Blog Epilogue

Entry written on August 6, 2014

[One requirement of being a 38th Voyager was to submit one-page contribution to the “Collective Journal” in which each participant conveys his or her “experiences and emotions . . . on board the Charles W. Morgan.”  Below is the text of my submission.]

As a teacher of Melville who does much of his research on Moby-Dick and the Arts, my primary professional challenge is to continue and discover—and articulate—fresh ways in which Melville’s nineteenth-century novel remains relevant to twenty-first century life. My experience on the 38th Voyage of the 19th century whale ship Charles W. Morgan has brought me into the 21st century in two new ways.

I had expected to write a creative-non-fiction essay as a result of the voyage. Instead, I have written and posted my first blog,  In length, Sailing on the Whaleship Charles W. Morgan in June 2014 (https://mobyart.wordpress.com/) turned out to be more like a book than an essay. But it differs from a book in being rich in illustrations, mostly from the photos I took myself on the Training Day and during the Voyage itself. I currently feel that the blog itself is the best expressive vehicle for what I have experienced (rather than an intermediate step toward some more scholarly print publication).

I had not expected to post my first YouTube video as a result of this voyage. I did feel I owed it to the voyage to purchase a GoPro camera in case it might help document what I saw. I also bought a head strap in case I wanted to run the camera while both hands were busy. This worked well when I decided to climb up the rigging of the foremast of the Morgan.  When I saw footage of the ascent after getting home, I decided to make it my first YouTube video.  I called the video Old Whale Ship, New Go Pro, Rookie in the Rigging (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PP8XLp8CjbA).  Watching the video taught me something important about truth versus representation. The “fish-eye” lens makes the climb look more dangerous than it actually felt.

I hope and expect that showing the blog and YouTube video to my tech-savvy future students will bring them closer to my once-in-a-lifetime experience on the Morgan.

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Moby-Dick Art in Cincinnati in 2016

Entry begun on Thursday, August 5, 9 am

Since returning home from the voyage on the Fourth of July, in addition to working with Emma Rose on the 2015 Moby-Dick exhibition and catalog, I’ve been working on a number of exhibitions to coincide with the production of Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera in Cincinnati in 2016.  In July I attended two of this year’s Cincinnati Opera summer productions, Silent Night (by contempoary composer Kevin Puts) on July 12 and La Calisto (by Baroque composer Francesco Corelli) on July 27.  Now that this summer’s season is over, I will be meeting with members of the Cincinnati Opera staff to bring them up to date on the artists and venues actively interested in exhibiting Moby-Dick art concurrent with the opera production June 2016. I will then arrange a meeting of representatives from the interested museums and galleries, and I will continue to be in touch contemporary artists who are in the process of creating new Moby-Dick art that could be considered for one or more of the exhibition venues.

Poster for the Moby-Dick world premiere in Dallas
Poster for the Moby-Dick world premiere in Dallas in 2010

  The Cincinnati Opera sent a large delegation to see the world premiere of Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick in Dallas in 2010 because Heggie’s Dead Man Walking had been very popular with Cincinnati audiences in a 2002 production. The Cincinnati delegation was highly impressed with Moby-Dick in Dallas and wanted to bring it to Cincinnati as soon as possible. Given the lead time required for opera contracts these days, that would have been in this year, in the summer of 2014. This plan had to be suspended when a major renovation was proposed for Music Hall, home of Cincinnati Opera’s summer season. Their next option was to produce Moby-Dick during the 2015 summer season, but as the plans for the renovation became more an more convoluted, uncertain, and politicized, there was no way to tell whether the renovation would be underway, completed, or not even begun, by that date. No longer willing to be held hostage to the uncertainties surrounded the renovation, the opera company booked the Aronoff Center in downtown Cincinnati for June 2016 so they would have a secure venue if Music Hall were to be unavailable. The Aronoff Center was designed to handle large Broadway musicals on tour and its largest hall will easily be able to accommodate the sloping white wall that provides the backdrop for much of Heggie and Scheer’s shipboard opera.

Aronoff Center on Walnut between Sixth and Seventh in Cincinnati

Aronoff Center for Performing Arts on Walnut between Sixth and Seventh in Cincinnati

Ever since I saw Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick in Dallas in 2010 and published a book on it in 2013, I have been hoping to organize several exhibitions of Moby-Dick art concurrent with its Cincinnati production in June 2016, wherever that production may be. All of the art institutions with whom I have so far spoken have shown an active interest, and three of them literally surround the Aronoff Center on Walnut between Sixth and Seventh Streets. The Contemporary Arts Center, in the splendid Zaha Hadid building completed in 2003, is directly across from the Aronoff Center on the northwest corner of Sixth and Walnut. The 21c Museum and Hotel is immediately adjacent to the Contemporary Arts Center across Walnut from the Aronoff. The Weston Art Gallery occupies the corner wing of the Aronoff building itself at the southeast corner of Seventh and Walnut. The Marta Hewett Gallery is less than a mile north of the Aronoff Center in the Pendleton Arts district. Music Hall is about a mile northwest of the Aronoff Center and its surrounding galleries. All four of the above art venues are interested in exhibiting Moby-Dick art in June 2016 that will supplement the production of the opera while also meeting their own artistic missions.

