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.]

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.]

 

Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish

Entry begun Sunday, June 22, 9:45 am

The Morgan is at Tisbury Wharf in Vineyard Haven waiting for us. She arrived on Wednesday afternoon on a beautiful sail from Newport, reported by Tom Dunlop for the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. The Sirius towed her out of Newport, with the Morgan taking on more of the wind as they moved into and through Vineyard Sound en route to the Haven.  Dunlop found “the sound of the vessel moving through the water one of the greatest pleasures I have ever had.” On this transit, the Morgan passed many of the landmarks she will be passing, in reverse order, as she sails into New Bedford next week: Cutty Hunk, Sekonnet Light, Gay Head, West Chop. By noon she was “officially in Vineyard Sound,” but Dunlop “could just barely make out Gay Head” in the haze. As seen in the photograph below from the Gazette’s Mark Lovewall, “there is beautiful glittering water, sharp little waves on the top of the big rolling waves.”

The Morgan on Vineyard Sound, June 18, 2014.  Photo Mark Alan Lovewell, Martha's Vineyard Gazette

The Morgan on Vineyard Sound, June 18, 2014. Photo Mark Alan Lovewell, Martha’s Vineyard Gazette

Here they “dropped the towline and began sailing.” Dunlop is amazed at “how quiet the vessel is now that it is under her own sail. There is just the whistling of the wind and the hushed sighing sound of the wash breaking away from the bow. The ship has a lovely long, easy motion in the sea as it heels every so slightly to the right.” While sailing on the open sea, the Morgan was a “loose-fish” (in the language of chapter 89 of Moby-Dick). Now, at Tisbury Wharf, she is a “fast-fish” awaiting those of us who will board her on Tuesday evening in advance of Wednesday’s scheduled sail.

I think I’m mostly ready for the trip. I’ve got the blog up to date. The Art of Seeing Whales exhibition will need only fine-tuning. I’ve got my silken sleeping-bag liner and new laces for my boat shoes. I got a refresher on using my GoPro from a helpful clerk at Target yesterday. And I have just finished sorting out fifteen new Moby-Dick prints on metallic paper that Robert Del Tredici sent to be considered for the art exhibitions I hope to organize to accompany the production of the Moby-Dick opera in Cincinnati in June 2016. Del Tredici did his first body of Moby-Dick drawings in the 1960s and he is still at it. These new pieces, like their predecessors, are both fast fast and loose—tethered to Melville’s novel through a text that appears in the drawing, but free in the spirit of invention and interpretation. The text embedded in the image I am posting here is from the New England Primer as quoted in the “Extracts” section of Moby-Dick: “Whales in the sea / God’s voice obey.” The multitude of whales in the sea, the plenitude of life and imagination, the overwhelmed sailor trying to take it all in from a masthead rocking at a pretty severe angle—all of these elements make this a perfect “bon voyage” offering for my upcoming voyage.

Robert Del Tredici, Whales in the Water, 2014.

Robert Del Tredici, Whales in the Sea, 2014.

Entry continues at 1:45 pm

I just got back from a meeting with Matt Kish. He brought me the eleven new drawings we had commissioned for the Melville Society Archive in New Bedford, plus one additional drawing as a bonus. I will feel like a courier for a high-end museum as I carefully transport them to the Whaling Museum tomorrow. He had sent me digital images of all twelve, but to slowly turn from one to another during a relaxed conversation with the creator was for me as pleasurable as it was for Tom Dunlop to feel the motion and hear the sound of the Morgan for the first time. Matt is so articulate that I half-wished, afterwards, that I had asked to record our conversation. But there are times when it is better to be simply alive, not archival.

Matt Kish with two brand-new drawings in Bellevue, Kentucky, on June 22

Matt Kish with two brand-new drawings in Bellevue, Kentucky, on June 22

These twelve new images are decidedly loose-fish compared to each of the 552 in his Moby-Dick in Pictures. None of them is tied to a text. He has left himself free to range through the entire story and to present each character in what he feels is his essentials, stripped of the limits imposed by any text, scene, or physical setting. Christina, Melanie, and I should have a great time deciding tomorrow which of the twelve to feature in whatever space will be available in the Center Street Gallery at the Whaling Museum. Matt and I were both on tight schedules today, but we both had time for me to take the above photo of him with two of the new drawings outside of Avenue Brew, the coffee shop two blocks from my house in Bellevue, at which me met. Devotees of the novel will be able to identify the subject of each.

