November Harvest 2 (Grand Contested Election)

Entry begun Thursday, November 10, 10:05 pm

In “Loomings,” the opening chapter of Moby-Dick, the narrator famously situates his own “whaling voyage by one Ishmael” between a “Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States” and “Bloody Battle in Affghanistan.”  In late April, when our 9-woman Moby-Dick exhibition opened at the Marta Hewett Gallery in Cincinnati one day after our 2-man Moby-Dick exhibition opened at the Contemporary Arts Center in the same city, Hillary Clinton was still battling Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential nomination and Donald Trump was still fending off Ted Cruz and John Kasich among the multitude of Republicans who had challenged him for the nomination of that party.  On election day 2016, Tuesday, November 8, after casting my ballot for President in Bellevue, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, I drove over to pick up the last two Moby-Dick drawings by Matt Kish from the exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center that had closed in August.  His original drawings for pages 75 and 144 of Moby-Dick in Pictures, the book he had published in 2011, were being returned to us now because they each had been framed when I took them to Kristin Riepenhoff, the registrar, in early April.  Each drawing had to be taken out of its frame for the exhibition in the gallery, and now they were ready for me to retrieve in their original frames.  I was delighted to hear from Kristin that an estimated 26,623 persons had seen our exhibition of Moby-Dick works by Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici between the opening day on April 22 and the closing day on August 14.  When I picked up the two Kishes from her on election day this Tuesday, they were wrapped, for protection, like mummies.

Matt Kish’s drawings for pages 75 and 144 of Moby-Dick in Pictures when I retrieved them from the CAC on Election Day

Matt Kish’s drawings for pages 75 and 144 of Moby-Dick in Pictures when I retrieved them from the CAC on Election Day

belle-opens-kish-1I was happy to get these works on Tuesday, Election Day, when no classes were scheduled at NKU, so I could bring one of them back to the Honors House today, Thursday, just before my English 151 class met at 12:15.  The Honors House has owned the drawing for page 75 since since 2013, when Matt Kish gave a lecture at NKU, visited my class in Moby-Dick and the Arts, and donated to our Archives many of the drawings recently exhibited at the CAC in 2016.  Belle Zembrodt, interim director of the Honors Program, was happy to unwrap this drawing as soon as I brought it in this morning and to reinstall it in the reception area of the Honors House just outside her office.  There it hangs to the immediate right of Robert Del Tredici’s Boggy, Soggy, a gestural screenprint inspired by Ishmael’s encounter with the painting in the Spouter-Inn in chapter 3.  Looming above both works is Shear, the painted metallic relief that Political Science major Danielle Kleymeyer created as her final project in my Spring 2013 class soon after Kish’s visit.

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Kish’s drawing for page 75 between Del Tredici’s Boggy, Soggy and Kleymeyer’s Shear in the NKU Honors House on November 10, 2016

new-yorker-note-malcolmI was particularly eager to meet with the Honors Freshmen in my ENG 151 class today because on Election Day each had posted a blog entry about the election that was inspired, in part, by a note we had received from the editorial staff of The New Yorker back in September.  For more than twenty years, my ENG 151class has taken a bulk subscription to The New Yorker as part of the required reading for the course (during the current Fall Semester the bulk rate for each student is $15 for a 15-week subscription).  Early in the semester I generally let each student post a blog entry on a feature of his or her choice within a week of receiving each new issue.  The September 5 issue, however, contained a fascinating profile by Janet Malcolm of the young pianist Yuja Wang.  Since our ENG 151 class was to be hearing Hilary Hahn play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Louis Langrée and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on the weekend of September 23 and 24, I required that each student’s blog entry for the September 5 issue respond to Malcolm’s profile of Wang.  These blog posts were so appreciative of what Malcolm had written about Wang that I printed them out and sent them to David Remnick and his New Yorker staff.  We were thrilled, as you can imagine, when we received from Becky Cooper, quite soon, the thank you note that begins this paragraph.

new-yorker-oct-31-2016Our Election Day project for the class was inspired by the October 31 issue of The New Yorker.  This issue included a Portfolio entitled “The Vote” in which fourteen voters from throughout the country “describe why they are voting in a presidential election for the first time and which candidate they will choose.”  Most of those first-time voters were students between the ages of 18 and 24.  Each voter’s statement was accompanied by a photo by Katy Grannan of that voter.  As soon as I saw this portfolio I thought it would be great for my students to create a voter portfolio of our own.  We did not have much time (especially since we had no class on Election Day itself), so we had to improvise our plan during our class meetings on Tuesday, November 1, and Thursday, November 3.  We agreed that each student would post a blog entry before the polls closed on Election Day indicating who they planned to vote for and why, with each student’s statement mirroring those in The New Yorker in approximate length and demographic information (name, age, status, geographic locations, and candidate of choice).  When a student who was not planning to vote asked what to indicate for “candidate of choice,” we decided that N/A for “not applicable” would be appropriate.  We agreed that each student, in addition to posting the blog entry on Election Day, would bring to class today a printout in which his or her blog entry is accompanied by a photograph of his or her self.  These I would then combine into a portfolio of our own that I could send to David Remnick and his editorial staff in New York.

We decided last week that it would be a good idea to send a photograph of the entire class to New York along with the individual photos and statements.  We agreed to take that photo after I collected the individual portfolio submissions at the beginning of the class period today.  We chose not to dress up in any way for this group photo but simply to dress the way we usually dress for class.  After I collected the individual submissions, we posed for our group photo in the reception area of the Honors House in which Belle Zembrodt had reinstalled Matt Kish’s Moby-Dick drawing while I was collecting the submissions.  Several students had brought copies of the October 31 issue to which our Portfolio was responding, as you can see in the accompanying photo here.

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ENG 151 Honors Freshmen on the day they submitted their Voter Portfolio to The New Yorker

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Headnote for the Portfolio we sent to The New Yorker on November 10, 2016

The New Yorker  Portfolio is quite balanced in its selection of first-time voters.  Its headnote indicates these “fourteen Americans” are “from red states, blue states, and battleground states.”  Geographically, the states range from California, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado in the west to Florida, Georgia, and New Hampshire in the East, with Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and Texas in between.  The candidate choices are well balanced too—with 7 of the first-time voters selecting Clinton, 5 selecting Trump, and one each for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.  The Portfolio from my ENG 151 class includes twelve of our fourteen students (two students had missed class during the week in which we received the October 31 issue).  Whereas the students in The New Yorker sample range in age from 18 to 24, those in our group range from 18 to 20.  Whereas the fourteen voters in The New Yorker group are from thirteen widely distributed states, all twelve in our group live near the Ohio river, ten being from northern Kentucky, two from southern Ohio.  The most interesting distribution, of course, is in their choices among the Presidential candidates.  Whereas the fourteen New Yorker voters appear to have been pre-selected their voters to achieve a range of political preferences, our twelve ENG 151 voters were simply a group of random students who had happened to enroll in my Honors Freshman Composition class.

Instead of commenting on the statements, ages, status, demographics and choices of these twelve students, I have chosen to reproduce here the text and photo that each student sent to The New Yorker.  You will see that 4 chose Trump, 4 chose Clinton, 2 chose Johnson, and two chose not to vote:

Click Here.

 

I am grateful to The New Yorker for providing the inspiration for this stimulating, interesting in-class exercise.  I am grateful to these students for embracing this impromptu assignment with the talent, focus, and imagination they have brought to everything we have done throughout this semester.  Sorting through the submissions they brought this morning to send to The New Yorker this afternoon makes me even more eager to see the final projects they will be presenting during the last two weeks of the course.  Two things strike me about the Voter Portfolio these students have created during one of the most contentious election days I have seen since I cast my own first vote for a Presidential candidate in 1962.  The first is that this random group of first-semester Honors Freshmen at Northern Kentucky University split their votes almost exactly as did the nation.  The second is that these twelve students—in spite of the stark differences in the way many of them see the nation and imagine its future—have remained receptive, engaged, and collaborative while we have all grown individually and in concert ever since we first came together in mid-August.  I hope our political leaders and body politic can aspire to, and achieve, something of the same—not only throughout the freshmen year and colleges careers of these students, but throughout their adult lifetimes.

Daguerreotype of Frederick Douglass shortly before his first visit to Cincinnati in 1850

Daguerreotype of Frederick Douglass shortly before his first visit to Cincinnati in 1850

In the ebb and flow of American democracy, volatile, combustible energies are never far from the surface even in times that seem more serene than the raw rancor we see today.  One model for the strength and courage I hope each of these students will find in negotiating their adult lives is Frederick Douglass, whose 1845 Narrative, published when he was only twenty-seven, is a model of self-actualizing expression in the most trying of times.  We began discussing his Narrative today and we will finish discussing it next Tuesday.  This will allow time for a peer evaluation next Thursday of the paper on Douglass students will be submitting on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  One thing I have asked students to address in the essay is whether they see the Narrative of Frederick Douglass more as a historical document or as a book that speaks to our lives today.