Music Hall at 12th and Elm, Cincinnati

Music Hall at 12th and Elm, Cincinnati

NKU Moby student studying Insanity Series at Unpainted to the Last exhibition in Evanston in 1996

NKU Moby student Bill Fletcher studying Insanity Series at Unpainted to the Last exhibition in Evanston in 1996

Most of the Moby-Dick artists currently being considered by the above galleries are contemporary artists, several of whom are represented in the current Art of Seeing Whales exhibition in New Bedford. One artist from the mid-twentienth century will also be included if technical details can be worked out. Gilbert Wilson (1907-1991) was a native of Terre Haute, Indiana, who devoted his life to creating a Moby-Dick opera. He created over three hundred artworks depicting scenes and characters from the novel as well as stage sets for his projected opera.  He wrote several complete librettos for his Moby-Dick opera projedt.  Wilson corresponded at length with composers from Aaron Copland, to Dmitri Shostakovich, to Leonard Bernstein imploring them to write the music. All of this was to no avail, and Gilbert Wilson was essentially unknown until Elizabeth Schultz discovered his work while researching Unpainted to the Last.  Schultz discussed and illustrated a great variety of his work in the text and plates of her 1995 book, reproducing all six works of the Insanity Series in which Wilson depicts the sequential progression of Ahab’s madness (c. 1850).  The Insanity Series was part of the exhibition Unpainted to the Last that opened at the Spencer Art Museum at the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1995 and traveled to the Block Gallery of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in 1996.  Students in my 1996 Sprng Semester in Melville and the Arts were deeply impressed with Wlson’s work when we took a field trip to Evanston in February to see the show. .

Gilbert Wilson drawings for stage sets in storage at Swope Art Museum in 2013

Gilbert Wilson drawings for stage sets in storage at Swope Art Museum in 2013

Gilbert Wilson, Pip, the cabin boy, design for Frankfort mural

Gilbert Wilson, Pip, the cabin boy, design for Frankfort mural. Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute

Through Schultz’s efforts, Wilson’s entire Moby-Dick oeuvre was acquired by the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute.  Students in my classes have been deeply drawn to Wilson’s work simply from seen the reproductions in Schultz’s book, and several have driven to Terre Haute to see works from the series in person (including one who created a 30-minute film on Wilson’s career).  Wilson’s artistic response to Melville’s novel anticipates many of the most important elements of the opera Heggie and Scheer were to create a half-century later, especially in the treament of characters such as Ahab, Starbuck, and Pip.  One of the masterpieces of the series is the triptych of the Cosmic Whale that Wilson designed for a mural project on the ceiling of a former federal post office in Frankfort, Kentucky, that was never painted (c. 1970).  The coming of Heggie and Scheer’s opera to Cincinnati in 2016 will be the perfect occasion for the power and scope of Wilson’s lifetime achievement to become known to a much wider audience.

gil outdoors with cosmic whale from ES file

Gilbert Wilson with Cosmic Whale triptych on Kentucky farm late in life. Photo courtesy of Beth Schultz

Among the many contemporary artists who have already created a large existing body of Moby-Dick art that would enrich one’s experience of the opera, there are a significant number who are still in the process of creating new work that could also be available for exhibition in 2016. Seeing a sample of the new work that these artists are still in the process of creating will expand our sense of what may be available by the time the opera arrives in Cincinnati.

Robert Del Tredici, Elm, 2014

Robert Del Tredici, Elm, 2014

In the early 1960s, Robert Del Tredici began a series of Moby-Dick pen-and-ink drawings that ended up as 100 designs which he published as offset 8 x 10 prints on photo offset using colored paper stock.  In the late 1990s he began a new Moby-Dick initiative by transforming many of the pen-and-inks into poster-sized silkscreen prints, using a gestural approach to the medium that made every print unique in the editon of 20.  Many of the original pen-and-inks and twenty new silkscreen prints were reproduced in his book Floodgates of the Wonderworld in 2001. Last November, when coming to speak to Honors students at Northern Kentucky University, Del Tredici brought with him ten entirely new Moby-Dick drawings printed on metallic paper, inaugurating the third phase of his career as a Moby-Dick artist. Already in 2014 he has printed seventeen additional designs, with more to come.  Most of the new prints measure 11 x 14 inches on metallic paper. Like Jake Heggie in his Moby-Dick opera, one of Del Tredici’s challenges has been to find a way into Ahab’s inner life, something he has done impressively in several of the new prints on metallic paper.  Those posted here show Ahab alone (Elm) and with Pip (Malady)..

