Artists reflect Melville and Hawthorne

Thursday June 16, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- One hundred and sixty years ago, author Herman Melville left his Pittsfield farm for a picnic on Monument Mountain in Great Barrington. There he met fellow writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived in Lenox at the time. The two became close friends, reading and critiquing each other's works, and many believe Hawthorne in part convinced Melville to write "Moby Dick," which Melville originally dedicated to Hawthorne.

The chance meeting of these two respected American authors has led many contemporary artists to attempt to capture the spirit they embodied. Tonight, one such effort opens in the form of a joint production by Arrowhead, a Melville museum inside the writer's former home, and the Brill Gallery in North Adams.

Local photographer Kay Canavino and local abstract painter Arthur Yanoff have collaborated with producer Ralph Brill, owner and operator of Brill Gallery, to create "Reflections on Melville," a three-part series on Melville, Hawthorne and the environment that supported them.

The project is broken up into three sections, Brill said. The first, which opens tonight at Arrowhead, focuses on the connection between Melville, his home and his study, where he worked and gazed out on Mount Greylock. Brill said he believes that the snow-covered mountain could have resembled a whale and helped inspire Melville to create the aquatic antagonist Moby Dick.

The second two sections open on June 24 at the Eclipse Mill Gallery in North Adams to examine Melville's relationship with Hawthorne and his connection with the Berkshire landscape as told through the artistry of Canavino and Yanoff.

"They had an intense relationship while they were here," Brill said. "I think Hawthorne led him on a good path."

Yanoff and his life partner, journalist Marsha Stamell, conceived the project last summer when they went looking for an idea that would focus on the Berkshires.

"We were sitting around and talking about an idea for a project about the Berkshires -- something that felt real to me," Yanoff explained.

Stamell mentioned the picnic and Yanoff began to research the relationship between Melville and Hawthorne. Their friendship became one focus of the project.

Yanoff approached Brill, who had hosted a show for him a year before, and Brill, knowing that Yanoff typically works from photographs, brought Canavino into the project.

A photograph of the view from Melville's study by Canavino, who has worked as a professional photographer for 25 years, inspired one of Yanoff's abstract paintings.

"I'm not one of those painters who can paint from their heads," Yanoff said.

He uses Canavino's photos to inspire him to paint, he said, "not to reproduce the photograph in any way whatsoever, but to use as a springboard."

Yanoff also took inspiration from his childhood oceanside home in Winthrop, where he read Melville and occasionally saw a whale tail in the distance.

"[I have] some very tangible connections," he said.

Canavino researched Melville and whaling in general to fuel her photography.

"And I did a lot of hiking in the past year," she said.

Though the landlocked Berkshires became her subject, she incorporated many sea and nautical themes into her work.

"I was open to the possibilities that landscapes present. ... But I tried to find a different way to do landscapes," she said.

She chose night photography using a flashlight to emphasize certain portions and aspects of the hills and fields.

The artists began with the mountain itself and broadened their scope for many reasons.

"We started to try to get into the heads of Melville and Hawthorne at Monument Mountain," Brill said.

But some local Mohicans didn't like the idea of increased tourism to Monument Mountain, an area of great importance to them. Respect for them and revelations from the research of Brill, Yanoff and Canavino led the team to expand their focus area, Brill said. The past six months of the 10-month project have been dedicated to the whole of the Berkshires.

The project "got wider as we worked on it. It's been sort of a journey," Canavino said.

If you go ...

What: ‘Reflections on Melville.'

Photographer Kim Canavino and abstract painter Arthur Yanoff collaborate on a three-part exhibit examining Herman Melville's friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne and their Berkshire inspirations, produced by Ralph Brill, owner of the Brill Gallery in North Adams. Brill plans to take the show to famous whaling towns such as Nantucket and New Bedford after it finishes its run in the Berkshires -- on July 24 for the Eclipse portion and Oct. 9 for the Arrowhead portion.

When: Open house Friday
from 6 to 8

Where: Arrowhead, 780 Holmes Road, Pittsfield

Future events: Second and third parts of the show open at Eclipse Mill Gallery, 243 Union St., in North Adams on June 24. Later, the team will host a free talk about the connection between Mount Greylock and Moby Dick at Bascom Lodge on the summit of Mount Greylock, set for July 26, at 6 p.m.

Information: (413) 442-1793


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