Abby Schlachter with Queequeg in her Coffin II in 2001

Abby Schlachter with Queequeg in her Coffin II in 2001

During the Fall 1995 Semester, Abby Schlachter was a freshman in the same ENG 151 Honors Class I am teaching today.  That was three years before most of my current freshmen were born.  During the Spring 1996 semester, when Bill Clinton was running for his second term as president, Abby took my course in Moby-Dick and the Arts in which her final project was an inscribed cast of her own body she called Queequeg in her Coffin.  During the Spring 1997 semester, she and her classmates returned for Further Studies in Melville and the Arts during which she created Queequeg in her Coffin II for our exhibition at the Rockford College Art Gallery in Illinois at the end of the semester.  Here you see her standing alongside that body cast at the International Melville Conference at Hofstra University in New York in October 2001, one month after the event that soon became known as 9/11.  That attack was early in the presidency of George W. Bush, whose response to it led to the new battles Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East that have continued to present new challenges throughout the presidency of Barack Obama as my current freshmen have come of age as citizens and voters.

Abby Schlachter Langdon as The Warrior in 2016

Abby Schlachter Langdon as The Warrior in 2016

This April, as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were each battling their competitors in their respective Presidential primaries, Abby Schlachter Langdon, now the mother of two, exhibited her newest artistic response to Queequeg, the stitched photographic self-portrait on fabric she calls The Warrior.  Exhibited as part of the 9-woman Moby-Dick show at the Marta Hewett Gallery we called Adrift in the Wonder World, this work shows Abby addressing the world with the same personal courage and grasping imagination she showed in inscribing that first body cast exactly twenty years ago.  I wish a similarly rich path of self-actualization for my current freshmen as each steers her or his course through four years of college—years in which our nation will be preparing for yet another “Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.

November Harvest

Entry begun Monday, November 7, 10:55 am

Thanksgiving came early this month.  There was so much to enjoy and celebrate from so many harvests of this and that.  Yesterday I got from Kathleen Piercefield the Affidavit whales I had commissioned for Matt Kish and Ione Damasco.  They had each chosen their favorite print from the four whales in Kathleen’s Affidavit.  Matt chose Piercefield’s Don Miguel, with words. Ione chose the unnamed whale without words.

Kathleen Piercefield’s Don Miguel for Matt Kish, November 2016

Kathleen Piercefield’s Don Miguel for Matt Kish, November 2016

Kahtleen Piercefield’s unnamed Affidavit whale for Ione Demasco, November 2016

Kahtleen Piercefield’s unnamed Affidavit whale for Ione Demasco, November 2016

3-folios-with-i-qWhen those two whales got to my house in Bellevue, they were immediately drawn to the three newly arrived folio whales I had commissioned from Rachel Prokopius—after she had sculpted a complete set of Cetology Whales for my class in Moby-Dick and the Arts last spring.  Rachel had dropped the three new whales off at the Honors House for me last week, but I have not yet had a chance to meet with her and talk about them.  They have appeared quite happy under Mary Belperio’s Ishmael and Queequeg on the mantel over our dining-room fire place, but as soon as those beautiful whales for Matt and Ione entered the house, they wanted to come down off the mantel for a gam on the kitchen table.  They all looked very happy there, and I was sorry when the time came to break up the gam.

Five folio whales gamming on the kitchen table

Five folio whales gamming on the kitchen table

I love all of Rachel’s whales but I have a special affection for this newly commissioned sperm whale.  It is quite similar in size and shape to its predecessor from our class last spring, but the color of this one is more subtly marbled in shades of gray, and the texture of its skin is allover covered with suggestive, hieroglyphic markings like those of the whale in the “Blanket” chapter.  Perhaps the most striking difference between this version of the sperm whale and the one Rachel made last spring is that this one has been wounded and maimed much like the whales in the “Grand Armada” chapter, some of its gashes still wet with blood.  Nevertheless, this serene creature, like Moby himself, is a survivor, and will be there whenever its fellow cetaceans need protection—or whenever we fellow mammalian humans need inspiration.

Midsection of Rachel Prokopius’s Cetology Sperm Whale, November 2016.

Midsection of Rachel Prokopius’s Cetology Sperm Whale, November 2016.

Matt Kish, Huzza Porpoise from Cetology Whales, 2016

Matt Kish, Huzza Porpoise from Cetology Whales, 2016

Shortly before Rachel left her three new Cetology whales at the Honors House, I joined Matt and Ione at the Taft Brew House in Cincinnati where we met with Steven Matijcio for a farewell gam to celebrate the success of the Moby-Dick exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center over the summer.  Matt brought with him five art works.  One was his drawing of the Huzza Porpoise from the Cetology section of the show, which he kindly presented to me as a gift for having co-curated the show. The other four are original drawings that he is donating to the Steely Library Archives at NKU in gratitude for its previous support of his work.  One is There she blows, the red-letter oversize drawing he made for page 225 of Moby-Dick in Pictures.  Two more are original drawings of Folio Whales from his Cetology series at the CAC: The Fin-Back and The Razor Back.  The fourth drawing is the marvelous Right Whale he drew for the Cetology section of the CAC show before he changed course and began to incorporate human features into his cetacean images.  This one will be as interesting for future students to study as the ones that were displayed at the CAC.  The photo below is from a table in the Archive, where archivist Lois Hamill officially accepted these works into her collection.

Clockwise from top left: There She Blows, Razor-Back Whale, Fin-Back Whale, and Right Whale in their new home in the Archives and Special Collections of Steely Library

Clockwise from top left: There She Blows, Razor-Back Whale, Fin-Back Whale, and Right Whale in their new home in the Archives and Special Collections of Steely Library

qq-in-cincinnati-art-club-juried-showWhile these miscellaneous prints, sculptures, and drawings of whales were migrating to my house in Bellevue was well as to the Steely Library Archives, Monica Namyar’s new sculptured bust of Queequeg—created after the Marta Hewett show closed in June—was sitting on a shelf at View Point 48, the juried art show sponsored by the Cincinnati Art Club and held this year at Art Design Consultants in Cincinnati.  I had loved this new work when I saw it on Monica’s dining room table in Park Hills KY this summer, and it was even more wonderful to see it here in a show featuring “National, Regional, and Local artists in all mediums.”  The dark color of the shelf set off Queequeg’s dark coloring beautifully, and his Maori-inspired tattooing was equally strong and alluring from any angle.  Monica’s Queequeg has as much self-possession as does his namesake in the novel, and he looked just as comfortable on the exhibition shelf here as he did on the artist’s own dining room table.

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Monica Namyar’s Queequeg at View Point 48 art show in Cincinnati.

 

Concidentally, I currently have four Moby-Dick artworks being framed by Art Design Consultants while they are exhibiting Monica’s sculpted Queequeg.  One is by Piercefield, one by Kish, and two by Robert Del Tredici.  I had hoped they might be framed in time for me to create a little gam with them near Monica’s Queequeg, but he has to leave by November 10 and the framing will not be done by then.  Those works will have to be part of a future blog entry, and that gam, if it happens, will have to be at some other time and place.

My last entry ended with the latest developments in the splendid seasons being enjoyed by NKU’s women’s soccer and volleyball teams as members of the Horizon League in our first season of eligibility for the NCAA Division I National Tournament.  I have much more to report for each team this week.  Our soccer team ended the regular season with a 1-0 loss to Valparaiso, on our own field, on the night I got home from the Douglass Symposium in Indianapolis.  That dropped us to the 3rd seed for the conference tournament which began early the next week.  We began the tournament on the night of Monday, October 31, with a 1-0 victory over Wright State on our own field.  We then moved on to Milwaukee, home of the regular season’s Horizon League champions, for a semi-final game against Detroit Mercy on Thursday, November 3.  We won that game 3-2 after being down 2-0 at the end of the first half.

Celebrating the conference championthip

Celebrating the conference championthip

Even more dramatic was our upset victory Milwaukee, on their own field, on the evening of Saturday, November 5, to win the conference tournament and an automatic bid to the D-I National Tournament.  We again won 3-2, again overcoming a 2-0 deficit.  After Milwaukee scored two goals early in the first half, Macy Hamblin scored for us just before the end of the half (Macy had just been named the Horizon league’s Most Valuable Player for the second straight year).  We got the victory by holding Milwaukee scoreless in the second have while scoring two goals ourselves.  Freshman Shawna Zaken scored the winning goal in the 87th minute with assists by two other freshmen, Emily Soltes and Ally Perkins.  I watched all 90 minutes on video and it was an incredible experience.   I took the photo below from my computer after the team had put on its championship jerseys.