Robert Del Tredici, Malady, 2014

Robert Del Tredici, Malady, 2014

A. C. Christodoulou, The Pipe, December 2013

A. C. Christodoulou, The Pipe, December 2013

Thanasis Christodoulou, who hosted the first International Melville Society Conference  in Volos, Greece, in 1997, is another long-standing Moby-Dick artist who continues to create new work year after year.  In 2009 he donated thirty of his original drawings dating back to the 1990s to the Melville Society Archive in New Bedford. Two of those works, Loomings IV and The Symphony are part of the current exhibition The Art of Seeing Whales in New Bedford. Christodoulou has continued to make new Moby-Dick drawings since then, two of the most explorations of Ahab’s psyche being The Pipe, and entirely new creation in 2013, and a new 2014 version of The Chase–Third Day..

Thanasis Christodoulou, The Chase--Third Day, 2014 version

Thanasis Christodoulou, The Chase–Third Day, 2014 version

Matt Kish. Ahab, 2014

Matt Kish. Ahab, 2014

Matt Kish published Moby-Dick in Pictures, one drawing for each of the 552 pages in the Signet edition, in 2011. This year he created the twelve new portraits of the crew of the Pequod that I took with me to New Bedford as the 2014 commission from the Melville Society Archive. Having completed that body of new work, he is now beginning a gallery of fourteen different species of whales cataloged by Ishmael in the “Cetology” chapter. These drawings will vary in size according to the relative size of the whales themselves, some of them possibly being as large as 24 x 30 inches. This new series is likely to be completed well in advance of June 2016 and would be wonderful to hang as a complete set along with his new portrait gallery from the Pequod.  These newest works by Kish could also be supplemented by some of this original drawings for the 2011 book now in the collections of the Melville Society Archive and Steely Library Archives at NKU. In earlier sections of this blog we have seen Kish’s new drawings of Queequeg, Daggoo, and Fleece. Posted here are Tastego and Ahab.

Matt Kish, Tashtego, 2014

Matt Kish, Tashtego, 2014

Aileen Callahan, Fire Whale, 2014

Aileen Callahan, Fire Whale, 2014

Aileen Callahan is another extremely prolific Moby-Dick artist who is creating a large body of new work in advance of 2016. As mentioned above, she had created a series of large oil paintings such as White Whale early in this century, followed by the sequence of paintings imagining the Birth of Moby Dick in 2005. Since then she has been exploring the body of the whale in both oil and charcoal in her Furnace Mouth and now her Whale’s Skin series. The Skin’s Path drawing now on view in New Bedford is one of more than a dozen large charcoal drawings of the whale’s skin in the last few years, and there are many more to come. On a visit to Cincinnati a few weeks ago, Aileen showed me a rich series of brand new drawings, some of them 15 x 20 inches, others as large as 22 x 30 inches. It is wonderful to see an artist take up a subject such as this and continue to find rich new meaning and modes of expression over and over again.

Aileen Callahan, Pulsing Back Skin, 2014

Aileen Callahan, Pulsing Back Skin, 2014.

Vanessa Hodgkinson, Whale Portrait 1, 2014

Vanessa Hodgkinson, Whale Portrait 1, 2014

Vanessa Hodgkinson, my shipmate on the Charles W. Morgan in June, is another contemporary Moby-Dick artist who is actively making new work as I am writing this blog entry. I have already shown in this blog the seven new watercolor-and-ink drawings she completed within three days of getting off the whale ship. She will obviously be working for some time to create a film out of the video footage she took of herself when trying to enact the experience of a woman trying to pass as a man on a nineteenth-century ship such as the Morgan.  A third artistic project from her voyage will be a series of studio photographs exploring the same questions of identity she will be exploring in the video. She expects to create a series of at least six photos, but she cannot say for sure, because this particular project has only just begun. She has given me permission to reproduce here her first works-in-progress towards the series Whale Portraits, sent to me last week. Together, these newest works by Callahan and Hodgkinson help so show, as does the experience of the Charles W. Morgan on Stellewagen bank, why eco-feminism is one of the strongest movements for interpreting Moby-Dick today, among visual artists as well as literary critics.

Vanessa Hodgkinson, Whale Portait 2

Vanessa Hodgkinson, Whale Portait 2, work-in-progress, 2014

Much remains to be seen about the performance venue for the Moby-Dick opera in June 2016 as well as about the visual artists who will be featured in whatever exhibitions are actually mounted to accompany the production. In addition to the past, present, and future work of such out-of-town artists such as Del Tredici, Christodoulou, Kish, Callahan, and Hodgkinson, a number of works by local artists to be featured in the Moby Comes to Covington exhibition in April and May 2015 are likely to be included in one or more of the 2016 exhibitions.  We will also be able to consider new works still in the process of being created by these and other local artists.

Abby Schlachter, who has made a name for herself as textile artist after exhibiting Life Buoy in 2009, is already far along in designing a large white whale that can float high above one of our local exhibition spaces, accompanied by suspended whaleboats and a coffin. Kathleen Piercefield, who currently has two works from the Schultz collection in the Art of Seeing Whales in New Bedford, has a number of new ideas that are likely to find strong visual expression by the time the opera comes to town. Jean Grangeon, a French artist relatively new to the art scene in Cincinnati, is beginning an ambitious new Moby-Dick series based on his own reading of the novel in collaboration with the work of a neurobiologist friend in Switzerland who has recently published a French-language essay on Ahab and monomania.