Entry continues at 4:00 pm

After entering the above passage about Matt Kish, I drove over to the Cincinnati Public Library to see John Campbell present his still-evolving project from my recent Emily Dickinson class to members of the Cincinnati Book Arts Association at their annual exhibition. He had a large, engaged audience as he explained the many dimensions of Dickinson’s life and art that inspired this proliferating project, represented here by a large artist sketchbook in a glassed-in case and mural-sized enlargements much too large for a case. I was able to see the wonderful image on the back cover of the sketch book (featuring Emily at a piano and magnified fly) much better than during the limited time available during the class presentation in April in the Honors House.  

John Campbell with three Dickinson drawings, Cincinnati Public Library, June 22, 2014 copyright John Campbell

John Campbell with three Dickinson drawings, Cincinnati Public Library, June 22, 2014 copyright John Campbell

John is not done yet, and he is firing on all cylinders, so there will be much to choose from when we have our Dickinson Valentine’s Fest in February (and when Emma Rose begins to design our Dickinson catalog after finishing the Moby-Dick one.

When Emma Rose and I met on Friday afternoon, she was able to show me screen shots of the mock-ups for the first few pages of the Moby catalog. The catalog will be chronological according to the course in which each student was enrolled, so it will begin with Fred North, the Moby student in 1994 who was the first to ask if he could submit a painting rather than a research paper as his final project. Fred, like most student-artists in the catalog, will be represented by two facing pages in a horizontal (“landscape”) format. 

Screen shot of mock-up for the Fred North entry in the Moby catalog

Screen shot of mock-up for the Fred North entry in the Moby catalog

Emma Rose is using the InDesign program inn advance of publication by Blurb. As you can see, her current mock-up for Fred features both of the Lee Shore paintings he submitted at the end of the semester.  In one, the voyage of the “lee shore” sailor is confined within Fred’s motorcycle jacket,.  In the other, a tiny sail is barely distinguishable amidst the Turneresque immensity of sea and sky.  Emma Rose’s current page for Fred also includes photos I took of him and his family at the 1996 exhibition of Unpainted to the Last in Evanston, Illinois, and extracts from his artist statement for the two paintings. I will be eager to see the new catalog spreads she will have ready when I get back from this trip.

 Fred’s two Lee Shore paintings are a perfect illustration of the difference between fast-fish (sailing within a motorcycle jacket) and loose-fish (the open ocean). Fred’s artist statment emphasizes the passage in “The Lee Shore” in which Ishmael makes this declaration: “But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, indefinite as God—so better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be dashed against the shore, even if that were safety!” Ishmael dedicates this chapter to Bulkington, the fearless spiritual quester who leads the Peqoud into the open ocean but does not survive the voyage, thereby becoming Ishmael’s “sleeping-partner” shipmate.  Fred, who was probably in his early forties when he took my class, died much too early, early in this century. He, then, and Shawn Buckenmeyer, now, have become my sleeping-partner shipmates for next week’s voyage.

I wonder if Fred ever imagined that I might one day be sailing on a real whale ship. He gave me a pencil drawing as a present for the course that I have just come across when gathering material for Emma Rose to use in his catalog entry. He has drawn me high up in the right hand corner, propelled by the collision at the lower left in which sperm whale has stoved in a whale ship (and knocked a book called “Becoming Stella” out of my hands). But this is not intended as an unhappy image. I have a big grin on my face, and the text behind my head says: “SO MUCH FOR DAMP, DRIZZLY NOVEMBERS IN MY SOUL!”  The drawing in which Fred sends his teacher sky high as the whale breaks up the whale ship is an extreme manifestation of the questoin with which Ishmael ends chapter 89: “What are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”

 

Fred's sketch of me as a present for the 1994 course

Fred’s sketch of me as a present for the 1994 course