Screenshot of NKU women’s soccer team after winning Horizon League Championship on Milwaukee’s field

Screenshot of NKU women’s soccer team after winning Horizon League Championship on Milwaukee’s field

we-are-finally-announced-2We knew immediately after the victory on Saturday night that we would be playing in the Division I National Campionship Tournament, but we did not know the where and the when until Monday afternoon at 4:30.  The team and its fans assembled in the Vault of the NKU basketball arena for the Watch Party as the national bracket was being announced.  The broadcast began with the West Coast matchups and we were literally the last team to be announced in the last slot in the last region, playing West Virginia University on their field in Morgantown at 3 pm on Saturday, November 12.  West Virginia is the top seed in our section of the bracket and the number 1 ranked team in the country, so it will be quite a challenge.  How exciting for our players to know they are playing against the very best in the nation the first year we are eligible to do so.

with-sami-on-way-to-natonal-tournamentI was happy to be at the watch party.  After the announcement was made I got to chat with my former Honors Freshmen English student and soccer senior co-captain Sami Rutowski.  She had played beautifully and courageously in all three conference tournament victories, and especially in the championship game against Milwaukee.  She plays the right wing of our back line on defense, and twice, in the opening minutes of the Milwaukee game, when one of their players was streaking to an open field behind her near the right sideline, Sami cleanly stripped the ball from her and sent it back in our direction.  In the second half, when we were still down 2-1, Sami took a free kick from the right side near mid-field and drilled it high and deep directly in front of the goal to set up the goal by Jessica Frey that tied the game.  It was fun to talk with her about the nuances of these and other plays, and to meet her mother too.  She was happy to hear about the excellent Honors Freshmen I have in my ENG 151 class this semester, and she hopes to come to see some of their final presentations and the end of the semestr.  I hope my other ENG 151 alum, Taylor Snyder of our volleyball team, will be able to come too.

Taylor Snyder leading the team at the net after the straight-set victory over Milwaukee

Taylor Snyder leading the team at the net after the straight-set victory over Milwaukee

Taylor and her teammates had quite a weekend too.  A few hours before Sami and her teammates won the Horizon League Tournament by defeating Milwaukee on their field, Taylor Snyder and three fellow seniors led NKU to a victory over Milwaukee on Senior Day in their last scheduled home game in Regents Hall.  We beat Milwaukee in straight sets, avenging an earlier loss on their court in the first conference game of the season, when Taylor had been unable to play because of an ankle injury.  This victory over Milwaukee on Saturday followed a much more dramatic five-set victory over Green Bay on Friday evening, also avenging an early season loss in which Taylor had been unable to play.

Seniors Kelly Creamer (14), Lauren Hurley (6), Tristen Simpson (10), and Taylor Snyder (11) on Senior Day

Seniors Kelly Creamer (14), Lauren Hurley (6), Tristen Simpson (10), and Taylor Snyder (11) on Senior Day

These two victories gave us a 9-5 record in conference play and guaranteed a place in the championship tournament whose seedings will be determined after one more week of regular season play.  We had shown great strength and determination in coming back from a 2-1 deficit to win the last two sets to overcome Green Bay, a perennial power who had been higher than us in the standings, and we showed absolute power and finesse in the victory over Milwaukee.  All four seniors played exceptionally well on Senior Day, and it is certainly possible that their team, too, like our women’s soccer team, can win the conference tournament and win a spot in the D-I NCAA National Tournament in our first year of eligibility.  Much to look forward to in the next two weeks.

Team with young fans after Senior Day victory

NKU volleyball team with young fans after Senior Day victory

Frederick Douglass in Cincinnati and Indianapolis

Entry begun on Friday, October 28, 8:30 am

While most of my entries in this book-length blog have been related to Moby-Dick in Cincinnati in 2016, much of my research and teaching this year has been devoted to Frederick Douglass in Cincinnati in the early 1850s.  Douglass made his first visit to Cincinnati in July 1850—when Herman Melville was four months into the writing of Moby-Dick in New York City.  Douglass returned to Cincinnati four more times in the next five years in a part of his career that has been largely overlooked by Douglass scholars and Cincinnati historians.

The Little Miami Rail Road that brought Frederick Douglass to Cincinnati in 1850

The Little Miami Rail Road that brought Frederick Douglass to Cincinnati in 1850

I began teaching Douglass in 2003 and published a book on Douglass and Melville in conjunction with the International Melville Society Conference on Douglass and Melville that I helped organize at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in 2005.  Beginning in 2013 I began the research for a book I am writing on Frederick Douglass and Cincinnati Antislavery, and this semester I am teaching my first class on that subject, a graduate class students with 11 students from NKU’s M. A. program in English and 7 students from our M. A. program in Public History.  During the first half of the semester students have been reading Douglass’s essays, speeches, editorials, and autobiographies while also transcribing and interpreting three separate bodies or archival material pertaining to Cincinnati antislavery.  During the rest of the rest of the semester students will continue to read more Douglass as they work on the final projects they will present during the final two weeks of the class.  They have been doing excellent work so far, and I am sure their final projects will be worthy of a future entry in this blog.

Daguerreotype of Frederick Douglass by Samuel J. Miller in Akron, Ohio, in August 1852, one month after delivering his address on “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” in Rochester

Daguerreotype of Frederick Douglass by Samuel J. Miller in Akron, Ohio, in August 1852, one month after delivering his address on “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” in Rochester

I am writing this entry now because one week ago I was a panelist in a Symposium on Frederick Douglass and Oratory in Indianapolis, home of the Frederick Douglass Papers project directed by Jack Kaufman-McKivigan at IUPUI and published by Yale University Press.  The occasion of the Symposium is the forthcoming publication of The Critical Edition of Frederick Douglass’s Oratory, the first volume to provide a thorough contextualization of selected Douglass speeches throughout his entire career.  Since I have done most of my own Douglass research on the period before the Civil War, I learned a great deal for the wonderful array of scholars McKivingan and his team assembled for this conference—and well as from the opportunity to consult the advance proofs of the forthcoming volume.

Poster for the featured speakers during the first afternoon of the Symposium

Poster for the featured speakers during the first afternoon of the Symposium

I had the honor of chairing the first session on the first afternoon of the conference on Thursday, October 20.  The night before, those of us already in town met for dinner at Union 50, a fine restaurant a cab ride away from the downtown hotels during a mammoth thunderestorm.  I had the pleasure of sharing a cab with Jim Trotman and his wife Anita, Jim being a Douglass scholar I had met at the New Bedford conference in 2005 and not seen since.  The first Thursday afternoon session began with a talk by Bob Levine, whom I had last seen on a bullet train platform on Tokyo in the summer of 2015.  Here in Indianapolis he gave an excellent talk on “Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Art of Persuasion,” drawn in part from his recently published book The Lives of Frederick Douglass.  The other two speakers in the session were editors of the forthcoming critical edition of Douglass’s oratory.  Julie Husband of the University of Northern Iowa, who researched and wrote the headnotes for the volume, examined the challenges Douglass faced in addressing contrasting kinds of audiences and subjects in the “Stump Speeches and Memorials” he delivered during the Reconstruction period.  John McKivingan, our host, in “A New Vocation before Me,” explored the challenge Douglass faced in delivering scripted addresses as a lyceum speaker after the War after having improvised most of his pre-war anti-slavery speeches.  In the course of their talks, all three speakers alluded to the oratory of the current Presidential campaign, creating  a precedent for the rest of the Symposium.

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The second afternoon session was equally interesting, beginning with an essay by John Ernest of the University of Delaware on “Douglass’s Reputation as an Orator.”  Much of this talk was new to most of us in the room because John was drawing upon previously unpublished accounts from Douglass’s own contemporaries that John had included in his recent book Douglass in his own Time.  Richard Leeman from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte followed with a talk on “The Influence of Frederick Douglass on African American Oratory,” an extremely rich subject that continues to speak to us today.  This session concluded with a masterful presentation by Kirt Wilson from Penn State University on “Paradox and the Black Jeremiad: Frederick Douglass’s Immanent Theory of Rhetorical Protest.”  These six talks on Douglass and oratory in the afternoon sessions were probably the most that had ever been heard  in sequence on that subject in a single room.  After a buffet dinner and musical entertainment in the same room, we were treated to a Keynote Address by Gene Jarrett of Boston University on “Frederick Douglas and Racial Civilization at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893.”

