Whaling History Symposium & Melville Society Cultural Project

Entry begun Tuesday, July 22, at 7:20 am

 LIfe-size sperm-whlae inflatable near the ship on the New Bedford pier

LIfe-size sperm-whale inflatable near the ship on the New Bedford pier

June 28 was an extraordinary day, but it was only the beginning of an exceptional week of celebration. Sunday afternoon featured a Parade of Boats and out into Buzzard’s Bay which included 19 whaleboats and 150 other vessels, according to the Standard-Times. That newspaper had of course been covering the arrival of the ship with a variety of features. On Sunday, in addition to reporting on the Opening Ceremony and Homecoming Gala, the paper released a stand-alone publication entitled Charles W. Morgan Returns to New Bedford, a special issue with 56 pages of text, advertisements, and schedules for the week ahead. Steve Urbon had mentioned before we boarded the ship in Vineyard Haven how much effort had done into preparing this special edition, and the result is truly impressive. Urbon himself contributed essays on the history of the Morgan, on the “rough lives” of its “rugged whalemen,” on the five-year restoration at Mystic Seaport, and on the city of New Bedford in 1841. Peggi Medeiros contributed essays on the lives of “desperate housewives” while their men were away at sea, on the essential role of Cape Verdeans in the life of the Morgan, on early life of Charles W. Morgan when he came to New Bedford and married Sarah Rodman, and on the role of New Bedford in the history of whaling.

Special issue of New Bedford Standard-Times for June 28 - July 4, 2014

Special issue of New Bedford Standard-Times for June 28 – July 4, 2014

This rich array of articles in the special issue of the Standard-Times was an appetizer for the Whaling History Symposium that was held next to the ship beginning on Monday, in the same warehouse that had hosted the Saturday night banquet (Building 2).   Immediately after the Banquet, from 11 until 2 in the morning, staff from the Whaling Museum had joined with others in transforming the banquet hall into an exhibition hall that would ready for the opening of the Symposium at 9 am on Monday. For a lecture room, they curtained off a space with about a hundred chairs and installed a projector and equipment for audio and video recording. The rest of the exhibition hall had booths devoted to the activities of the three primary sponsors of the Symposium, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Nantucket Whaling Museum, and the Mystic Seaport Museum (providing a new context in which to appreciate the huge scenes from the whaling panorama mounted on the walls). An actual Azorean whaleboat anchored an exhibition highlighting that island nation’s whaling tradition. The Whitfield-Manjiro Friendship Society from across the river in Fairhaven set up a booth about the museum they have created out of the home on Cherry Street in which John Manjiro, a shipwrecked Japanese sailor, had lived in the 1840s after being rescued by the American whaling captain William Whitfield. In addition to the indoor attractions, of course, were the outdoor attractions which had opened on Saturday, including the sperm whale inflatable, demonstrations of whaling craftsmanship, and the thirty-minute Moby-Dick, all of which were well-attended throughout the week.

Azorean whale boat under whaling panorama in exhibition hall

Azorean whale boat under whaling panorama in exhibition hall

We in the Melville Society Cultural Project had been asked by James Russell of the Whaling Museum to help coordinate the Whaling History Symposium. Speakers were scheduled from 9 to 12 and from 1 to 4 on Monday through Thursday. The program was put together by Mary K Bercaw Edwards, assisted by Caitlin McCaffery, at the same time that Mary K was preparing for the departure of the Morgan from Mystic, accompanying the ship to New London, Newport, and Vineyard Haven, and conducting daylong whaleboat demonstrations in several ports. I have no idea how she did it all. We had no idea how many people would show up for a series of scholarly presentations scheduled in hopes of attracting visitors who had come primarily to see the ship. Each of our MSCP members presented a paper as well as chairing a session. Each three-hour session featured three or four thirty-minute presentations followed by questions.

Mary K Bercaw Edwards, in her scholarly dress, speaking at Symposium

Mary K Bercaw Edwards, in her scholarly dress, speaking at Symposium

Mary K and I had been in New Bedford since the ship had landed, but we had hardly seen each other, so busy was she with the ship and I with the exhibition. I had intended to attend the Parade of Boats on Sunday afternoon, in which Mary K had commanded the lead whaleboat, but I had to steal some time to work on this blog, whose handwritten entries I had only managed to bring up to the beginning of the voyage itself by the beginning of the Homecoming Ceremonies on Saturday. On Friday evening, after working on the exhibition for much of the day, I had been delighted to meet Jaime Campomar, our Melville Society Archive Fellow from Argentina. He had flown to Logan Airport from Indianapolis, where he had been studying the successive scripts that Ray Bradbury had written for John Huston’s 1956 Moby-Dick film. Bob Rocha, who was coordinating Jaime’s stay for the Whaling Museum, drove him down from Logan Airport and brought him to the Wamsutta apartment in which he would stay during his two weeks of research in our Archive. I had expected to call our new fellow “Jaime,” the name he had used in our correspondence, but he introduced himself as “Jim,” having already, previously, lived for a considerable time in the United States.

“Jim” Campomar outside the Seaman’s Bethel with MSCP members Wallace, Bercaw Edwards, Baker, and Sten

“Jim” Campomar outside the Seaman’s Bethel with MSCP members Wallace, Bercaw Edwards, Baker, and Sten

Usually our group of six MSCP members make our summer visit to New Bedford in late July or early August, near Herman Melville’s August 1 birthday. Usually we stay for three days and tend to our Archive while having planning and review meetings with the Whaling Museum staff. This time we came earlier for the Morgan’s visit and the Symposium. And there was only one time, late on Monday afternoon, when we could schedule our customary group meeting with the Whaling Museum staff. We had much to discuss, as the Museum, in addition to contributing so much to the Morgan’s visit, had just broken ground on a very ambitious new Educational and Research Center that will bring its Research Library (and our Melville Society Archive) down from Purchase Street to be a major part of the Museum itself. The new Research Library will include a designated section in which we can display highlights from the Melville Archive.

