Drawings add to NKU’s whale-sized ‘Moby-Dick’ art collection

Northern Kentucky University’s whale-sized collection of artworks interpreting Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” recently became considerably larger thanks to a donation of 66 pieces by artist Aileen Callahan.

Plans call for NKU to add the charcoal drawings to its Special Collections section inside Steely Library on the school’s Highland Heights campus.

Prior to Callahan’s gift, the collection already featured more than 200 works depicting the mammoth white whale or other elements of the 1851 book. Existing pieces came from artists such as Robert Del Tredici, Matt Kish and Vali Meyers.

With the addition of Callahan’s work, NKU believes it’s now likely home to the largest collection of art inspired by the literary classic at any college or university.

Aileen Callahan’s “Red Fire,” 2016 (Charcoal and mixed media)

Robert Wallace, NKU regents professor of English, is a leading expert on “Moby-Dick” and teaches courses studying the book’s inclusion in various artistic medias. Wallace uses works in the Special Collections in many of his lectures. He’ll teach “Moby-Dick and the Arts” this spring. 

Callahan, a retired Boston College art professor, has been making art based on the Melville novel for almost two decades. She had a “Birth of Moby Dick” series in the early 2000s and “Pandemic” watercolors in the early 2020s. She began the series of large charcoal drawings coming to NKU in the mid-2010s. These works make up her largest collection. Many of the pieces are on display at the Danforth Museum in Massachusetts.

“(They are) unique for their ability to convey the shape, texture, force, finesse and symbolism of the skin of the whale through abstract patterns of charcoal on a white paper ground,” Wallace said of Callahan’s pieces.

The “Moby-Dick” collection is open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. on days Steely Library is open.

Northern Kentucky University Special Collections

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