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Dwight Watson’s dramatic reading from “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

I had come to the previous IUPUI Symposium two years earlier, which was held to celebrate the publication of a newly edited critical edition of Douglass’s only work of fiction, The Heroic Slave.  One new, and very welcome, element of this year’s Symposium was the musical entertainment provided by the members of the cultural collective known as Freetown Village.  At the reception before the keynote address on Thursday night, four women from the group, dressed in nineteenth-century attire, treated us to more than half an hour of spirited music from the ante-bellum period.  On Saturday morning, more of their members preformed “Get Off the Track,” the anti-slavery song the Hutchinson Family Singers had made famous in Douglass’s day, here performed in a way that invited audience participation.   This was followed by a dramatic reading from Douglass’s address “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” by Dwight Watson, another member of Freetown Village.  I was recently reading about an anti-slavery conference in Cincinnati in 1845 in which each sequence of addresses had been followed by performances of ante-slavery songs, and I was delighted that this twenty-first-century Symposium was structured in the much same way.  My only regret is that I had not planned in advance to write a blog entry about this Frederick Douglass Symposium and therefore did not get take as many photos as I would like to have of the Freedom Village performers.

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Freedom Village singers bringing music in the style of Douglass’s day

I was very happy to see that the second day of this year’s Symposium, like the second day in 2014, was held at the Jewel Event Center, out on North Illinois Street just beyond the city‘s famous Children’s Museum.  As I drove past that museum, I feared for the fate of the Jewel Center, as a huge pit was being dug for at least two blocks in its direction, presumably for an expansion of the museu.  But no, the Jewel Center is still there, and inside was the audience for a series of presentations in a community center whose atmosphere is very different from that of an academic institution or a downtown hotel.  I arrived just in time for “Get Off the Track,” followed by the dramatic reading from the Fourth of July address.  The first presentation session of our day at the Jewel Center was devoted to “Frederick Douglass’s Oratory in the Digital Age.  The presenters two undergraduate students from IUPUI’s Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Institute who were devoting the current semester to canvassing and evaluating the presence of Frederick Douglass in the 21st Century digital world that surrounds us all.  They had found fascinating portrayals of Douglass in videos posted on YouTube and other outlets, and quotations from Douglass’s speeches running throughout today’s political discourse.  One of the videos they played was the epic rap battle between Douglass and Thomas Jefferson on YouTube:

 

The second presentation session at the Jewel Center was the “Scholars Panel on the Legacy of Frederick Douglass’s Words.”  I was one of the speakers in this panel, coming last after five others had spoken, and it was a pleasure to share some of my recent discoveries about Douglass and Cincinnati with such a distinguished panel and receptive audience, many of whom are students and teachers in the Indianapolis schools.

Jack McKivigan addressing the Friday audience at the Jewel Center.

Jack McKivigan addressing the Friday audience at the Jewel Center.

As had been the case two years before, the delicious luncheon before the closing address of the Symposium was prepared and presided over by Cynthia Bates, the president of the Jewel Center itself.  Our luncheon speaker was Jim Trotman, who is the Founding Director of the Frederick Douglass Institute at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.  Before he could say a word, Jack McKivigan came forward to present him with a much deserved award for his lifetime of service to Douglass studies: a framed photograph of Douglass himself.  Jim, surprised and humbled by this gesture, proceeding to give an inspired account of “The Prophetic Witness in the Speeches of Frederick Douglass,” the perfect conclusion to what had been a very enjoyable and thought-provoking conference.  Jim’s speech, and those by most of the others in the Symposium, will be expanded for publication in two journals, Rhetoric Review and the Howard Journal of Communications. I am pleased that some of my work on Douglass and Cincinnati will be appearing alongside that of these experts in Douglass studies, most of whom I met for the first time at this Symposium.

Jim Trotman with his lifetime service award (with, from left, Gene Garrett, Julie England, myself, and Bob Levine)

Jim Trotman with his lifetime service award (with, from left, Gene Garrett, Julie England, myself, and Bob Levine)

Sami Rutowski, no. 1, senior co-captain of NKU women’s soccer team

Sami Rutowski, no. 1, senior co-captain of NKU women’s soccer team

Because I live only two hours from Indianapolis by car, I got home on Friday evening in time to attend the inaugural evening of the new basketball season where season ticket holders for NKU’s men’s and women’s teams get to meet with the players and see each team scrimmage.  This is this first year in which our NKU athletes are eligible for NCAA Division I tournaments as members of the Horizon league.  Two teams who are currently in the running to be our first to achieve that distinction are playing important games tonight, Friday, October 30.  Women’s soccer is currently second in the league with a 6-1-1 record, and tonight we are hosting Valparaiso in the last regular-season game of their season.  Their field general is Sami Rutowski, a senior co-captain who was an outstanding student in my Honors Freshman Composition class three years ago and who has played all 90 minutes in almost every game throughout her college career.  As I was writing the first draft of this blog entry a few minutes ago, the Horizon League announced that Sami is one of two NKU women’s soccer players who have been chosen for the league’s All-Academic Team.  This is not surprising giving that she current has a 3.97 grade point for her entire college career.

Official team photo of Sami Rutowski and her 2016 women’s soccer teammates

Official team photo of Sami Rutowski and her 2016 women’s soccer teammates

 

 

Taylor Snyder, no. 11, senior co-captain of NKU’s women’s volleyball team

Taylor Snyder, no. 11, senior co-captain of NKU’s women’s volleyball team

Our women’s volleyball team is also in second place, with a 7-3 record, as we approach the end of the regular season followed by the conference tournament.  Their road games against Oakland University tonight and Cleveland State tomorrow afternoon will have everything to do with the seeding in the Horizon League tournament and their chances of making the NCAA.  One of their leading players is red-shirt senior Taylor Snyder, who was an outstanding student in my Honors Freshman Composition class four years ago.  Taylor is our setter, and two weeks ago she was honored for having made 4000 career assists and 1000 career digs, a combination that is unique in our volleyball program and rare anywhere in the nation.  Since Taylor has recovered from an ankle injury which sidelined her for the beginning of our conference schedule, we have won seven straight matches, each in three straight sets, a streak currently matched by only one other DI team in the nation, Princeton.  When NKU made the move up to D-I sports five years ago, some were afraid that our academic standards might drop.  That has certainly not happened yet.  Last year women’s volleyball let had a cumulative grade point of 3.76, one of the highest in the nation, and women’s soccer was not far behind.  Taylor is likely to be on the Horizon League’s All-Academic Team, too, when the volleyball season ends, for her grade point has been above 3.9 throughout her college career.  Sami and Taylor are student athletes of the most inspirational kind, and it’s a privilege to have been their teacher.

My sideline photo of Taylor Snyder receiving the ball in honor of 4,000 career assists (with coach Liz Hart, herself a record-setting NKU volleyball alum).    

My sideline photo of Taylor Snyder receiving the ball in honor of 4,000 career assists (with coach Liz Hart, herself a record-setting NKU volleyball alum).

YouTube Video of my Fort Worth Talk on Stella’s Moby-Dick

Entry begun on Saturday, October 15, 8:35 am

I did not realize there would be a YouTube video of my talk on Stella in Fort Worth, so I’m glad I’d gotten my hair cut (thanks Dottie).  And I’m glad I was wearing a nice suit and tie that my late mother-in-law had picked out for me (thanks Annalee, this one’s for you).  I had not given a formal talk on Stella for more than a decade, so I had to dig deep into books, binders, and boxes I now have in storage.  All of the slides I took on my two trips to study his Moby-Dick works in Japan in the early 1990s were useless for this digital Powerpoint presentation, but fortunately I found enough 4 x 6 photos from those trips that I could now convert to digital images with the scanner on my printer.  In the recent past I would have saved the Powerpoint to a little thumb drive that I would hope not to lose during my travel to the site of the talk, but our new webmail at NKU now has a One Drive feature by which I could send the Powerpoint to the projectionist in Fort Worth even though it was too big to send as an email attachment.  Some things get easier as others get harder.

When I use as many slides in a talk as I did in this one, I prefer to talk directly from the image rather than reading from a text.  I have found that if I practice a few times before the talk I can predict the length of a talk almost as well as if I had written and printed out the lecture.  It is much more interesting to look at images of artworks and faces of audience members as you are speaking rather than a hour’s worth of words you had typed and printed out in advance.  Because of the need to clear the building by a certain hour after this talk, I aimed for a 50-minute talk after I was introduced and before I took questions, and it turned out just about right.  The lights on the stage were so bright I could not see individual audience members very well, but the images on the screen were great.  In addition, there was a little video monitor on the podium in front of me, so I could see images on the monitor as well as on the big screen behind me to the left.  This enabled me to face the audience, rather than the screen, for most of the talk.

I am grateful to Terri Thornton for the gracious introduction (in which I received a new first name) and to the AV staff for making everything so smooth during the presentation.  I got some pretty interesting questions after the talk, and the video shows me trying to think through those too.  I am glad that the last question allowed me to give a shout-out to Barbara Flanagan, the former NKU student in the audience (to whom, as I mentioned in the previous entry, I owe my whole career in literature and the visual arts—because she once asked if I could teach a course in Painting and Literature).