Model for the Wattles Jacobs Education Center at New Bedford Whaling Museum

Model for the Wattles Jacobs Education Center at New Bedford Whaling Museum

On Sunday night our MSCP group met for dinner, as it often does upon arriving in town, at Elizabeth’s in Fairhaven. In addition to Mary K from Mystic (and the University of Connecticut) and me from northern Kentucky (NKU), Wyn Kelly is from Cambridge (MIT), Jennifer Baker from New York City (NYU), Chris Sten from Washington DC (George Washington University), and Tim Marr from Chapel Hill (UNC). This summer, in addition to preparing for our meeting with the Museum staff (and getting to know Jim), we had the Symposium to look forward to. In addition working together harmoniously, as we always do, it was great to hear each of our friends present a paper as well as chair a session. Mary K spoke from her unparalleled knowledge of the history of whaling. Tim spoke on the growing pervasiveness of Moby-Dick in popular culture. Chris spoke on the intelligence and consciousness of whales. Jennifer spoke on the way nineteenth-century scientists and artists perceived whales. Wyn spoke on the ever-evolving intersection of pedagogy, electronic media, and Melville studies. And Jim Campomar gave a very sophisticated analysis of the process of converting a script into a film.  My contribution to the Symposium was a gallery talk at the official opening of The Art of Seeing Whales exhibition, which I will address in the blog entry that followws this one.

Jennifer Baker making presenting her her paper about artistic and scientific representations of whales

Jennifer Baker presenting her her paper about artistic and scientific representations of whales

Melanie Correia, who had been installing the exhibition the week before, was this week monitoring all of the presentations at the Symposium, helping presenters upload their Powerpoints and making sure that each presentation was properly recorded. Christina Connett was as present this week at the Symposium as she had been last week at the gallery, and she had helped to oversee the transformation of the banquet hall into an exhibition hall at the end of the Gala on Saturday night.   The attendance at the Symposium was much stronger, and more consistent, than many had expected. The room was nearly full for many of the sessions, and the quality of presentations was high. The speakers were diverse in subject, origin, style, and background—including journalists, librarians, teachers, professors, scientists, film makers, museum professionals, and independent scholars—all united by interest in the whale. A few examples will suggest the flavor of their presentations.

Tim Marr making presentation about Moby-Dick and popular culture

Tim Marr making presentation about Moby-Dick and popular culture

From New Bedford historians Peggi Medeiros, Diane Duprey, and Laurie Robertson Lorant, I heard new information about Charles W. Morgan’s relation to the city’s African American community (not only in the names of specific workers he had hired to build the Morgan, but in his close association with Nathan and Polly Johnson, the African American caterers who had taken Frederick Douglass in to their own home when he arrived as a fugitive from slavery in 1838). Hayato Sakuri, director of the Taiji Historical Archives in Japan, extended his previous analysis of the life and career of John Manjio, both while living here and after returning to Japan. Hayato was also happy to demonstrate that he had convinced a leading Japanese newspaper to cover the 38th Voyage of the Morgan on its front page. Filmmaker Courtney Furguson from Australia provided fascinating new information about the early history of whaling in Australia and New Zealand, and the interaction of Western whalers and Maori warriors, involving rich racial mixing as well as well-documented warfare. Márcia Dutra of the University of the Azores, Western Island, summarized the deep connections between Azorean whalers and those of New Bedford, and Bradley Barr of NOAH brought us up to date about how nineteenth-century whalers contributed to what we know of the oceans today. One of the most memorable presentations for me (six hours of sessions four days in a row was a lot to process) was Mike Dyer’s illustrated lecture about the accuracy and beauty of the depictions of whales in nineteenth-century logbooks—in contrast to what was then available in scientific publications.

Ftont page feature on 38th voyage of the Morgan (and John Manjior) in Asahi Shimbun, Jule 27, 2014

Front page feature on 38th Voyage of the Morgan (and John Manjiro) in Asahi Shimbun, June 27, 2014

Throughout the Symposium, as during the voyage of the Morgan itself, it was striking to think about how mankind has evolved in its knowledge and appreciation of the whale. A fellow mammal that only a century and half ago was seen as only a creature to be hunted is now a worldwide subject of admiration—and even adulation. Isolated nineteenth-century writers such as Thomas Beale, Herman Melville, and Charles Melville Scammon—all of whom worked on whale ships but came to know and love the whale—are more than ever beacons of enlightened consciousness in the twenty-first century. To have the return of the Morgan to New Bedford accompanied by a Symposium setting the history of whaling in the light of our current consciousness was satisfying and inspiring. As Nathaniel Philbrick said in his keynote address, were have come here “not to celebrate the slaughter of cetaceans” but to learn what we can about how the history of whaling can better help us appreciate and understand the imperatives of the present. All of the institutions that helped sponsor the Symposium are wrestling with this exact idea, and the Symposium itself, led by the arrival of the Morgan, has surely helped to chart part of that course.  

