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.]

Opening The Art of Seeing Whales

.Entry begun on Tuesday, July 24, at 5 am

It’s 5 am and I’ve been awake since 4, so I may as well begin this entry. I came home from the trip with sinus congestion, and the sulfa drug my doctor gave me was not able to eliminate it, so I went on an antibiotic yesterday.

The opening reception for The Art of Seeing Whales was scheduled from 6 to 8 on the evening of Tuesday, July 1. After people gathered for drinks and light appetizers near the whale skeletons hanging high above the Jacobs Family Gallery, I gave a gallery talk in the exhibition space. We had an excellent crowd that was very attentive, and it was a pleasure to discuss these works in such a beautifully installed gallery. This was the first time I had been wired for two different audio-video recordings while giving a talk. One camera was from the local public access television station. The other was with David Shaerf, a professor from Oakland University near Detroit, whom I had previously met at a Moby-Dick Marathon when be was beginning a project of documenting the influence of Moby-Dick on contemporary culture. On this visit to New Bedford he had arranged to do interviews with a number of my MSCP colleagues. In the Midwest he had already scheduled interviews with Matt Kish in Dayton, Ohio, and Beth Schultz in Lawrence, Kansas.

Still from David Shaerf's video of gallery talk

Still from David Shaerf’s video of gallery talk

Because I had been very busy immediately before and after the voyage on the Morgan, I did not have a prepared text for this gallery talk. And, in general, when giving a gallery talk or an illustrated lecture with images, I prefer to speak from the images themselves rather than from a text I have written earlier. I did write out some notes for the talk on the front and back of a page of my legal pad, including the names of the three Inuit artists that I wanted to say correctly. In addition to highlighting the exhibition itself, I had decided to begin with a brief summary of the MSCP in New Bedford, beginning with the first visit Beth Schultz and I made in the summer of 1998. This provided a context for integrating the Schultz and Archive artworks along with those from the Museum’s historical collection. It also allowed me to address the current cultural moment in New Bedford in the context of our twice-annual visits during the last fifteen years. At one point I found myself saying that this was one of the happiest days of my life—speaking at this exhibition, in this gallery, in this Whaling Museum, a few days after having sailed into New Bedford on the Charles W. Morgan.   This is probably not something I would have said if I had written out a prepared speech.

Still from David Scaerf’s video during the gallery talk

Still from David Shaerf’s video during the gallery talk

Christina had suggested that I give the talk standing on the steps in the corner of the room housing the Holistic Harmony and Infant and Child sections. That would allow the audience to see me–and me to see more of the audience and exhibition–as I spoke. Nathaniel Philbrick, by quoting the passage about the “women of New Bedford” in his keynote address on Saturday, gave me a perfect segue into the introductory panel for the show with Piercefield’s Women of New Bedford directly above it. Even in this crowded room, the audience could easily see the contrast between Van de Velde’s 1617 Dutch oil painting and Xiaoguang Qiao’s 2009 paper cut out inside the entry of the show, in themselves a world of difference in how the whale has been perceived, and represented, across space and time.

Still from David Scaerf’s video during the gallery talk

Still from David Shaerf’s video during the gallery talk

One of the biggest questions about curating this show was how well it would work, visually and imaginatively, to mix historical paintings from the Whaling Museum with the work of contemporary Moby-Dick artists form the Schultz and Archive collections. I was delighted in the way this had worked out on the long wall on which Christina and her staff had installed the lives of the whalers in “The Perils in Between” followed by the fate of the whale in “Cutting the Whale.”  The visual rhythm between the grand historical portraits in oil on canvas in ornate frames and the contemporary works in mixed media on paper was fresh and illuminating. The installation flowed together in one continuous run from the Bradford history painting of a whale ship setting out, through the red velvet portrait of Captain Francis F. Smith processing the whale, to Milloff’s and Kish’s contemporary take on the cutting-in.

Jim Campomar looking in display case with "Cutting-In" section behind him

Jim Campomar looking in display case with “Cutting-In” section behind him

At the end of the room from which I was speaking, Zellig’s large drawing of the whale’s eye (Will He Perish?) held the attention as fully as it had when my students and I first saw it at the student exhibition in Rockford, Illinois, in 1997. The “Mother and Infant” section, augmented by the mother and infant whales in Piercefield’s Women of New Bedford, spoke strongly to our relation with whales as fellow mammals that had been one of the recurrent themes of the papers delivered at the Sympoisum. Lee Heald, the program officer of the Whaling Museum who had so strongly encouraged the early collaborative projects that resulted in the MSCP, attended the opening. After my talk she told me something I had not known about the portrait of Louisa Seabury Cushman and her child. The mother in the portrait is wearing tokens of mourning, suggesting that this painting may have been a memento mori after the child had died, which would explain some of the special emotion it carries. Peggi Medieros had mentioned Louisa Seabury Cushman in one of her essays in the special issue of the Standard-Times, noting that all three of her children had died as infants, leaving her and her whaling-captain husband childless.

The eye of Zellig’s whale drawing audience in still from Shaerf’s video

Eyes of the audience drawn to the eye of Zellig’s whale in still from Shaerf’s video

After speaking about the “Cutting the Whale” and the “Mother and Infant” sections, pivoting on Klauba’s painting of the nursing whales deep in the water under the carnage, it was somewhat of a relief to move on to the positive celebration of whales—and our relation to them—in Celia Smith’s Moby-Dick; in The Great Hunter by Nanogak, Kaodloak, and Kanayok; and in contemporary works by Aileen Callahan, Richard Ellis, Kathleen Piercefield, and Vanessa Hodgkinson. I had spoken somewhat longer than I had planned, but there were still many questions and much discussion after the talk was over.