It’s always hard to watch oneself in video. So I am glad that in this YouTube video Stella’s works are a lot larger than I am, as they are in real life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_q_cJZhbLE&list=PLNmHFqa6oiQcgib0dKYs_gF5_PQ0BlaiE&index=1

Stella Moby-Dicks at the Fort Worth Modern

Entry begun Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Sperm Whale’s Head at the Meredith Long Gallery, Houston, 1993

The Sperm Whale’s Head at the Meredith Long Gallery, Houston, 1993

Readers who read my two entries about the Frank Stella Retrospective that opened at the Whitney Museum in October can imagine how happy I was when the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth invited me to give a talk on the Moby-Dick works in the Retrospective during its visit to that museum.  It seems every time I go to Texas it’s for something related to Herman Melville.   In the late 1980s, when I was studying Melville’s print collection in relation to the book I was writing on Melville and Turner, I flew to Austin and drove to Georgetown to see the Turner prints from Melville’s collection now preserved as part of the Osborne Collection at Southwestern University.  In the early 1990s, when I was beginning to write a book on Stella’s Moby-Dick series, I flew to Houston to see The Sperm Whale’s Head at the Meredith Long Gallery and The Decanter at Houston Museum of Fine Arts.  In 2010 I flew to Dallas to see the world premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera.  I liked that work so much that I flew to San Francisco to interview Heggie and begin the research that led to the book I published with the University of North Texas Press in 2013.  When I flew to Dallas and drove to Denton for the book release party in April of that year, I was delighted to hear the world premiere of Heggie’s Ahab Symphony performed by the orchestra and chorus of the exceptional music school at the University of North Texas.

With Jake Heggie (left), Gene Scheer (right) and photographer Karen Almond in Denton, April 2013

With Jake Heggie (left), Gene Scheer (right) and photographer Karen Almond in Denton, April 2013

cover-of-whitney-catalogThe Stella Retrospective had come directly from the Whitney to Fort Worth, where it opened on April 18.  It has been very well received throughout the spring and summer and into the fall, closing today, September 18, before moving on to San Francisco (where it will open at the De Young Museum in November).  Over the summer in Forth Worth, the museum hosted a group that read and discussed Moby-Dick once a month in relation to the Retrospective, and this weekend the Museum is closing the exhibition with its first-ever Marathon Reading of Melville’s novel.  My talk was on Tuesday of this week and I wish I could have stayed for the Marathon Reading, which is always very stimulating to hear and to see in a room filled with art works inspired by the novel itself.  I am hoping that Terri Thornton, the Curator of Education who invited me to give my talk, will be able to send me some photos of the Marathon so I can insert at least one into this blog entry.  I would have loved to see part of the Marathon from the overlook on the second floor.

Partial view of Moby-Dick installation seen from above

Partial view of Moby-Dick installation seen from above

img_6416The talk I gave was the first event in this year’s Tuesday Evenings at the Modern, a series of lectures and presentations by artists, architects, historians, and critics that is free and open to the public.  I was happy to see my Stella book on sale in the bookstore and to hear that quite a few members of the discussion group had been reading it over the summer.

Portions of the four Eccentric Polygons on display in one room of the Fort Worth Modern

Portions of the four Eccentric Polygons on display in one room of the Fort Worth Modern

The Stella show at the Whitney deployed more than one hundred works dating from the late 1950s to the mid-2010s throughout the entire Fifth Floor of its new building designed by Renzo Piano.  The Fort Worth Modern had a slightly smaller selection of works spread throughout a number of self-contained rooms.  It was fascinating to see, and to feel, the differences between these two configurations of what was, by and large, the same body of work.  A defining feature of the Whitney show is that works from widely disparate periods in Stella’s career were often directly juxtaposed with each other.  I loved this element of that show, but I also loved the way in which the Fort Worth installation allowed for several unified, self-contained ensembles.  One my favorite rooms, from this point of view, was the one exclusively devoted to Eccentric Polygons from the 1960s.  Equally satisfying, for me, of course, was the one room that held five Moby-Dick reliefs from the 1980s.  I was unable to capture all five of them in one photo with my iPhone, but fortunately a photographer for the Museum had been able to do exactly that.

Five Stella Moby-Dicks in the Forth Worth installation

Five Stella Moby-Dicks in the Fort Worth installation

img_6362

The Whiteness of the Whale at the far left of the Fort Worth installation

Stella’s Moby-Dick reliefs are so large in scale, and so rich in their painted and etched surfaces and in the irregular shapes that protrude from the wall, that I always see and feel new elements in each design even if I had seen it once or more before.  Each of the five in Fort Worth I had already seen at the Whitney Museum in New York.  But some of them had by now become old, old friends.  This is especially true of The Whiteness of the Whale relief I reproduced on the cover of my book.  I had first seen it when it was on loan to the Baltimore Museum of Art in the early 1990s.  Then, after I met Frank Stella when researching his series in Japan, I saw this same Whiteness relief in his studio in New York, from which he had loaned it to Baltimore.  It remained there as a guiding spirit during all of my interviews with him as I writing my book and watching him complete the rest of the series during the rest of the decade.

Frank and I both went on to other things after my book came out in 2001, so the next time I saw the Moby-Dick relief was last October when I attended the opening of the Retrospective at the Whitney.  There it was  mounted between Fedallah, next to which I had seen in it Baltimore two decades earlier, and Loomings, which I had first seen at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in the early 1990s.  My favorite photo of these three works at the Whitney is the one in which they provide the perfect backdrop for a Marathon Reading of Melville’s novel.

Marathon Reading of Moby-Dick at the Whitney Museum in New York

Marathon Reading of Moby-Dick at the Whitney Museum in New York

“Three-way wave” on the right side of The Blanket

“Three-way wave” on the right side of The Blanket

At the exhibition in Fort Worth it was wonderful to see the horizontal expanse of The Blanket with a wall to itself in the center of the room.  I had loved this work when I first saw it in a Dean Witter office building in New York City in the 1990s.  But it had looked cramped and uncomfortable on a wall in a room with a low ceiling, and a baby grand piano sitting next to it, high in a skyscraper.  I immediately loved the buoyant wave shape on the right side of this painted metallic relief.  At first I loved its coloring, which reminded me to the orca whales I had seen when growing up on Puget Sound.  And then I saw its human head and arms, painted in white and lined in pink, riding the crest of the wave.  I had not been expecting to see such a shape in a work by Stella (who had previously used preexisting geometric shapes such as stripes, polygons, protractors, and cones as the primary ingredients in his formally abstract art).  That beautifully balanced human abstraction riding the crest of the wave at first made me think of a surfer.  But as a student of Moby-Dick I was soon thinking of Ishmael and his fellow whalers in pursuit of a whale.  At some point I learned enough about the skeletal structure of the head of the whale to see its distinctive shape in the plunging head of the wave shape the human shape is riding.  So there, seamlessly integrated into one buoyant wave shape, were the three essential ingredients of a whaling story: the human, the whale, and the sea.

The Blanket in the center of the Moby-Dick installation in Fort Worth

The Blanket in the center of the Moby-Dick installation in Fort Worth

Up in the Dean Witter tower, I barely had room to get photo of the “three-way wave” itself, with no chance to chapter the 19-foot width of The Blanket as a whole.  Even in the installation on the Fifth Floor of the Whitney, it was impossible for me to get a photograph of The Blanket with a full frontal view without backing up right into the dangerous metallic involutions of Fedallah, which was directly facing it in that section of the installation.  When I got a few minutes with Stella at the artist’s opening of the Whitney show, I was happy that I was able to get a photo of him with my favorite wave shape.

Stella with The Blanket at the Artists Opening at the Whitney in October 2015

Stella with The Blanket at the Artist’s Opening at the Whitney in October 2015

It was hard to know where to start in my Fort Worth lecture, there could have been so much to say, but the recent Olympics in Rio helped me with that.  At the opening of the Whitney show, I had been struck over and over by the spatial relation of Stella’s reliefs to the human body.  This had been brought home again by the photograph in the New York Times of a Rwandan marathoner running past Stella’s Puffed Star II, a recent sculpture that a Rio de Janiero museum had acquired just in time for the Olympics.  That photo made me think of a statement Melville had made in The Confidence Man, several years after writing Moby-Dick: “Fiction, like religion, should create another world, and yet one to which the feel the tie.”  This I feel is a perfect motto for Stella’s largely abstract art, whether it be the Moby-Dick reliefs of the 1980s and 1990s, the Eccentric Polygons of the 1960s, or the Puffed Stars of the 2010s.