Chris Sten presenting his paper on the intelligence and consciousness of whales

Chris Sten presenting his paper on the intelligence and consciousness of whales

I would love to know what Thomas Beale, Herman Melville, and Charles Melville Scammon would have thought if there were here to see the beautiful inflatable of Beale’s beloved sperm whale, the delightful thirty-minute rendition of Moby-Dick, or the back-to-back presentations by Bradley Barr and Michael Dyer on how much we are still learning from the meticulous and often beautiful log books kept by nineteenth-century whalers. Because we were to be so busy once the Symposium began, Mary K had arranged for us to see a special performance of “Moby-Dick in Minutes” on the pier just before we went to dinner at Elizabeth’s on Sunday.  We were impressed with the talent of the young actors in the Mystic Talemakers Troupe who had developed the play specifically to accompany the Charles W. Morgan on its 38th Voyage. It was well attended by people of all ages throughout the week.

Mystic's Talemaker Troup performing 30-minute Moby-Dick on New Bedford pier

Mystic’s Talemaker Troupe performing 30-minute Moby-Dick on New Bedford pier

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Homecoming Gala and Banquet

Banquet guests on ship in evening light

Banquet guests on ship in evening light

 A good many of those who looked, listened, and lingered on the pier for the Homecoming Ceremony in the morning returned for the Gala Banquet in the evening. The evening event began out on the pier next to the ship with cocktails and hor d’oeuvres at 6:30. The attendees then moved into a huge warehouse on the pier that had been expertly renovated for this occasion. In addition to being a Celebration, this evening event was a fundraiser to help defer the cost of all the events that the Steering Committee, co-chaired by James Russell and Dagny Ashley, had been initiating and implementing for a full calendar year. Tickets cost $175 for the event and sold out many days in advance. I had been reluctant to pay so much, but ultimately decided I owed it to the blog to experience as much as I could of the city’s Celebration. I bought my ticket just in time, becoming one of the last of the 750 people who registered to attend this Homecoming Gala, honestly advertised as “A Once-in-a-Lifetime Celebration.”

Morgan gala banquet

The weather had remained cool and lovely for the rest of the day. Sharing drinks and appetizers for an hour with friends and strangers alongside the ship was a real pleasure. Vanessa and Christina were both there, and we all three had dressed up for this occasion. The price of the ticket included limited access to the ship, and it was quite different to walk the planks, and stand by the wheel, as an evening guest rather than a voyager.

 

The author back at the wheel

The author back at the wheel

 

Christina and Vanessa at the reception on the pier

Christina and Vanessa at the reception on the pier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carl Cruz at Gala Banquet with scenes from Whaling Panorama mounted on wall
Carl Cruz at Gala Banquet with scenes from Whaling Panorama mounted on wall

 

The 750 guests had been assigned to tables of ten, and I was delighted to find myself sitting with Carl Cruz, Lee Blake, and other members of the New Bedford Historical Society. Carl had been one of the co-curators in the exhibition on Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville I organized at the Whaling Museum in 2005. He and Lee had both been instrumental in encouraging the involvement of the local community in the International Melville Society Conference on Douglass and Melville hosted by the Whaling Museum that summer. They had both been very much involved in the planning and execution of the Morgan Celebration and I was delighted when they were both called forward to accept a gift for this work on behalf of their Society.

For me, a Puget Sound native who has lived most of his adult life in northern Kentucky, the evening was exciting enough. Imagine how it must have felt for lifelong residents of New Bedford, some with ancestral roots going all the way back to the launch of the Morgan in 1841, and, in some cases, to the ship itself, to celebrate this affirmation of the city. The warehouse we were in had been made surprisingly congenial for this massive banquet for 750 persons, several of its walls being hung with huge reproductions from the 1848 Whaling Panorama owned by the Whaling Museum. The catered banquet was as splendid as you would expect for the price. . The broad buy-in by leaders of the entire New Bedford community was evident in the gallery of faces throughout the room, in the listing of nineteen different committee chairs as co-hosts on the program, and the listing of 50 additional committee members and the 9 honorary members. In those officially recognized names, you already had one-tenth of the 750 guests present.

Some sense of the size of the gala banquet crowd

Some sense of the size of the gala banquet crowd

The speeches tonight were relatively short, touching briefly on some of the uplifting themes we had heard in the morning. There was music by the Seaport Chanteymen and the premiere of a film about New Bedford by Big Ocean Media. In many ways the assemblage of people in the room were themselves the story of the evening—in their commitment to the city’s future as well as its past. But most of us probably went home that evening with the indelible memory of one particular event, listed on the program simply as “Auction: Arthur Moniz Painting Auctioned by Frank McNamara, Marion Antique Shop.”

Watercolor by Arthur Moniz auctioned at the Banquet

Watercolor by Arthur Moniz auctioned at the Banquet

The painting by Arthur Moniz was a watercolor of the Charles W. Morgan approaching the New Bedford Pier near the Ernestina, the one nineteenth-century sailing ship still active in the city. Prints from this watercolor had been the artistic signature for the Celebration itself and had been widely reproduced, including on the cover of the program for the Homecoming Gala. The auction came late in the evening, after the film and before coffee and dessert. Moniz is a well-respected and much loved artist in New Bedford, and it was certain that his original watercolor would be widely desired by people in the room. Before the auctioneer took over, James Russell, who emceed this event too, challenged New Bedfordites to show their civic pride by not letting this painting go to anywhere else—such as Mystic, Connecticut (well represented by a prominent table including President White and Captain Files).

