I first met artist Caroline Hack at the “Moby Dick on the Mersey” marathon read I organised in Liverpool in 2013. We’ve since worked together on a little book about the 1816 voyage of the Whitby whale ship Esk. Back in 2013 Caroline was already established with a back catalogue of work related to whales and historic whaling and she is currently Artist in Residence at Burton Constable Hall in East Yorkshire, where there is a famous skeleton of a Sperm Whale, washed up on the Holderness coast at Tunstall in 1825. This skeleton featured first in Thomas Beale’s The Natural History of the Sperm Whale (1839) and later, via Beale, in Moby-Dick (1851) itself.
Caroline has built an exhibition with this skeleton–now in the stables–as its centrepiece, starting from Saturday March 26. If you’re in the area the hall and grounds themselves are a good day out anyway, but this exhibition just makes it all the more worthwhile. Caroline’s work with printed and sewn fabrics is both reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth century, and starkly corporeal in its use of whale bones and historic objects.
The exhibition runs from Easter Saturday to Thursday 28 April 2016. Opening Times: 11am – 5pm, seven days per week (the hall itself is not open on Fridays). The project is funded by the Arts Council England via Grants for the Arts and the Friends of Burton Constable.
See more of Caroline’s work at carolinehack.com
On Monday I was interviewed on BBC Radio Four for a programme by poet Paul Farley on Herman Melville and his relationship with England and with Liverpool in particular. Melville came to England three times: as a cabin boy in 1839, as an established, and quite famous writer in 1849, and as a writer facing “annihilation” in 1856. We talked by the side of a breezy, chilly Albert Dock. I’ve done several radio and TV interviews over the years and even though we cowered in an alcove by the entrance to the public toilets, this was, from my point of view at least, the most enjoyable and relaxed. The programme, Herman Melville’s Sea Change, is very atmospheric and thought-provoking. If you are in the UK can be heard at this link until early March.
This is a fascinating talk about Melville’s novel in which Philip Hoare touches on his own interest in the book, on perceptions and representations of the whale, and how he came to be so connected with whales.
The Kathleen and May is a wooden three-masted schooner built in 1900 and restored to her current immaculate condition in 2000 by owner Steve Clarke. She is currently moored in the Canning Half-Tide Dock in Liverpool where she is used for school visits to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, corporate events, and, next weekend, as the setting for some of the reading for the Moby-Dick marathon, and events in the Moby Dick on the Mersey festival. If you go on board, please leave a donation for her upkeep.
During her working life Kathleen and May was one of many similar ships that sailed around the coasts of Britain carrying cargoes such as coal and grain. It is surprising to learn that sail was still in use on commercial cargo vessels into the 1950s, and that ships like the Kathleen and May were not finally replaced until the 1960s. The parallel with the end of steam on the railways is an obvious one, but somehow commercial sail seems even more distant. Kathleen and May is the last remaining example of her type.
Last week I wandered around the deck taking pictures and was lucky enough to be allowed to climb into the rigging to take some pictures from above. In the next few months I’m hoping to set up some events on board through my job in Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool.
I’ve set up a Flickr group for pictures of the Kathleen and May. Feel free to add to it.
One of the things I’ve liked most about working on Moby Dick on the Mersey is the way that everyone has rallied round to help out. Both major partners–Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool and National Museums Liverpool–have been very supportive, while our still-growing band of volunteers is turning out to be a brilliant bunch of people. We’ve tried as much as possible to do this using existing budgets and of course that has meant a great deal of unpaid work and generosity with time from a lot of people. But for some things we need outside help. Most recently I asked Oxford World’s Classics whether they could help out with some copies of Moby-Dick to use as ‘reading copies’ during the marathon, and they came through with an almost immediate “Yes”. This means that if you’re attending the event you’ll find copies of the novel available to follow along with the reading, while the timekeepers and helpers will have copies they can use to manage the event–it will be a big help. So thank you to Oxford World’s Classics and to everyone else working to make the weekend of May 4th-6th as good as it possibly could be.
Moby Dick on the Mersey is the first ever marathon reading of Moby-Dick in Liverpool and takes place over the weekend of May 4th-6th 2013 at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. There are still places available for readers who want to take part in this great event. There’s no need to have read the whole novel, though I recommend you do, so if you want to sign up, just click here and follow the instructions. Reading assignments will be finalised in early April.