Claudette Mukasakindi running past Stella’s Puffed Star II, New York Times, August 16, 2016.  Photo: Matthian Hangst, Getty Images

Claudette Mukasakindi running past Stella’s Puffed Star II, New York Times, August 16, 2016.  Photo: Matthias Hangst, Getty Images

The five Moby-Dick reliefs in the Fort Worth Retrospective (the same five that were at the Whitney) were completed between 1986 and 1989.  They represent a small, early sample of the 266 unique artworks Stella had named for Melville’s 138 chapter headings by the time he completed the series in 1997.  I therefore tried to give my audience of some sense of Stella’s project as a whole, with an emphasis on process by which I had come to know the series from the first Wave prints I had seen to in Cincinnati in 1989 though to the book I finally published in 2001.  I called the talk “Pursuing Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick in Body, Mind, and Words,” and enjoyed giving it to a very alert audience that had excellent questions afterwards.

The Monkey-Rope, from the Moby-Dick Deckle Edges, 1993.

The Monkey-Rope, from the Moby-Dick Deckle Edges, 1993.

One my biggest surprises in visiting Stella in his New York studio came on the day he asked if I wanted to see the movie he had made of smoke rings he had blown from his beloved cigar into a black box equipped with cameras on all sides.  At the time I had no idea what this might have to do with the Moby-Dick series.  One year later, at Tyler Graphics in Mount Kisco, New York, he completed the nine editioned prints he called the Moby-Dick Deckle Edges, all of which included abstractions of those smoke rings he had blown with his own cigar.  One of the clearest of those rings is the one on the right side of The Monkey-Rope, named for the chapter in Moby-Dick whose “monkey-rope” is the nautical line connecting Ishmael on the deck of the ship with Queequeg on the body of the whale as Queequeg is trying to cut into the blanket of the skin of the whale so the whalers can hoist it up into the ship to be cut into strips that can be boiled in the fire of the try-works to make the oil that is poured into the casks that are then stored in the hull so they can be sold back a home.  In Melville’s chapter, Ishmael’s perilous monkey-rope becomes a metaphor for the “the Siamese ligatures” that tie us to other creatures in life and in death.

beluga-ring

Coney Island beluga blowing water ring

Soon after the visit to Stella’s studio in which I saw the movie of him blowing smoke rings, I decided to make a trip out to the Coney Island aquarium where he had got his original inspiration for the Moby-Dick Series.  In the early 1980s he had visited the aquarium with his young sons, one of them riding on his shoulders.  As soon as they entered, he was struck by the Beluga whales, “looming there,” as he liked to say.  He loved their abstract shape as they hovered above and beyond him through the glass, and he suddenly had the inspiration for the first of many whale and wave shapes that were to float through the prints, metallic reliefs, and sculptures he was to name for all o fMelville’s chapter headings over the next twelve years.  In my talk I gave special attention to uppermost white wave shape The Whiteness of the Whale, to the three-way wave shape in The Blanket, and to whale-and-wave shape I first saw in the Moby-Dick print, immediately followed by its absence at the heart of Ahab’s Leg.

 Whale-and-wave shape present in Moby-Dick

Whale-and-wave shape present in Moby Dick

And absent in Ahabs Leg

And absent in Ahab’s Leg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cover-of-new-york-met-bulletin-spring-2016You might think that an overnight visit to Fort Worth to see an art exhibition, give a lecture, and enjoy a sociable meal might not have much to do with my current life as a professor in northern Kentucky, a curator in Cincinnati, or with my boyhood in Puget Sound, but this one evening was full of the kind of monkey-rope connections that Moby-Dick always somehow inspires.  One of them I could anticipate in advance, because Barbara (McCroskey) Flanagan, who now lives in Fort Worth, was the student in early in my teaching career at Northern Kentucky University who asked the question that has resulted in the career I have since enjoyed as a specialist in Moby-Dick and the visual arts.  Barbara had taken an experimental course I then taught in Music in Literature, so she asked if I could offer one in Painting and Literature.  I had never thought about doing that, but I said I would give it a shot if she would enroll for the course and help me research some of the possible topics, which she did.  This course gave me the opportunity to follow some hunches I already had about J. M. W. Turner as a possible inspiration for Moby-Dick.  The experience of teaching it, with Barbara’s help, led eventually to my book on Melville and Turner, which in turn led to the one on Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick.  Barbara came to the lecture in Fort Worth with her husband Milton, and Terri Thornton, the education director at the museum, invited them to join us for dinner after the lecture.  Our dinner conversation was so animated, I don’t think we got a chance to talk about the way Melville and Moby-Dick were incorporated into the exhibition of Turner’s Whaling Pictures at the New York Met this summer (the subject of an earlier entry in this blog).

Matt Kish with some of his 81 new Moby-Dick Extracts at the opening of the Cincinnati show in April 2016

Matt Kish with some of his 81 new Moby-Dick Extracts at the opening of the Cincinnati show in April 2016

A more surprising connection with my current work in the Northern Kentucky / Greater Cincinnati area came when several people came up to ask questions after my talk.  Two of them asked if I knew about the Moby-Dick art by Matt Kish.  What a wonderful confirmation of the national influence of the work of this mild-mannered librarian in Dayton, Ohio, who had been entirely unknown before he published Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page in 2011.  These two Kish fans in Fort Worth were delighted to hear the latest news about our recent exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati for which Kish had done more than a hundred new Moby-Dick works they had never seen, most of which have already been purchased by the Newberry Library in Chicago, where they will presumably a central part of the library’s celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Melville’s birth in 2019.

Ellen Bauer with Mount Rainier

Ellen Bauer with Mount Rainier

After we left the lecture hall in Fort Worth, Terri took us to dinner at a restaurant Barbara recommended.  I would have never expected the conversation to center on Tacoma, Washington, the city in which my father was born.  But Milton, Barbara’s husband, had lived in Tacoma during his formative years, and so had Cam, Terri’s husband.  The reason I had to fly back to the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky airport early the next morning was that Ellen Bayer, one of my favorite Moby-Dick students while I was finishing the Stella book, was flying in on the same day from the Seattle / Tacoma airport so she could give an Alumni Lecture to our students and faculty at NKU.  Ellen is currently an Assistant Professor of Literature at the University of Washington Tacoma.  One of her specialties is environmental studies, and she gave a brilliant Alumni Lecture at NKU on Poe, Ecology, and Landscape Aesthetics.  Ellen loves Puget Sound as a young faculty member as much as I had as a high school student and tugboat deckhand, and the photo she sent for our flyer shows her running a marathon in the Cascade Mountains near Mount Rainier.

Ellen Bayer with painting by Danielle Wallace in Steely Library

Ellen Bayer with painting by Danielle Wallace in Steely Library

After Ellen gave her talk to our students and faculty, I made sure we got over to Steely Library to see one of the paintings Danielle Wallace had done as part of her Honors Capstone project at NKU.  Danielle, like Ellen, had been a student in one of my classes in Moby-Dick and the arts.  Each had created an artwork as her final project that was included in the exhibition Moby Comes to Covington at the Kenton County Public Library in 2015.  But what they most have in common is their fascination, and life experience, with horses.  Ellen had grown up and come of age with her horse named Whisper, so her Honors Capstone project had been to examine the horse whispering phenomenon in an experiential project combining research, memoir, journaling, and building a pen in which she and Whisper could interact in a video that was part of the final project.  Danielle combined her life and her research in a similar way, painting several life-size paintings of her own horses to supplement the journal she was keeping of their daily interactions and the reading she was doing on the moral lives of animals.

Danielle Wallace with Ungraspable Phantom at Marta Hewett opening in April 2016

Danielle Wallace with Ungraspable Phantom at Marta Hewett opening in April 2016

The day after Ellen gave her talk at NKU, she drove to Tennessee to run a 50K Marathon through the Smokey Mountains.  Tennessee is now the home of Danielle’s Ungraspable Phantom, which Dawn Coleman had bought after seeing it in the nine-woman exhibition of Moby-Dick art at the Marta Hewett Gallery in April (see previous blog entry).  Danielle had painted that work while interning on a horse farm in Alabama and delivered it to Cincinnati just in time for the show, where Marta and I installed on a wall between Monica Namyar’s ceramic relief Queequeg and Ishmael and Kathleen Piercefields’s mixed-media print The Women of New Bedford.

With Kathleen Piercefield at her BFA Senior Show, December 2004

With Kathleen Piercefield at her BFA Senior Show, December 2004

On the day Ellen was running her mountain Marathon in the Smokies, I received my last monkey-rope surprise of the week of during which I had given my talk in Fort Worth.   On the Thursday before my visit to Texas, Kathleen Piercefield had come to NKU for the opening of a print exhibition which included two of her newest works.  I had not seen her since I received word that her larger-than-life print of Queequeg in his own proper person had safely arrived at the New Bedford Whaling Museum to join two of her prints from the Marta Hewett show as the most recent acquisitions in the Elizabeth Schultz Collection.  This was the perfect opportunity for me to present Kathleen with a little gift for all she had done for me since she had created her first Moby-Dick artworks in my class in 2004.  Since she loves moths and butterflies, I gave her a beautiful ceramic pot by Monica Namyar whose gliding butterflies are floating over a deep black ground.