Caitlin McCaffery near outside exhibitions on pier

Caitlin McCaffery near outside exhibition booths on pier

Many of us had never been to an auction of this kind. We had no idea what a watercolor such as this might bring. Some people near where I was sitting thought it might bring around $500.   That figure was passed very quickly as the bidding rose into the thousands, and it did not slow down. Somewhere around $25,000, there were two active bidders in distant corners of the mammoth room, each new bid being signaled by a Whaling Museum employee standing nearby with a bright red flashlight. One of these was Caitlin McCaffery, one of the major Event Coordinators for the evening.  She waved her bright bidding light with almost as much passion as Foreteck had hauled on the lines. Earlier in the day Caitlin had stopped so I could take a photo of her on the pier.

After the bids hit around $30,000, there was a new bidder from a different corner of the room. The bidding remained strong even after one of the other two dropped out, leaving it a two-person race, eventually won by the late bloomer at a price of $50,000! The winner was Ann Bodzioch, a native of New Bedford who had recently returned to found her own business, happy to be able to demonstrate her gratitude to the city. Her contribution, along with the proceeds from the banquet itself, would help offset the cost of the estimated $600,000 expense of all activities related to the homecoming. I hope that Elizabeth Warren did as well in raising money for Alison Lundergan Grimes at the fundraiser that same night in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky.

Standing ovation for Ann Bodzioch at end of auction

Standing ovation for Ann Bodzioch at end of auction

This Homecoming Gala, Banquet, and Auction gave a new kind of meaning to the inspirational speeches we had heard in the morning. The return of the Morgan to New Bedford via Mystic, New London, Newport, and Martha’s Vineyard had not itself changed the history or guaranteed the future of the city. But it did decidedly serve, as several speakers had suggested, as a marker that will help to “turn the page” of changes already underway to give the city a future potentially as successful as its past. This is something I, even as a sometime visitor to the city, could fully understand.

 Ever since Beth Schultz and I had come to New Bedford in the summer of 1998 hoping to find a city that would help us establish a Melville Society Gallery and Cultural Center, we had witnessed a number of truncated attempts by the city to find some new way ahead that would be worthy of its past. After the Melville Society had affiliated with the New Bedford Whaling Museum in 2000, we had to stay at a series of places across the river in Fairhaven for our twice-annual meetings, as there was no hotel in downtown New Bedford itself. The coming of the Fairfield Inn on the waterfront several years ago was one of several markers prior to the arrival of the Morgan to signal the possibility of a true Renaissance for the city. Every year since then, we have enjoyed new restaurants, cafes, and galleries in town, even before the now burgeoning development of the Marine Deep Water Terminal. I am grateful to have been able to sail into New Bedford on the Morgan, and to have attended the Opening Celebration and the Homecoming Gala.

Homecoming Ceremony

Entry begun at home in Bellevue, KY, Saturday, July 19, 8:30 am

Homecoming Celebration alongside the ship on the pier

Homecoming Celebration alongside the ship on the pier

There were no disturbances in sea or sky on the morning of Saturday, June 28. The cloudless day, with a temperature in the ‘70s, provided the perfect conditions for the Opening Ceremony scheduled from 10 am to noon, immediately alongside the Charles W. Morgan on New Bedford State Pier. Since the ship had docked on Wednesday, her crew had been preparing for a week of visits by the public that would begin at 1 pm today. At the same time, the traveling dockside exhibits from Mystic Seaport, trucked to each port in succession, were being set up near the pier for a week of visits that began this morning at 9 am. I had been so busy with the exhibition since getting off the ship that I had been unaware of the Saturday morning Homecoming Ceremony until Christina had mentioned it the day before. I am very glad she did.

Front and back cover of Homecoming Ceremony program

Front and back cover of Homecoming Ceremony program

The first phrase that comes to mind about the Opening Ceremony is “world class.” The two-hour program was beautifully planned and smoothly executed. Punctuating the sequence of speakers was a surprisingly rich variety of musical performers: a brass quintet, a vocal chorus, two vocal soloists, and a sea shanty chorus. In addition to the political speakers, we heard Remarks by Mystic Seaport President Steven White, a Keynote Address by author and historian Nathaniel Philbrick, and a Commemorative Poem by New Bedford Poet Laureate Patricia Gomes. James Russell, President of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and co-chair of the Steering Committee for the entire Morgan celebration, kept the event moving with admirable rhythm and vitality.

Program for Charles W Morgan Homecoming Ceremony

Program for Charles W Morgan Homecoming Ceremony

The first political speaker, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, set the tone and established the theme for the day by saying that the arrival of this grand old ship is not only about the past but about the future. “The city that lit the world” from the whaling industry in the 19th century “will do it again,” she said, but this time with light from the wind industry being developed in the waters beyond Buzzard’s Bay. The Marine Deep Water Terminal now under development in New Bedford may one day provide “25% of the nation’s wind resource.” The city of New Bedford is now also second only to Honolulu in harnessing solar power, she noted. And it has recently been recognized nationally for its excellence in art and culture.