Jean Grangeon in his pre-Moby studio, Northside, Cincinnati

Jean Grangeon in his pre-Moby studio, Northside, Cincinnati

I am very excited about the new artworks that these and other Moby-Dick artists are creating in advance of the opera production in 2016.  Even more exciting are future developments of which not only I but the artists themselves are currently unaware. I am also hoping that we can find Cincinnati venues for three Moby-Dick musical creations in 2016.  One is And God Created Great Whales, the brilliant two-person chamber opera and performance piece premiered in 2001 by Rinde Eckert, who write the libretto, composed the music, and performed one of the two roles.  Another is the Ahab Symphony by Jake Heggie that premiered at the University of North Texas at Denton in April 2013, a composition for tenor, orchestra and chorus that juxtaposes Ahab’s words on the Last Day of the Chase with W. H. Auden’s poem on Melville.  The third work is the Moby-Dick Oratorio that Molly Herron and her colleagues in the West Fourth New Music Collective composed for its premiere performance in Brooklyn earlier this year, on the same day that Heggie and Scheer’s opera was having its Washington DC premiere with the National Opera.

Contents for score of Moby Dick Oratorio by West Fourth New Music Collective, Brooklyn, 2014

Contents for score of Moby Dick Oratorio by West Fourth New Music Collective, Brooklyn, 2014

This, I believe, is the appropriate place to end this blog primarily inspired by my experience as a 38th Voyager on the whale ship Charles W. Morgan in June 2014. My one-day voyage on the whale ship is now six weeks past.  Many exciting Moby-related activities are looming on the horizon.   If it feels like the right thing to do, I will create a companion blog to this one in order to share the process of implementing various initiatives relating to Moby Comes to Covington in April 2015 as well as to those exhibitions that will eventually accompany the Cincinnati production of the Moby-Dick opera in June 2016, with maybe a few Japanese adventures in between.

[Note to reader: I have begun a new blog entitled Dickinson and Moby-Dick in 2015.  As an epilogue to this blog I am posting a the text of the one-page report I submitted to Mystic Seaport Museum after completing my whale ship project.]

Moby-Dick in Covington and Tokyo in 2015

Entry begun on Monday, August 4, at 10:15 am

During the month in which I’ve been home, I’ve been meeting weekly with Emma Rose Thompson, the Art major and Honors student who is my co-curator for the exhibition Moby Comes to Covington scheduled for the Covington Arts Gallery in April and May 2015.  All of the work in the show is from students in my literature classes at Northern Kentucky University.  We have selected 103 works by 53 student artists as the ingredients for the show.  We will publish all of the artworks in the exhibition catalog even though there will not be room for all of them on the walls. We are calling the catalog Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish because each artwork has some connection to Melville’s novel while at the same time being independent of it. Emma Rose is designing a two-page spread for each student artist, and we will present them chronologically from earliest (Spring Semester 1994) to the most recent (Fall Semester 2013). Jessica Slone, a student in my graduate class in Melville and Douglass during the 2011 Fall Semester, is one of several who has used Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish as the name of her own creation.

Jessica Slone presenting Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish to ENG 689 in December 2011

Jessica Slone presenting Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish to ENG 689 in December 2011

In each two-page spread, the reproduction of the artwork itself will be accompanied by the student’s artist statement, the “presentation photo” I took immediately after the student presented the work to the class, and my short biographical recollection of each student. With the help of several grants, Emma Rose and I arranged to have all of the hundred-plus art works photographed by the end of the 2014 Spring Semester. We are designing the book to be published by Blurb in a landscape format for each two-page spread. I have now supplied Emma Rose with all of the ingredients for each spread and she will soon have the layout completed for each one. When we meet this Thursday, we will each bring drafts of the catalog essays we are writing independently.

I posted an early draft of the two-page spread for Fred North (our first student artist, from Spring 1994) in the “Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish” entyr in Part 2 of this blog.  Several students who created multiple Moby-Dick artworks, either during the class or after, will have four- or six-page spreads. Here are the opening spreads for two students whose work has been mentioned in the course of this blog, Abby Schlachter (Langdon) from the Spring 1997 course and Kathleen Piercefield from Spring 2004. 

First two-page spread for Abby Schlachter in Spring 1997 section of catalog draft

First two-page spread for Abby Schlachter in Spring 1997 section of catalog draft

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First two-page spread for Kathleen Piercefield in Spring 2004 section of catalog draft

First two-page spread for Kathleen Piercefield in Spring 2004 section of catalog draft

Emma Rose and I are currently planning to open next year’s Covington show on April 17, to conduct a Marathon Reading of Moby-Dick in the exhibition space on April 25 and 26, and to hold a one-day Symposium on Moby-Dick at the Arts at NKU on April 27. Beth Schultz has agreed to give the keynote address for the Symposium; Sam Otter, editor of Leviathan, will deliver closing remarks, and the Symposium will also feature NKU student artists along with Moby-Dick artist Matt Kish and Jeff Markham, a high school teacher at New Trier near Chicago whose students do an ambitious Moby-Dick art project every other year. Dates and venues might change slightly given that the City of Covington appears to be in the process of selling the space of the current Covington Art Gallery, but Cate Yellig, the gallery director, expects to be able to find an appropriate venue for each of the exhibitions currently scheduled for the 2014-15 season.