Now, just one week later, a little box arrived on my porch at home, enclosing a new print as a gift from Kathleen.  I can’t get a formal photo of it yet because it is still “bent” like the body of the baby whale recently released from the “maternal reticule” in the “Grand Armada” chapter of Moby-Dick.  The whale shape in this print is one of my favorites from Kathleen’s Affidavit in the Marta Hewett show, now in New Bedford.  Its inscribed title is Adrift in the Wonder World, our name for the Marta Hewett show—and the perfect capstone phrase for this extremely satisfying week.

Adrift in the Wonder World, 2016

Adrift in the Wonder World, 2016

 

2-Man Moby-Dick Show ends run at CAC

Entry begun August 15, 2016, 9:25 am

Yesterday at 4 pm was the close of the two-man show at the Contemporary Arts Center that opened on April 22.  It’s been a wonderful run.  The Live Drawing on the opening night in which Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici made joint Moby-Dick drawings together, the gallery talks by the two artists the next day, and the gallery talk by Beth Schultz on May 7 got the show off to a wonderful start in ways I have tried to share in this blog.  Much of the excitement of those opening days and weeks is preserved in the two Numediacy videos that are part of my previous post.  These videos also preserve much of the immediacy of the 9-woman Moby show that opened at the Marta Hewett Gallery on April 23 and closed on June 11.

Viewers in the CAC gallery on the last day

Viewers in the CAC gallery on the last day

I did not know what to expect at the CAC over the rest of the summer.  We did not have any specific programming scheduled.  I was busy getting back to other research projects that had languished while we had been assembling this show and getting it up and running.  But of course I did drop in now and then, and I always learned something new—from the works themselves, from friends I met there, and from the staff at the reception desk and the guards in the gallery.  I had heard from quite a few people that they had been back to the exhibition several times because there was so much to see, and the guards had seen a lot of repeat visitors too.  Every security person I met talked about the artwork itself as well as the number and diversity of visitors.

Aileen Callahan with Kish Extracts

Aileen Callahan with Kish Extracts

Aileen Callahan, who had two wonderful Moby-Dick charcoal drawings in the Marta Hewett show, had not been able to visit that exhibition because of her teaching obligations in Boston.  But she did make it to Cincinnati in the summer and we had a wonderful afternoon at the CAC.  Like most visitors, she was equally drawn to the work of Kish and Del Tredici.  The photo here shows her with some of her favorite Kish Extracts, but we spent an equal amount of time with the Del Tredicis, and I learned so much from her artist’s eye.  As someone who herself has been creating artwork in response to Moby-Dick for nearly two decades, she had an immediate perception of what each artist was conveying in both words and image.   And she was able to explain to me how their choices of this spatial placement, or that intensity of shade or hue, made a certain print or drawing more successful that it would otherwise have been.  I wish Caitlin and Jay could have been here with to record this impromptu Mobyart seminar for Numediacy.

Caitlin Sparks with the original for her poster

Caitlin Sparks near the original for her poster

Caitlin herself came later in the summer.  She stood near where Aileen had along the Extracts wall because she had chosen the poster of one of the works here as my gift to her for her new job.  Caitlin was recently hired as communications director for Kentuckians for the Commonweath, a statewide advocacy group for the environment, social justice, and cultural development.  I had loved the White Whale that she had crocheted from our society’s plastic waste for the Marta Hewett show—as well as the technical and imaginative work she had done with Jay Gray in making the Numediacy films—so it was wonderful to see her bringing her ecological imagination, artistic gifts, and media savvy to this new position.  Her office is on the second floor of the Roebling Bookstore and Coffee Shop in Covington, with a view toward the river, so I thought one of the Kish posters at the CAC would add some welcome color and shape to its open wall spaces.  She chose the orange ecological poster whose drawing is above her head to the left, in which Kish hangs a whale from an oil derrick in illustrating a quote about harvesting oil from whales.

John Braden with Matt Kish

John Braden with Matt Kish

A week earlier I had visited the show with John Braden, another former student who had just gotten an excellent new job in Covington.  John is a brilliant writer who had come to NKU when he got tired of sorting packages for UPS or FedX.  Before graduating as an English major he had written a short story about Melville and Frederick Douglass that he read at an international conference in New Bedford in 2005 (and which he has more recently read at Melville’s Arrowhead home in Pittsfield).  John had become interested in teaching at-risk students while completing an M. A. at NKU.  He has just been hired at a full-time job in Covington doing exactly that.  I learned a lot from John about the art in the CAC show because he is very familiar—I am not—with a number of the popular culture and comic artists who had inspired Kish.  Soon after John had floated his theory about one particular artist, Matt himself happened to arrive.  He confirmed that the artist John had in mind had influenced not only the Moby-Dick series but his entire career.

Carola Bell with Del Tredici metallics

Carola Bell with Del Tredici metallics

Carola Bell is another former student with whom I spent an afternoon at the show.  She is now an assistant registrar at the Cincinnati Art Museum and spends quite a bit of time as a courier accompanying valuable artworks to museums around the world.  She is an artist herself who made excellent Moby-Dick prints as an art major in my undergraduate class—before making exquisite Emily Dickinson art as an English major in our M. A. program.  Carola had been an undergraduate when Del Tredici was in residence here at the turn of the century and was fascinated with the forty-five “metallic” prints he has made in the last few years.  Like Aileen, she was able to deepen my appreciation of the techniques he had used and the decisions had had made through her own experience as a deeply expressive artist.  She also has a fine sense of Del Tredici’s full range from the comic to the cosmic.

New Orleans make-up artist trying to choose between Del Tredici prints

New Orleans make-up artist trying to choose between Del Tredici prints

Equally satisfying, because entirely random and unplanned, were my encounters with strangers in the gallery.  On my first summer visit a tall young woman with her parents and a younger brother turned out to be an art teacher who would have loved to bring her students to this show.  On my next visit, after seeing a mother and daughter walk all the way around the room, studying everything very carefully, I asked them what they liked about the show.  At first they were tongue-tied, but then the mother said her daughter had just said, “I want to read Moby-Dick now.”  One of the security guards had new things to say about the art every time I saw him on duty in that room.  Yesterday he told me which Kish would make the best T-shirt (the last of the Broadsides).  In the gift shop at the close of the show yesterday, I saw a woman trying to choose between two of the Del Tredici prints on sale there.  She turned out to be a make-up artist from New Orleans here in Cincinnati as part of a film crew.  She liked them both so much she thought she would probably get them both, and she was happy to pose for the photo I post here.

Del Tredici’s 45 metallic prints at the CAC

Del Tredici’s 45 metallic prints at the CAC

Although it has been great to have all these works on display since April, it is nice to think of the new homes some them will be moving on to.  Twenty of the 45 Del Tredici “metallics” will be returning the Special Collections at NKU from which they were borrowed.  The other 25 will now accompany them to that same destination as new acquisitions.  In addition, the Melville Society Cultural Project has chosen seven of these metallic prints as the 2016 acquisition for its Archive at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.  The artist has already sent new copies of those prints to New Bedford from his home in Montreal.

Beth Schultz with Kish Extracts on May 7

Beth Schultz with Kish Extracts on May 7

We knew when the show opened that the 25 original drawings for Kish’s 2011 book Moby-Dick in Pictures would be returning to the NKU and New Bedford archives from which they had been borrowed.  We knew, too, that Kish’s 12 drawings of The Crew of the Pequod would be returning to the Melville Society Archive in New Bedford.  But it was not after until the show was up that we learned that the 81 Extracts that Kish had created specifically for this show were being purchased by the Newberry Library in Chicago, co-publisher of the Northwestern-Newberry edition of the Writings of Herman Melville.  On one of my Sunday visits the guard told me Kish had paid a visit with the director of that library that very morning.  On the day that John Braden and I just happened to meet Matt in the gallery, he had just heard from the Newberry that they want to acquire the 10 Broadsides too.  I am guessing that most, if not all 91 of these Kishes, will be on display when the Newberry celebrates the 200th Anniversary of Melville’s birth in 2019.

Dawn Coleman with Danielle Wallace’s Ungraspable Phantom in Tennessee

Dawn Coleman with Danielle Wallace’s Ungraspable Phantom in Tennessee

Many of the works from the Marta Hewett Gallery show have already gone to new homes.  Danielle Wallace’s Ungraspable Phantom is now part of Melville scholar Dawn Coleman’s personal art collection in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Monica Namyar’s ceramic White Whale is now with Herman Melville’s direct descendent Cathe Chapin Kobacker in Gahanna, Ohio.  Monica’s Eye of the Whale is now in the collection of Emma Rose Thompson in Anderson Township, Ohio, and her Queequeg & Ishamel diptych is now part of my personal collection in Bellevue, Kentucky.