Warren fundraiser for Grimes, Fort Mitchell, KY, June 28 2014

Warren fundraiser for Grimes, Fort Mitchell, KY, June 28 2014

I was surprised and delighted to see Senator Warren at this event because I knew she would be at a fundraiser in northern Kentucky for Alison Lundergan Grimes this same evening. I had hoped to attend that fundraiser, and disappointed to find out that I would be in New Bedford on that date. But now, instead of meeting her there, I was hearing her here at the pier, welcoming the ship on which I had just sailed in from Martha’s Vineyard.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Warren campaigning with Alison Lundergan Grimes during visit to Kentucky

Elizabeth Warren campaigning with Alison Lundergan Grimes during visit to Kentucky

Audinence intent, even in back of crowd

Audinence intent, even in back of crowd

Senator Warren’s theme of New Bedford as the “city that will again light the world” was elaborated by Mayor Jon Mitchell and several other speakers. Mitchell called whaling “America’s most quintessential industry” and suggested that New Bedford had been the nation’s “first energy capital” in 1850, when “one half of the world’s whaling ships sailed from New Bedford.” He emphasized that whaling, in addition to bringing wealth to the city, brought a true true egalitarianism memorably expressed by the writings of Herman Melville, the life of Frederick Douglass, and the rich cultural diversity of a city literally built and inhabited by people from around the world. This cultural diversity was strikingly expressed throughout the program by Candida Rose’s singing of the Portuguese song Sodade, Ann Vinagre’s singing of the song Barca Negra, and Patricia Gomes’ commemorative poem to “Welcome the Morgan Home,” whose refrain featured “hands of black, brown, and white, / We stand as one to greet her.” Mayor Mitchell concluded his remarks, as did several speakers, with a heartfelt appreciation to the Mystic Seaport Museum for adopting the Morgan, restoring it, and sailing it back to its original home.

Nathaniel Philbrick’s keynote address struck many of the same notes with his own historical slant. Being from Nantucket, he explained why the center of American whaling had moved from that city to New Bedford’s deep water port. Standing now in New Bedford, he highlighted the vicissitudes by which the Charles W. Morgan had been rescued, restored, and given a new life in Mystic, Connecticut. With regard to the ethnic diversity of the city in the mid-nineteenth century and now, he cited the essential role of Wampanoag Indians, African Americans, Cape Verdians, and South Sea Islanders in the work of the whale ships and in the subsequent growth of the city (noting that the ship itself had been “constructed of live oak secured from the Chesapeake; white pine, spruce, and hackmatack from Maine; all of it pinned together with locust trammels from Long Island”).” Looking ahead to the future, he cited the brief passage in which the “women of New Bedford” bloom with a beauty as “perennial as sunlight in the seventh heavens” in Moby-Dick,” hoping that “the return of this iconic ship [will] mark the beginning of a new era of prosperity” for all of its citizens.

The ceremony next to all three masts of the ship

The ceremony next to all three masts of the ship

My photo of Candide Rose singing Soledad (from far back in the crowd)

My photo of Candide Rose singing Soledad (from far back in the crowd)

Of all the moments in this remarkably orchestrated and deeply felt ceremony, the one that sticks with me most strongly is hearing Candida Rose sing the Cape Verdian song Sodade. I did not at the time understand the words in Portuguese, but the sound, the inflection, and the outflowing of the heart carried the emotion of this song, like the ceremony itself, from the burdens of the past into a spirit of communion and reunion. Only now as I transcribe this entry from my journal have I learned that “Sodade” means “Longing” and that the last stanza (in which I had made ouit only the words “scrieve me”) declares that “If you write me letter . . . / I will write you back / If you forget me . . . / I will forget you / Until the day . . . You come back.” What an appropriate song members of a Cape Verdian culture whose men were often away on foreign whale ships for three years or more—or for a community welcoming back a homemade whale ship that not sailed for almost a hundred years.

The Opening Ceremony ended, appropriately, with the raising of the city’s flag on the mast of the Morgan and the ringing of the ship’s bell. The weather and feeling were so absolutely satisfying that few were eager to leave.   Some joined the line that had already formed for the opening of the ship to the public one hour later. Others drifted slowly through Mystic Seaport’s dockside exhibits, ranging from demonstrations of whaling implements and techniques, to an lifesize “inflatable” quite accurately representing a sperm whale, to a theatrical performance of Moby-Dick in thirty minutes.

Crowd looking up at the raising of the flag

Crowd looking up at the raising of the flag

Installing The Art of Seeing Whales

Entry begun as plane takes off from Philadelphia for Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky, Friday, July 4, 6:35 pm

[We were rocking pretty hard when as we landed through gusty winds on the Providence flight into Philadelphia. Though the sky here is now clear and blue with only a few light clouds, this plane was jerking hard from side to side before we got off the ground in Providence.  I know that wind is invisible, but I was surprised to find our takeoff more more jerky than trying to follow the Sirius.  This airplane feels like an Indy car on a dirt track.  I hope that big lumbering guy who squeezed into the cockpit knows what he is doing.]

Last Thursday morning, my feet more steady on the floor after a good night’s sleep, I got up to the Center Street Gallery of the Whaling Museum as soon as I could to see how the installation was going and make any final decisions. How great to be working with Christina, Melanie, Mike, Scott, Sarah, Jordan, and Juliette. This was the morning Melanie came in with the beautifully stenciled title of the show, and she and Scott and Sarah discussed exactly how high to put it over the 1617 Dutch painting and 2009 Chinese cut out that open the show. The font Christina chose is perfect: elegant yet easy to read. 

Exhibition title on opening wall

Exhibition title on opening wall

Mike’s idea of putting the Piercefield’s Women of New Bedford over the introductory wall panel has worked out equally well, though it is a little high and catches a bit of glare.

Melanie Correia with introductory panel and The Women of New Bedford

Melanie Correia with introductory panel and The Women of New Bedford

Several sections of the show were looking good but needed adjustments to make the most of them. The first narrative section, following the rhythm of a typical whaling voyage out of a harbor, into the sea, and back again in its aftermath (subtitled “The Perils in Between”) had one work too many for the available space.  So Christina had reluctantly removed the despondent depiction of a truncated Nantucket sleigh ride, a decision with which I entirely agreed. We would now remove that entry from the text we had drafted for the wall panel. J. S. Ryder’s A Perilous Ride would have to wait for some future ehxibition.