Group sculpture by Jeff Markham’s Spring 2014 students at New Trier High School, Tattoing the Whale: A Complete Theory of the Heavens and the Earth

As soon as Emma Rose and I have produced a sample proof of our Moby catalog, we will design the catalog for the exhibition of Emily Dickinson art scheduled for the Eva G. Farris Reading Room of the W. Frank Steely Library at NKU from January to May 2015 (“I took my Power in my Hand”: Emily Dickinson Art by Students at Northern Kentucky University). This catalog will be smaller and less complex than the Moby catalog because it features only 40 artworks by 39 student artists. Our signature event for that exhibition will come on Valentine’s Day weekend, when we will hold a Marathon Reading of Dickinson’s poems on February 13 and 14, punctuated by a reception for student artists and an Emily Dickinson song recital on the evening of February 13. In the photo below, Emma Rose is standing before one of the Emily Dickinson artworks in my office, Camilla Asplen’s I took my Power in my Hand.  She is wearing one of the limited-edition T-shirts created by the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the Whaling History Symposium in honor of the Charles W. Morgan.

Emma Rose Thompson with limited-edition T-shirt from New Bedford Whaling History Symposium

Emma Rose Thompson with limited-edition T-shirt from New Bedford Whaling History Symposium

One month after Moby Comes to Covington closes in May 2015, the 10th International Melville Society Conference will be held at Keio University in Tokyo. Every Melville scholar I know is very excited about this conference. Japanese scholars have been a major presence at our previous international conferences. Wherever we meet, whether it is in Greece, Hawaii, Poland, Jerusalem, Rome, or any of our multiple venues in the United States, ten or more Japanese scholars are usually present to read papers and mix with Melvillians from around the world. Japanese scholars have published very impressive books and essays on Melville; Sky-Hawk, the journal of the Melville Society of Japan, is now in its thirtieth year; and at last count there were eleven different translations of Moby-Dick into Japanese.

Translation of Moby-Dick by Toshio Yagi exhibited at Northern Kentucky University in 2011

Translation of Moby-Dick by Toshio Yagi exhibited at Northern Kentucky University in 2011

 

Looking into The Sphynx in Kitakyushu in 1991

Looking into The Sphynx in Kitakyushu in 1991

I first went to Japan in October 1991, when the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum on the island of Kyushu held a retrospective of Frank Stella’s career that included nine large metallic reliefs from the Moby-Dick series he had begun in 1985. I had become interested in the series when I saw nine of the Wave prints at the Solway Gallery in Cincinnati in November 1989.  At that time it was very hard to study the metallic reliefs in the United States. By the time I flew to Japan to see nine of the metallic reliefs in one room of the Kitakyushu Museum, I had only managed to see four others at widely scattered American sites. In addition to getting to see the Moby-Dick reliefs in Kitakyushu, I met Stella himself when he gave a talk to open the exhibition.  I was able to interview him the next morning and to continue to do so several times a year at his studio in New York until he finished the series in 1997.  Without the flight to Kitakyushu (in process of which Delta Airlines lost my luggage and Japan Airlines found it), I could never have published my book on Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick: Words and Shapes in 2000.

Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick, publihed in 2000

Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick, published in 2000 and reprinted in 2007

 

The Spirit Spout, Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art

The Spirit Spout, Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art

As I got further into my research into Stella’s series, it became clear that I needed to make a return trip to Japan, this time a more wide-ranging attempt to see Moby-Dick reliefs scattered throughout the country. The Kitakyushu retrospective had been a temporary exhibition; they did not have any Stella Moby-Dicks in their own collection. I had one of the best research trips in my life as I tracked down Stubb’s Supper in Osaka, The Spirit Spout in Hiroshima, The Pequod meets the Rachel in Kochi, The Shark Massacre and The Grand Armada on the island of Naoshima, and Merry Christmas, The Mast-Head, and The Sphynx at the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art in Sakura. These large, gleaming, edgy, and sometimes densely painted three-dimensional metallic constructs must be seen in person in roder to experience their physical scale and imaginative power.  These venues in Japan provided me an experience of the series I could not the available in the United States.

One of the great surprises of the trip to Japan in 1994 was to enter the brand-new Museum of Art in Kochi and see Stella’s The Peqood meets the Rosebud permanently installed in the lobby as the signature piece of the entire museum (which is also known as the Ark of Art because it is surrounded by water).  This museum’s acquisition of this particular work is enriched when one recalls that “The Pequod meets the Rosebud” in one ot the chapters in Melville’s novel featuring a cross-coltural encouter with the ship of another nation (in this case the French).  One can hope that some of the Moby-Dick reliefs on American soil will be included when the Whitney Museum of American Art opens the inagural season in its new building on lower Manhattan with a major retrospective of Frank Stella’s career (Fall 2015 – Spring 2016).