Women of New Bedford now at home in New Bedford

Women of New Bedford now at home in New Bedford

Two of Kathleen Piercefield’s prints from the Marta Hewett show have recently arrived at the New Bedford Whaling Museum as part of its Elizabeth Schultz collection of Moby-Dick art.  Chief curator Christina Connett is already making plans to exhibit Piercefield’s mixed-media print Women of New Bedford—Captain’s Wives.  Piercefield’s Affidavit whales from the Hewett show are certain to have a happy home there as well.  In addition, Piercefield is currently preparing a third new New Bedford acquisition from her home in Dry Ridge, Kentucky.  Shultz has acquired for her collection at the Whaling Museum Piercefield’s Queequeg in his own proper person, the larger-than-life, multi-panel, multi-media print that Piercefield created part of her senior show at NKU in 2004 and has since been exhibited in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; in Rockford, Illinois, and in Covington, Kentucky.  If things work out, the Whaling Museum may be able to display the 3 new Piercefields and the 7 new Del Tredicis during its Marathon Reading of Moby-Dick in January 2017.

Monica Namyar with her new Queequeg in Park Hills, Kentucky

Monica Namyar with her new Queequeg in Park Hills, Kentucky

Of course the end of the two exhibitions and the return or dispersal of all of their artworks is not the end of the story.  Kish and Del Tredici had created most of the artworks in the CAC show after the show had been scheduled, and each has plans for new work now that the show is over.  Nearly all of the Marta Hewett artists had created brand-new work for that show, and some are already underway with new projects.  I was delighted one week ago to hear from Monica Namyar that she has aleady made a three-dimensional head of Queequeg inspired by the design of his face in Queequeg & Ishmael ceramic relief.  She is very happy that his head came out unscathed from the kiln.  The photos she sent from multiple angles were entirely inspiring and satisfying, and I got to see her, and her new work, in her Park Hills home yesterday.  What a great pleasure it is to keep learning from Moby-Dick and artists the book inspires.

Queequeg on Monica’s dining room table

Queequeg on Monica’s dining room table

Numediacy posts 2 Videos of the 2 Cincinnati Moby-Dick Shows

Entry begun Sunday, June 26, 5:45 am

Jay Gray at Marta Hewett show (photo Robert Del Tredici)

Jay Gray at Marta Hewett show (photo Robert Del Tredici)

Numediacy is the artistic partnership between two of my former students at NKU. Caitlin Sparks was a student in my Spring Semester 2011 class in Moby-Dick in the Arts.  A few semesters before that Jay Gray had taken my sophomore-level writing class in Exploring the Arts.  In April 2015, I commissioned Numediacy to make a video of the four-day Moby-Dick Arts Fest in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky inspired by the exhibition Moby Comes to Covington at the Kenton Couunty Public Library.  Jay and Caitlin did an excellent job documenting both the Arts Fest and an exhibition of 105 art works in the 22-minute video they called Moby Exploration.   I was delighted to post that video as part of my blog Dickinson and Moby-Dick in 2015: https://dickinsonandmobydick.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/22-minute-video-of-4-day-moby-arts-fest/

JayGray  filming Julia Oldham’s talk at “soft” opening

Jay Gray  filming Julia Oldham’s talk at “soft” opening

In April of this year Marta Hewett and I commissioned Numediacy to document the opening of the two Moby-Dick art exhibitions in Cincinnati.  Originally, we had in mind a single video that would cover the back-to-back openings of the 2-man exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center and the 9-woman exhibtion at the Marta Hewett Gallery on the weekend of April 22-23.  After arrangements were made for Beth Schultz to give back-to-back gallery talks in the two exhibitions on May 7, Numediacy decided two make two videos, each about 11 minutes long.  The first, entitled Engendered: Mayhem and Wonder, documents the opening events at the two galleries with an emphasis on the presentations by the artists themselves.  The second, entitled Engendered: Elizabeth A. Schultz Gallery Talks, takes us through these two exhibitions through the eyes and words of Schultz herself.   As they had done in Moby Exploration last year, Jay and Caitlin do an excellent job of combining images of artwork with live interviews in a fluid, informative cinematic style.

Caitlin Sparks (near pillar) recording Del Tredici audio

Caitlin Sparks (near pillar) recording Del Tredici audio

I am grateful for the time, as well as skill, that Numediacy invested in this project.  Jay and Caitlin brought their carmeras to the installation day at the Marta Hewett Gallery on April 16 so they could get some B-roll footage for possible use in the film.  They brought their visual and audio equipment to the “soft” opening of of the show on Monday, April 18, so they could record Julia Oldham talking about her Moby-Dick video while she was here from Eugene, Oregon.  And of course they were at the Contemporary Arts Center on the evening of Friday, April 19, to film the Live Drawing by Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici which opened that show, followed by the gallery talks by the two artists the next afternoon.  As soon as that event ended, they moved over to the Marta Hewett Gallery to record that opening and the talks by the six local artists in that show.  After that frenzied week, the challenge would be in the editing.  Here is the result in the feature they call Engendered: Mayhem & Wonder  –

 

Engendered: Mayhem & Wonder from Numediacy on Vimeo.

Caitlin Sparks leaning forward to record Schultz audio

Caitlin Sparks leaning forward to record Schultz audio

When Beth Schultz arrived for her back-to-back gallery talks on Saturday, May 7, Jay and Caitlin were again on hand with camera and microphone to try to catch everything Beth said from a few feet away as she walked through the successive sections of each show. Inspired directly by the images as she saw them, Schultz offered improvised commentary for more than an hour as she moved through the two-man show at the Contemporary Arts Center.  After a short break, she did the same for more than an hour in the more intimate space of the 9-woman show at the Marta Hewett Gallery.  Schultz was a moving target articulating one brilliant insight after another in a movable feast that Numediacy captured on the run, as it were, throughout one highly stimulating afternoon.  Aferward, again, they had the challenge of editing.  Here is the result in the feature they call Engendered: Elizabeth A. Schultz Gallery Talks:

 

Engendered: Elizabeth A. Schultz Gallery Talks from Numediacy on Vimeo.

Kish and Del Tredici with the 2 curators

Kish and Del Tredici with the 2 curators

From the moment Marta had agreed to mount a 9-woman Moby-Dick show to open concurrently with the 2-man Moby show that Steven Matijcio had scheduled for the Contemporary Arts Center, I had been very interested in seeing how the two shows would relate to each other in terms of gendered expression.  From the opening weekend until Saturday, June 11, the closing date for the Hewett show, viewers could make their own comparisons by walking through the galleries themselves.  Now, viewers can make comparisons of their own while watching the Numediacy videos.  Jay and Caitlin take no explicit position in relation to gender in either film; they let the artworks, the artists, and Beth Schultz speak for themselves,.  But they do use the word Engendered in each title.  And their subtitle for the first film, Mayhem & Wonder, perhaps suggests some interesting differences.   Basically, however, Jay and Caitlin do what Ishmael does with the head of the sperm whale: “I but put that brow before you.  I read it if you can.”  They rely on us to do with their films what Schultz sees Melville asking the reader to do with Moby-Dick: “integrate the way we see with our eyes and the way we see with our minds.”

The six local Moby-Dick artists at the Marta Hewett opening (photo Robert Del Tredici)

The six local Moby-Dick artists at the Marta Hewett opening (photo Robert Del Tredici)

End of the Marta Hewett exhibition

End of the Marta Hewett exhibition

The Marta Hewett show was very successful.  Works in the show have been sold to private collectors in Tennessee, Ohio, and northern Kentucky, and others will become part of the Elizabeth Schultz Collection at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.  It was sad to see the show come down, but I am grateful that elements of it will live on in these two Numediacy videos.  One work currently remains Marta’s gallery.  Marta is retaining Claire Illouz’s Dear Leviathan to serve as the anchor for her summer show.  One of Marta’s clients had very much wished to buy it, but she has cats with claws and was certain that they would shred this beautiful art work.  When I relayed this news to Claire in France, she immediately responded with an email declaring that “These cats, we love them, but they will never understand art.”

The Kish and Del Tredici show at the Contemporary Arts Center will be up until August 14.  It is a great pleasure to be able to visit multiple it times, with different people, and continue to see the work of these two artists in a new way.  Each has continued to create new Moby-Dick artworks since the show went up in April.  Kish has recently been posting new Moby-Dick images on Facebook.  Del Tredici has just now sent me a three new metallic prints.  I will close this entry  with the one whose text is from the passage near the end of “The Chart” in which Captain Ahab “sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.”

Robert Del Tredici, Bloody Nails, June 2016

Robert Del Tredici, Bloody Nails, June 2016