Getting "The Perils in Between" on the wall

Getting “The Perils in Between” on the wall

The next section, subtitled “Cutting the Whale,” was being beautifully hung, all six works popping off the wall and off each other in just the way I hoped they would.  The visceral force the Kish and Christodoulou Ahabs relate equally well to the historical portrait of Captain Francis F. Smith, and the inset scene of the cuttnig-in in his portrait relates extremely well to three more modern cutting-in depictions.

Squaring up the Cutting-In Section

Squaring up the Cutting-In Section

Back in the far corner, Zellig’s Will he Perish? was far from the Dutch and Chinese works at the other end of the gallery, but that made her large whale’s eye staring right back at the viewer even more dramatic and effective. I had not planned it that way, but seeing the eye of the whale right next to our three “Mother and Infant” works is also very powerful. When I first saw the “Mother and Infant” hang I had wondered if Klauba’s The Pod could go above, rather than below, the drawing of the mother and infant right whale from Western Australia (because the Klauba is relatively dark and could be more clearly seen in the higher, brighter light). We tried this change, but the installers felt to it disturbed the balance of the three works in relation to each other, so we returned the Klauba to its original spot.

Mother and Infant section next to Zellig's eye

Mother and Infant section next to Zellig’s eye

            The duo of Celia Smith’s Moby-Dick and The Great Hunter by Nanogak, Kaodloak, and Kanayok in the back at the far left was even better than I had imagined.

The Great Hunter by Nanogak, Kaodloak, and Kanoyok above Mary Smith's Moby-Dick

The Great Hunter by Nanogak, Kaodloak, and Kanoyok above Mary Smith’s Moby-Dick

When I had come in on the day before I took the ferry to Oak Bluff, we had been trying to decide which of the old 17th-century maps depicting whales as monsters would look best in one of the niches next to a window. But that was when Christina had mentioned that the absence of Callahan’s charcoal drawing of the Skin’s Path had been an oversight, not a curatorial decision. We decided that if we did use the Callahan, it would occupy that space very well on its own, which certainly turned out to be the case. After the decision to include it, I wrote a wall label for it under the heading “Seeing the Whale Up Close.”

Aileen Callahan, Skin's Path, charcoal on paper, Elizabeth Schultz Collection, New Bedford Whaling Museum

Aileen Callahan, Skin’s Path, charcoal on paper, Elizabeth Schultz Collection, New Bedford Whaling Museum

The one decision about the next wall between the windows, “Seeing Whales as Inspiration,” was whether to include three or four works. The four we had selected worked well together thematically but they were a little too crowded for this vertical slice of a wall. We reluctantly took out Christodoulou’s Whiteness of the Whale III, creating a lyrical top-down progression from Ellis’s sketch for the White Whale mural, to Piercefield’s From the Headwaters of the Eternities, to Hodgkinson’s Squeeze of the Hand.  All three works remind us of the whale’s ancient history long before humans existed, flourishing in an ecological system from which human mammals have much to learn, and even revere.

 

Top down from Ellis to Piercefield to Hodgkinson

Top down from Ellis to Piercefield, to Hodgkinson

With the major decisions now having been made about the works on the wall, Melanie could now produce the wall texts while Mike was finalizing what went best in the back-to-back eight-foot-long display cases. Everything he had in each of the cases looked very good to me–a constellation of objects from four centuries and four continents in one lovely juxtaposition after another. But Mike is a perfectionist, and this was his final shot at critiquing and tweaking his display.

Mike Dyer contemplating one of two display cases

Mike Dyer contemplating one of two display cases

Mike is a master of mounts and of placement as well as of pictorial content.  I loved watching him raise one piece a little and lower another, move one of them forward and another a little back.  Some of these works now had their “tombstone” labels to help me know what they were,  He asked if I would like to see anything added to either case–which would require removing something already there.  Out of everything currently in the cases, he said one he could most easily spare was the powerful image by Rockwell Kent to which he had opened one volume of the three-volume set published in 1930.

One of the treasures in one of the glass cases

One of the treasures in one of the glass cases

Kish's Fleece and Daggoo in one of the cases

Kish’s Fleece and Daggoo in one of the cases

When Mike asked if we had something worthy of replacing the Rockwell Kent, I immediately thought of the twelve new Matt Kish drawings of the crew of the Pequod I had brought with me from northern Kentucky on Monday (the Melville Society Archive acquisitions for 2014). I brought out the handy little album book in which Kish had presented them.  I slowly paged through one after another so Mike and I could see which, if any, would be suitable additions to the current contents of the case. As soon as we got to Fleece, in which the cook of the Pequod, presents the “whale as a dish” requested by Stubb on a platter, Mike knew it belonged in the case. As we looked through the other drawings, we gravitated to Tashtego, for the contrast of his bright orange color, and Daggoo, for the harmony of its black and blue coloring with that of Fleece. Fleece’s whale and Daggoo’s blood red harpoon spoke well to the spirit and content of the rest of the show, on the walls as well as in the case, and the two fit together perfectly in the space vacated by the Kent. Both visually and symbolically, the two brand new Kishes “nailed” the two display cases in the best possible way. 

The next time I walked up Center Street to the high brick wall of the Museum, I would know that the exhibition up inside those upper windows would be nearly complete..

