing up these journal entries did I come to realize the degree to which our Cultural Project team resembles the crew of a whale boat, six individuals who, working together, under the right conditions, can sometimes achieve surprising results even in a relatively brief amount of time, one of us after another taking the steering oar as needed.

Wyn Kelly, Mary K Bercaw Edwards, and Chris Sten next to Peter Michael Martin's Melville the Man

Wyn Kelly, Mary K Bercaw Edwards, and Chris Sten next to Peter Michael Martin’s Melville the Man on January 4, 2014

On January 2, 2014, we arrived in New Bedford on a night nearly as frigid as any the city had seen since Melville shipped out on the Acushnet on January 3, 1841. We felt that Ishmael was not exaggerating too much when he complained about “congealed frost laying ten inches thick in hard asphaltic pavement” upon his arrival in the city in chapter 2. Conditions were so treacherous on January 3 of this year that the city’s streets were closed to traffic and the pre-Marathon evening lecture was canceled. Our hotel was only a short distance from the Whaling Museum, so we were able to walk over there and have our scheduled January 3 meeting with the housebound members of the museum staff by making a conference call from the office of James Russell, the museum’s resourceful CEO. During our time in the building, we made a quick trip the museum’s Center Street Gallery to the Moby-Dick art exhibition of Peter Michael Martin, whose Melville the Man, cut out from a single piece of black tyvek, is our 2013 acquisition for the Melville Society Archive. His stark, striking design, as you can see, was perfect for this frigid day of crystallized clarity.