The Pequod meets the Rosebud, The Ark of Art, Kochi

The Pequod meets the Rosebud, permanently installed in the lobby of the Museum of Art, Kochi

I was also very fortunate to be visiting the Kawamura Memorial Museum in Sakura during the summer of 1994, when Stella’s fabulous installation Hooloomooloo was on view. This was a massive spin-off from the Deckle-Edges prints with which Stella was concluding his Moby-Dick series. Stella named this work for an imaginary island in Melville’s Mardi, published two years before Moby-Dick. The Kawamura Memorial Museum had commissioned Hooloomooloo as a site-specific work and had intended to purchase it. Unfortunately, the financing fell through and the installation had to be broken up and sold off in five different parts. It will probably never again be seen whole. In one way this is oddly fitting, given that Melville’s Hooloomooloo is an imaginary island, all of whose residents are crippled, but who do not realize it because they all share the same condition.

Hooloomooloo, Kawamura Memorial Museum, Sakura, Japan, 1994

Hooloomooloo, Kawamura Memorial Museum, Sakura, Japan, 1994

I hope to revisit some of the painted metallic Moby-Dicks when I return to Japan in June 2015. I plan to discuss those earlier visits to Japan in the paper I am proposing for the Tokyo conference.  This would allow me to contrast Stella’s creation of the Moby-Dick series at the end of 20th century with art of those 21st century Moby-Dick artists featured in the exhibitions I am curating in New Bedford in the summer of 2014, in Covington in the Spring of 2015, and in Greater Cincinnati in June 2016.

The Morgan Sails On in 2014

Entry begun on Wednesday, July 30, at 1 pm

Parade of Boats passing the Charles W. Morgan on June 29.  Photo credit South Caost Today

Parade of Boats passing the Charles W. Morgan on June 29. Photo credit South Coast Today

The Charles W. Morgan remained at State Pier in New Bedford from her arrival on Wednesday, June 25, until her departure for the Massachusetts Marine Academy on Tuesday, July 8. She was honored by the “Parade of Boats” on Sunday, June 29, by the Whaling History Symposium throughout the following week, and by a series of whaleboat races on Saturday, July 5 (after having endured the deluge from Hurricane Arthur the day before).

Mary K Bercaw Edwards leading “Parade of Boats” in Mystic Seaport whaleboat. Photo credit Spectrum Photo.

Mary K Bercaw Edwards leading “Parade of Boats” in Mystic Seaport whaleboat. Photo credit Spectrum Photo.

My friend and colleague Mary K Bercaw Edwards had led the Parade of Boats on June 29, from the stern of her Mystic Seaport whaleboat. After giving her talk and attending all the sessions of the four-day Symposium, Mary K coordinated the deployment of Mystic Seaport’s ten whaleboats on Saturday, July 5. In addition to rowing in one of the whaleboat races, she managed to keep track of every race and every Mystic rower, celebrating their exploits in issue #649 of the Squad News she distributed to her Mystic Seaport colleagues on July 8. The greatest exploit had been Mystic’s victory in the “featured” race of the day, the recreation of a legendary Independence Day Whale Boat Race of 1857. This race covered a two-and-a-half-mile course, departing from State Pier and going “out and around Putnam’s Island” before returning to the pier. Mystic’s winning time was 20:54 minutes, followed by Hull Lifesaving Museum at 22:47, New Bedford Whaling Museum at 24:19, and Gray Buzzards at 26:16. The New Bedford locals had kept the original watercolor for the commemorative poster of the Morgan’s visit in town by winning the auction at the Gala Banquet, but they could not hold onto the “silver pitcher replica” of the original 1857 Whale Boat Race trophy.

Victorious Mystic Seaport crew in “featured” race around Palmer’s Island. Photo credit Larry Okerblom.

Victorious Mystic Seaport crew in “featured” race around Palmer’s Island. Photo credit Larry Okerblom.

With Wyn and Mary K on the last day of the Symposium

With Wyn and Mary K on the last day of the Symposium

The Charles W. Morgan, its crew, and its sequence of Voyagers had some extraordinary experiences after its departure from New Bedford on the morning of July 8. I have followed its subsequent voyages primarily through Frank Reed’s listserve and the experiences of people I know who sailed on transits after the one I was on. On July 8 my MSCP colleague Wyn Kelley was a voyager on the transit from New Bedford out into and across Bussard’s bay to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy near the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal.  Wyn, Mary K, and I had stood for a photo near the Morgan on the pier at New Bedford on the last day of the Symposium. One of Wyn’s fellow voyagers, Courtney Leonard, got a photo of her after the ship had landed at the Maritime Academy.