Outside wall of the Center Street Gallery of the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Outside wall of the Center Street Gallery of the New Bedford Whaling Museum

I was happy to have gotten a photo of the trio who had done most of the heavy lifting, Melanie Correia, Scott Benson, and Sarah Kendall. 

Melanie Correa, Scott Benson, and Sarah Kendall after they had gotten most of the works up on the wall

Melanie Correia, Scott Benson, and Sarah Kendall after they had gotten most of the works up on the wall

[As I am completing the draft of this entry in my journal, our plane from Philadelphia is taxiing into the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky airport exactly 22 hours later than I was scheduled to arrive from Charlotte the niight before.  I will discuss some of the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of the flight that would have brought through Charlotte in part 6 of this blog.]

 

Part 5. IN THE WAKE OF THE VOYAGE

A ship’s wake is a longer, stronger, and deeper version of those bubbles at the bow. It eventually gets absorbed back into the surface texture of the water through which it cuts. It is always to some degree retrospective as well as forward looking.  But it does sometimes leave a legacy more indelible than its own evanescent path through the ocean–as a result of whatever has been experienced, achieved, or symbolized by the buoyant craft and nautical men and women who have driven it through the sea.

Seastreak streaking to Oak Bluff on Martha's Vineyard

Seastreak streaking to Oak Bluff on Martha’s Vineyard

Out of the Cradle

Vanessa had kindly offered to help me see what I had managed to record with my GoPro. She was met at the pier by Janice McDonough, director of Crowell’s Gallery with whom she was staying. As Janice and a friend were going to get their car, Vanessa walked with me to my hotel, only two blocks away. As we walked, I felt a bit wobbly in the legs, the price I paid for the many moments during the day in which I had savored the way the ship was rocking under me as we sailed. The best words I know for the wobbly sensation I felt as we took that short walk was “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” the title of one of Walt Whitman’s finest poems, first published on October 20, 1859, twenty days after the Charles W.. Morgan sailed out of New Bedford on its Sixth Voyage, returning in 1863 after having missed much of the American Civil War (during which Walt Whitman was to volunteer nobly as a nurse and wound dresser)..

When Vanessa hooked up my GoPro, I was delighted to see that most the extensive of the files, my climbing of the rigging and the Joee’;s tight-wire walk, seemed to have come out quite well. Vanessa had hoped to stay for the Whaling Symposium which began on Monday, June 30, at which she was scheduled to speak, but she had to fly back to London on Sunday to return to her commercial job. We made plans to meet the next day so she could transfer my GoPro images to my portable hard drive, and I was hoping to see the new paintings she was planning to complete before leaving town.

One of seven works Vanessa completed within three days of the voyage

Catch of the Morgan, one of seven works Vanessa completed within three days of the voyage

The oven at Brick, the only try-works fire I saw on June 25, 2014

The oven at Brick, the only try-works fire I saw on June 25, 2014

Finally I was alone after these very exciting days to Martha’s Vineyard and back. I did not have much to unpack because we had been able to take so little with us. I did have journal entries I had written and the photos I had taken to begin to sort out, but that was too much to get into tonight. Moderately tired, I walked up to Brick, a restaurant a few blocks up on Union Street. I had a glass of local beer on tap, a house salad, and one of their lovely signature pizzas hot out of their wood-fired oven (whose brick-work resembled that of the try-works on the ship).  I had a young blonde waitress and I was intrigued by the ethnic diversity of her fellow workers in the kitchen as well as the counter. I asked if she would be able to identify the ethnic identity of each of these co-workers, which turned out to be more difficult than either she or I expected, so rich the mix and so diverse the origins–another measure of the diversity running through the entire New Bedford community as a direct extension of its whaling history.

Bright red light above the half-size Lagoda whale ship in the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Bright red light above the half-size Lagoda whale ship inside the New Bedford Whaling Museum

On the way back from the restaurant in the dark, a bright red light in an upper window of the New Bedford Whaling Museum seemed to be sending some kind of signal.  So did the luminous whale ship on the first night of its historic return to New Bedford.  I can’t remember if I wrote anything new after getting back to the hotel that night. I probably just eased into that large comfortable bed quite soon after taking a long hot shower. After all of the physical and imaginative stimulation of the last two days, I was counting my blessings then, and I still am now, nine days later.

Whale ship Charles W. Morgan lighting up New Bedford on the first night of its return

Whale ship Charles W. Morgan lighting up New Bedford on the first night of its return

 

 

Shipgazers

In the opening pages of Moby-Dick Ishmael describes New Yorkers of all classes and occupations being drawn down to the shore to gaze at the water as if drawn by a “magnetic” needle.  Many of these “watergazers” are what we now call “white collar” office workers. “They are all landsmen of week days pent up in lath and plaster—tied to count4ers, nailed to benches, clinched to desks.” Standing in rapture before the confluence of the rivers and bays of lower Manhattan, these “watergazers” embody Ishmael’s belief that “meditation and water are wedded for ever” (“Loomings”).

