Thursday, September 25, 2008
The Great White Whale
Moby Dick is my favorite novel. The 1956 John Huston film starring Gregory Peck as Ahab is my favorite movie and for my money perhaps the adaptation of a novel to the screen.
The film recently aired on Channel 13 and seeing it inspired me to do a woodcarving based on the great white whale.
I was looking for a dramatic idea for a piece that I could enter in a prestigious art show in Buck’s County. Also, I have a perfect spot for it in the house. This is important, since I have never been able to sell any of my works, they must all find a home with Kathie and I.
About a year ago we purchased an old New England sea chest that resides in the upstairs hall of our house adjacent to my closet. Kathie has given me carte blanche to decorate this area in any way I choose. Actually, this is carte semi-blanche since there are some constraints on what I am allowed to display. For example, my Indian artifacts are out because they scratch the furniture. The photo of Jack Nicklaus and I is also out. Why I don’t know, but it keeps winding up back in my dresser drawer.
I have chosen a nautical theme since I have a few pieces of scrimshaw. A model made by my grandfather of the whaling ship he sailed on in his youth also sits on my dresser top.
Moby would be the perfect addition to this collection.
I had ten days to whip this thing up for the show. I carved like a fiend, as monomaniacal as old Ahab himself. My X-Acto knife was my harpoon as I stabbed and carved life into the great white whale. Wood chips were everywhere: in my beard, in my food, in my bed, on my wife. Finally, as Michelangelo wrenched David from a block of marble, Ahab and his nemesis emerged from my scraps of #2 pine. Ta-da! My masterpiece was complete. And a giant it is at 2 1/2 feet long and 2 feet high.
Next step: haul the Colossus of Califon to Bucks County for the big show. This is a juried event. A panel of la-di-da judges passes on the entries and admits only the worthy. I was blissfully unafraid in my ignorance.
First surprise: there was a line a block long of artists submitting their work. We all shuffled along dragging our artwork behind us. One poor man staggered along in a pornographic embrace with a life size wooden statue of a nude upside down woman. A very nice young artist in front of me, whose specialty is painting pictures of smooth stones on smooth stones, told me it was kind of hit or miss whether one’s work was accepted. She said that some years she got in, others not. I guess it depends on how the judges feel about smooth stones from year to year. I was not worried. Moby was a lock. And, like Ahab, I might have exhibited some hubris as I was pondering whether I should wear a turtleneck or a tie to the artists reception
Several days later a letter arrived. Moby was not accepted. That’s the words they used: “Not Accepted.” I was stunned. The great white whale was harpooned and sent to the bottom with old Ahab on his back, just like in the book. I was told to pick up my work on a specific date or I would be charged five bucks a day.
I couldn’t make it on that date so I called the Chairman of the show to arrange to pick it up on another occasion. She asked why my gallery rep couldn’t come for it. I did not inform her that I did not know what a gallery rep was, never mind have one, but lied and said she was too busy delivering my works to eager buyers.
When I got Moby/Ahab back it had a paper taped on with a big, red “N” (as in “not accepted”). I was going to leave it on as a part of the piece’s history and to bring the big fellas down a peg or two. Kathie removed it.
So now Moby is docked on my sea chest where he will sit until the tide of artistic appreciation rises and launches him on the sea of fame and fortune…or until my grandson knocks him over.