Wyn Kelley with Charles W Morgan on pier at Massachusetts Marine Academy

Wyn Kelley with Charles W Morgan on pier at Massachusetts Marine Academy

The informal notes Wyn shared soon after the voyage were very much like some of my blog entries. Anxiety before boarding the ship about the sleeping quarters and what she might have forgotten to bring. Unending admiration for the work of the crew throughout the voyage. And a certain kind of immersion in the moment that caused one to involuntarily suspend one’s habitual practice of recording and analyzing one’s experiences. Knowing “our voyage would be short,” Wyn “tried to make the most of every moment . . . . In fact, I couldn’t have done otherwise, since I found I had no volition of my own. Could not write, could not think. Just had to be in the moment, an odd and ideal state, and one that doesn’t happen very often. As a result, I was barely conscious of the time passing and the day disappearing.” After the voyage, Wyn was glad she had decided not to write very much on the ship itself; it was much better to have been “in” the experience. By this time the regulars on the Morgan were calling the yacht Rena, which continued to shadow each transit, the “stalker” boat.

In its essentials, Wyn’s transit to the Maritime Academy much like mine to New Bedford. The Morgan was again towed by the Sirius in and out of each port, with some fine sailing on Buzzard’s Bay in between. The round-trips out of Provincetown were strikingly different. The destination of these was not another port but the Stellwagen Bank off Cape Cod where whales congregate in great numbers during the summer months. The symbolism of a former whaling ship sailing out to visit, not hunt, the whales was lost on no one. A lot was expected of these visits in advance, but the result did not disappoint. In this case you could emphatically declare, as Ishmael does when he first sees Captain Ahab on the quarter-deck, that “Reality outran apprehension.” The signature image of the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan is not the commanding presence of a captain on deck, but rather a whale boat lowered to commune with, not “slaughter,” the cetaceans.

Forward port whaleboat being lowered to commune with Stellwagen whales. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum

Forward port whaleboat being lowered to commune with Stellwagen whales. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum

Once the whaleboat was lowered, amazing things began to happen. Photos and videos from each of the Provincetown-Stellwagen outings show very large whales in close proximity to the whaleboats as well as the ship. To be in one those boats would have been an absolutely unforgettable experience—especially given the century of killing in which this ship hadexcelled. But simply to see these encounters—either from the deck or at further remove in photos—is exciting enough. One of my favorite photos shows the flukes right next to the whaleboat:

Another shows the whale sounding very near the ship, making you wonder, where will it rise?

Another shows the whale sounding very near the ship, making you wonder, where will it rise?

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This photo of the whale calf right underneath its mother, with a friendly whaleboat nearby, made me think, of course, of the Mother and Infant section of our New Bedford exhibition.

f1-MS-Stellwagen-Whaleboat-from

So did this one of three whales and one calf:

Screen-Shot-2014-07-13-at-9_43_49-AM-649x363

The whale seems to beckoning to the whaleboat in the photo below, with Sean Bercaw in the stern:

Whaleboat with whale flukes 7 11 2014

In these waters off Cape Cod, as in the “Grand Armada” chapter, “Some of the subtlest secrets of the sea seemed divulged to us.”

These precious, historic interactions were well documented by the 38th Voyagers chosen for the voyage out of Provincetown—as well as by scientists, ecologists, researchers from NOAH, and videographers from OceansLIVE. One of the voyagers out to Stellwagen Bank was my dear friend and MSCP co-founder Beth Schultz. She retired from direct involvement in MSCP about a decade ago to give over more of her own eighth decade (she is in her late seventies) to the cause of ecology and the writing of poetry. A few years ago she was co-chair of an international Ecology Conference in Beijing, which is how she came across the extraordinary Moby-Dick cut-outs by Qiao Xiaoguang. Every year for about a decade she has self-published a chapbook of poetry distilling her experience at ecological sites around the world. When we had a long telephone conversation shortly after her day on the Morgan, she was still, as I expected, so flooded with sensation and wonder she felt almost unable to express it. When this experience sinks in and is distilled through her mind, eye, and heart, we will have an unforgettable poetic condensation of what she saw and felt. I absolutely admire her wish to wait until the time is right to try to share this experience with others. For some reason, I’ve had the opposite impetus in writing and posting this blog.

Beth Schultz pointing to whale from rail of Morgan

Beth Schultz pointing to whale from rail of Morgan

One of Beth’s fellow voyagers was Evan Turk. She remembered that he was “drawing all the time.” Many of these drawings are posted in “Evan Turk’s Reportage and Illustration Blog” (see the link I have proved in the menu for this blog). Several of his sketches depict subjects I have tried to describe in works. Many convey the generic experience of a 38th Voyager no matter which transit you were on. Here is the avuncular Captain Files:

.evan captain files

Here is a figure climbing the rigging, with a close-up of hands grasping a line.:

38thropeevan climbing ridding

Here is an abstract alignment of sails, with tiny sailors high above them.

evan saile patterns

Here is the dramatic movement of the mainsail billowing down:

evan unfuling the masthead

And here are deckhands hauling, not the sail, but the anchor:

evan hauling anchor

Of course, since Evan was out to Stellwagen Bank, some of his images are specific to that experience. Here is a whale from the deck of the Morgan:

38whales07

Here are a whaleboat, two whales, and other floating objects:

evan boats and whales

And here is Beth Schultz, taking it all in:

evan beth schlultz

Although Beth’s poetic response to the voyage on the Morgan is still very much a work in progress, she has allowed me to post the current draft of one of the poems here:

THE MORGAN ON STELLWAGEN BANK

We sailed amidst them,
out on Stellwagen Bank,
the old ship, no longer
armed with barbs or tricked
out with spears, but newly
rigged, spreading fresh
canvas on all masts, soaring,
rising up, up, upon the waves,
joyous and reborn, and soaring.