Morgan returns to New Bedford through hurricane wall

Morgan returns to New Bedford through hurricane wall. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum

On June 25, 2014, 163 years after Herman Melville published “Loomings” as chapter 1 of Moby-Dick, the whale ship Charles W. Morgan returned to the New Bedford harbor from which it had been launched 173 years earlier.  This historic event brought out not so much “watergazers” as “shipgazers.” These New Bedfordites brought to life Ishmael’s fictional reverie in a way that would have been unimaginable when Melville died in 1891, his masterpiece essentially forgotten

Detail from Peter Martin, Melville the Man, 2013

Detail from Peter Martin, Melville the Man, 2013

In the paper-cut Melville the Man that Peter Martin completed in New Bedford in 2013, Melville is alone, at the end of his life, looking down an empty New Bedford street at an unpeopled harbor with only the mirage of a distant White Whale visible under a full white moon. On June 25 of this year, the mirage image was the Morgan itself, first seen through the afternoon haze by watergazers whom we  on the ship;first saw on the New Bedford and Fairhaven sides of the hurricane barrier.  The hurricane barrier was itself absolutely packed with all sorts and conditions of man, woman, and child, standing enraptured to see the huge, graceful, sail-studded ship glide in all her glory through the narrow slot in the barrier and into the harbor per se.

Shipgazers welcoming us from hurricane barrier

Shipgazers welcoming us from hurricane barrier

The Jaguar fast to the ship as she takes us in

The Jaguar fast to the ship as she takes us in

Long before we saw the congregated shipgazers massing along the shore, we had drawn a flotilla of nautical companions at sea. Not only the tug Sirius but the yacht Rena had accompanied us all the way from Vineyard Haven into Buzzard’s Bay. Here the tug assigned to guide us to our berth was the Jaguar.  When she snuggled up and made fast on the port side, the shaggy bumper around her bow reminded one of our Voyagers of a “drowned muppet.” The Sirius, too, accompanied us into the harbor. The set of our sails and the flow of the wind and tide were such that we could have sailed into the pier entirely on our own, but we did accept the direct assistance of the Jaguar as we threaded the flotilla that, already substantial in Buzzard’s Bay, created some real congestion in the harbor itself.

The Sirius framed by the aft opening in Skip's wheelhouse

The Sirius framed by the aft opening in Skip’s wheelhouse

Out there in Buzzard’s Bay we had every kind of watercraft, it seemed, getting as close as it could to us while remaining safe. A police boat had materialized out of the haze and accompanied us all the way in, trying to make sure we had sufficient room to maneuver.  It was certainly reassuring, from a nautical pint of vew, to see the loyal Sirius right behind us through the aft opening in Skip’s wheelhouse. But the close approach of the tugs meant that our sailing and tacking were over.  We would soon be safe in the harbor, but now we would have to do any watergazing from land.  The faces of Joee and Foreteck in the photo below show that the wind had been taken out of our sales.

Ship at Shore--redo from ed 9-14

Loose fish about to be fast again

Inside the hurricane barrier, a number of whale boats joined us, some of the American cut, others of the Azorean design. I had hoped to come in gazing at the hills of New Bedford on the port side to compare their appearance with how Ishmael saw them during his departure in the “Wheelbarrow” chapter of Moby-Dick, but there was too much going on in all directions to try to wear my scholarly hat in that way.  A fire boat shot its spray in two strong spouts, as if trying to imitate a whale.  We had left the implacable sea for the world of celebrity celebration, but indeed there was much to celebrate.

Fiore boat welcomes Charles W. Morgan with two high spouts

Fire boat welcomes Charles W. Morgan with two high spouts. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum

The shipgazers were so excited to see us, whether massed on land or cruising alongside, that the mutual magnetic needles pulling the eyes of the crowd to the ship, and our eyes from the ship out to the crowd, held us all in a kind of trance that broke only when we eased up to the pier and tied fast.

Deckhand trhows line to rigging, Sikkema in the rigging.  Courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum

Deckhand trhows line to rigging, Sikkema in the rigging. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum

Several hundred people were massed on the very edge of the pier, and I quickly recognized several of them.  I saw James Russell and Christina Connett from the New Bedford Whaling Musem, and Carl Cruz and Laurie Robertson-Lorant from the New Bedford Historical Society. Carl was holding a huge photo of a Cape Verdean ancestor who had been a captain of the Morgan in its later years as a whaler, something that immediately caught the eye of Vanessa Hodgkinson, who had been struck by the lack of people of color among either the crew of the ship or our cohort among the Voyagers.

Csarl Cruz with image of whaling captain ancestor, far left, pier

Csarl Cruz with image of whaling captain ancestor, far left, pier

When we were tacking out in the Bay, the sun had been obscured by a bright haze that created a misty, scrim-like effect, intensifying the sense that we were in some unbounded play space unrelated to anything on land. By the time we sailed through the hurricane wall, a brilliant afternoon sun had broken through as if on cue. It was suddenly quite warm and the breeze had seemed to die down by the time we docked. At the moment of contact with land, our first since we had left the Haven in the morning, we were visibly ashore, but not yet in body. A landing ramp always takes longer to set out and secure than you would expect, and we Voyagers had to gather for a group photo on deck before we went down to retrieve our gear.

New Bedford cohort of 38th Voyagers, about to disembark

New Bedford cohort of 38th Voyagers, about to disembark

We had done it. We were on the historic voyage and now we were off, now able to join all those who would keep returning to look at the ship during the next seven days.  During our early morning meeting with the day passengers back in Vineyard Haven, Steve Urbon had told me of the difficulty the New Bedford Standard-Union was having in trying to decide if it could afford the cost of renting a helicopter from which one of its reporters could photograph the Morgan as it entered the harbor and made fast to the pier. James Russell and the Whaling Museum had been wrestling with the same issue, and when they decided to collaborate the issue was solved, one result being the image with which I will end this entry.

Into the harbor with the Siriius and the Jaguar

Jaguar fast to the Morgan, Sirius off the starboard bow. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum

Jaguar fast to the Morgan, Sirius off the starboard bow. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum