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


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