We met them on their
playground, a minke first,
arched and glistening,
forerunner for the humpbacks,
who frolicked in a pod,
splashing, somersaulting,
making waves, their fins,
long white angels’ wings,
gyrating, beating upward
out of the sea, before diving
down, down, their signature
tails following them, curved
and hovering, heart-shaped,
shimmering, before dissolving
into depths, the flukes now
phantasmagoric shadows,
leaving shearwaters and terns,
circling like visible echoes
above their churning,

while we leaned out
on the ship’s rail, intent
on a second coming,
awed by such exuberance,
yearning for forgiveness.

Earlier in 2014, in another act of forgiveness, Beth paid a visit to the peoples of Viet Nam.

My good friend John Bryant was a Voyager on the transit from Provincetown to Charleston in Boston, where the Morgan moored next to the U. S. Constitution. John is founding editor of the Melville journal Leviathan and author of a biography-in-progress on Melville. His project was to enrich his imaginative sense of Melville’s life on a whale ship by observing, interviewing, and occasionally working alongside the crew of the Morgan. John has already written and posted a blog about his voyage, to which I have provided a link in my menu for this blog (“Melville, The Morgan, and Me: My First Day at Sea”). It is fascinating to see a biographer’s mind at work as he processes real-time experience on what is in essence a sister ship to Melville’s Acushnet. John took a fine gallery of photographs which he, too, has already posted. You see from his photo gallery his keen interest in the personae of the ship. You also see several subjects I did not think to photograph during my voyage, but which I keenly came to miss when posting my blog. With John’s permission, I will now fill a few of those gaps with his photos.

Here is John’s beautifully framed shot of the Sirius with the Morgan in tow:

jb's photo of Sirius towing

During the morning of John’s voyage, the challenge of following the Sirius was compounded by fog. Aaron Gralnik, the steersman, could not see the Sirius from the wheelhouse even when the tug was actually in front of the ship. He therefore stationed a fellow deckhand at the bow to signal each deviation the Sirius made from side to side. Aaron was certainly as busy behind the wheel as I had been, as John has shown in a sequence of six photos on his blog.

jb following the sirius

jb aaron peering out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John also got several welcome photos of Ryan Loftus, Foretek’s powerful male counterpart in hauling sail. In the image on the left he is waiting for just the right moment to pull. In the one on the right he is standing tall and self-contained, with Foretek reaching up toward him.

jb of ryan pullling hard

jb's photo of E and Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John, like me, took the opportunity to climb up the rigging as far as we were allowed to go. Unlike me, he successfully arranged for someone to photograph him up there. John, like me, and Wyn Kelley too, was blessed with the presence our Melville colleague Mary K Bercaw Edwards on his leg of the voyage. I love the photo he took of her, tending to a line.

jb photo up under futtocks

jb's picture of mary k

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I began writing this blog entry on July 30, the Morgan’s miraculous summer at sea was essentially over. Having completed her last sail, from Boston to the Massachusetts Marine Academy, on July 23, she was now being towed by the Sirius all the way from Buzzard’s Bay to New London. After a few days there, she will return to Mystic to resume her life as a dockside exhibit.

Robert Del Tredici, Whales in the Sea, 2014.

Robert Del Tredici, Whales in the Sea, 2014.

Now that the 39th Voyage of the Morgan is ending, one wonders if the very timbers of the ship, from the keelson fathoms below the surface of the Mystic River to the maintop of the masthead leagues above its shallow waters, will soon be aching to return to the open ocean to ciommune with the whales.  It’s amazing the degree to which the playful metallic print of Whales in the Sea that Robert Del Tredici sent me in advance of the voyage (first reproduced in “Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish” at the end of part 2 of this blog) anticipated the highlight of the voyage itself on Stellwagen Bank.

Frank Reed got a long-distance photo the Morgan on the way to New London. She was a skeletal ghost of a ship towed by an indistinct patch of white off the coast of Conanicut Island. “Under tow, and sails furled, she seemed asleep,” he wrote to our listserve. As he watched her near sunset through binoculars, “She was pitching dramatically. Seasickness motion. Must have been swells out there.” It is not known whether she will ever have a 39th voyage at all comparable to her 38th. But even if this voyage turns out to be her last, much is certain to follow in her wake, in thought and feeling as well as in text, image, and programming.

CWM-S-of-Conanicut-Island f reed 7-29

As I complete the text for this entry on August 1, many of my friends around the country (and several on Facebook) are remembering Herman Melville’s birthday. He was born in New York City on August 1, 1819, 195 years ago. Tomorrow, on August 2, I will turn 70 years old. My voyage on the Morgan has sent me into my own eighth decade with new wind in my sails.