Images of the whale by Ellis, Piercefield, Hodgkinson, and Callahan

Images of the whale by Ellis, Piercefield, Hodgkinson, and Callahan

Among those who had driven down for show today was a film producer from OceansLIVE in Provincetown, She liked how the subject of this show meshed with the video production that they would soon be making when the Morgan was scheduled to sail out among the whales at Stellwagen Bank off of Cape Cod. Jeff Levine, a collector of Moby-Dick art from Worcester, also drove down for the opening.  He came because of his interest in the subject, but also because he has a rich trove of rare materials pertaining to the Huston-Bradbury collaboration on the 1956 film that Jim Campomar from Argentina was very eager to see. They made arrangements for Jim to see the collection in which, among other things, he was thrilled to see unpublished original drawings that Huston and Bradbury each had made of the White Whale.

Jeff Levine (left) and Jim Campomar speaking with Wyn Keley in still from Shaerf viseo

Jeff Levine (left) and Jim Campomar speaking with Wyn Kelley in still from Shaerf viseo

The rest of the week passed quickly, as the Symposium continued up until I returned my rental car to the Providence airport. I was delighted when Molly Herron, one of the four composers in their early thirties who had premiered a Moby-Dick Oratorio in Brooklyn in February, arrived in time for the Symposium session that I chaired on Wednesday afternoon. I had suggested that the arrival of the Morgan with all its concomitant activities, in addition to seeing the Whaling Museum itself, might be of great interest to her as a reader and composer deeply interested in Moby-Dick, and she had found time to schedule a visit. Shortly before arriving, she had sent me a link with not only the CD but a video recording, the libretto, and the score of the premiere performance in February. I am hoping that future performances of that work might be arranged in New Bedford, and also as part of the programming surrounding the production of Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick in Cincinnati in 2016. I was glad to get a photo of Molly standing beneath the Whaling Museum’s skeletons of the female right whale and its fetus that had been preserved from the remains of a deadly ship strike in the Atlantic Ocean several years ago.

Composer Molly Herron under skeleton of right whale and fetus in Jacobs Family Gallery

Composer Molly Herron under skeleton of right whale and fetus in Jacobs Family Gallery

Before leaving town for the Providence airport, I got a chance to go to Crowell’s Gallery and see the new works that Vanessa Hodgkinson had painted in New Bedford between the arrival of our ship on Wednesday and her flight from Logan Airport on Sunday. Six works hung together on a single wall. The seventh was on an adjacent wall. The sunset (or sunrise) watercolor with the white whale beneath the water (Mocha Dick) was one of my favorites because of the Turnersque rendering of the seascape. I love her image with the whales filling the sails of the ship at the top center below (Catch of the Morgan, reproduced in my “Out of the Cradle” section) because of its ambiguity: the cetacean cargo can either be whales that have been captured or whales that have captured the ship. In other words, you could see them as fast-fish or as loose-fish.

Six new works by Vanessa Hodgkinson at Crowell’s Gallery, July 3, 2014

Six new works by Vanessa Hodgkinson at Crowell’s Gallery, July 3, 2014

The one painting on the adjacent wall had no similar ambiguity. Vanessa had filled its sea with reproductions of an image that nineteenth-whalers used in their log books for whales that had been seen and chased but not captured. These were all loose fish.  This is confirmed by the title of the work, Those Who Got Away II (which I learned three weeks after visiting the gallery).  Its companion piece, Those Who Got Away I, is just as beautifully rendered, and satisfying to the imagination.  All seven of the new works are in watercolor and ink on paper

The seventh new Hodgkinson work at Crowell’s Gallery

Vanesa Hodgkinson, Those Who Got Away II, 2014

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Vanessa Hodgkinson, Those Who Got Away I, 2014

Vanessa Hodgkinson, Those Who Got Away I, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way from Crowell’s Gallery to my rental car, I took my GoPro camera to The Art of Seeing Whales exhibition to see if I could capture good images of the works in the show without too much distortion from its fish-eye lens. I never really found out. After methodically going going hrough each section of the show, and uploading the file back home to see what I had, I found that the GoPro, like the iPhone, has a function that allows you to make the equivalent of a “selfie.” Instead of a filming a leisurely survey of every nuance of the show, I had accidentally filmed a close-up fish-eye of myself as I thought I was filming the show. I will have to try this again when I return to the Moby-Dick Marathon in January, after which the exhibition is scheduled to close, and be more careful of my settings. The image below gives a pretty good view of the part of the show that was behind me, but it’s not what I had in mind.

Unintentional “selfie” from the GoPro video in which I thought I was filming the show

Unintentional “selfie” from the GoPro video in which I thought I was filming the show

That last visit to the gallery, however, was not entirely lost. A grandmother had come into the gallery with her grandson (who you can see in the accidental selfie immediately above). Upon entering the room, he had paid close attention to the image of the cutting-in scene just inside the door. Then, at the other end of the room, he had literally embraced Klauba’s The Pod. The boy’s eyes were right up next to the image and his hands flat against the wall on either side. I asked his grandmother if I could ask him what he saw in the painting, and she encouraged me to do so. He said he did not want to talk much about the stuff up at the top “where they are hurting the whales,” but he loved the images of the mother and baby whales in the water below. We had hung this painting a little lower than I might have ideally liked, but it was just the right height for the heart of a six-year-old boy.

Klauba’s The Pod in the “Mother and Infant” section

Klauba’s The Pod in the “Mother and Infant” section

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.]