This past week I have been waging an epic battle twixt needle-felter and beast! The very word whale prompts a nod to the most famous ones in literature. The Old Testaments nasty whale (from Jonah 1:4 to Jonah 2:10 ) and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Two actual events were the fodder for Melville’s tale. One was the sinking of the Essex in 1820, after it was rammed by a large sperm whale. A first mate wrote of the event in 1821 in a book titled “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex.”
The other event was the alleged killing in the late 1830s of the albino sperm whale Mocha Dick, in the waters off the Chilean island of Mocha. He was rumored to have twenty or so harpoons in his back from other whalers and appeared to attack ships with premeditated ferocity.
My contribution is neither antagonistic or albino It is somewhat the physiology of a sperm whale though the true representation of the species would be black and maybe barnacled. We’ll call him “Starbuck” after the upstanding chief mate of the Pequod. ( Interesting side note from Wikipedia is that the famous coffee chain was named to honor this character after the original suggestion “Pequod’s” was rejected.)
Melville struggled with composition, writing to Richard Henry Dana, Jr. on May 1, 1850: “I am half way in the work … It will be a strange sort of book, tho’, I fear; blubber is blubber you know; tho’ you might get oil out of it, the poetry runs as hard as sap from a frozen maple tree; — and to cook the thing up, one must needs throw in a little fancy, which from the nature of the thing, must be ungainly as the gambols of the whales themselves. Yet I mean to give the truth of the thing, spite of this.”
When I read this, I was halfway through felting the little beluga, who’s ungainly flubbery formless shape was proving to be challenging when every photographic reference gave entirely different lumps and bumps. Its almost as though the “form” just flows about the underlying skeleton.
Finding the “truth of the thing” may have escaped me yet. More than once I thought of Ahab”s vengeful quote “..from hell’s dark heart I stab at thee”.. I named him “Stubb” after the second mate.
The last little fellow is an Orca or Killer whale, who turned out very nicely. and flowed out of my needle pokings with ease. To complete the trio of Ahabs “mates” he is “Flask” after the third, who was written as being an ever pleasant ever-smiling fellow from Martha’s Vineyard.
Its been a struggle here in my tiny village on the eastern coast of Nova Scotia but I’m certain I’m having much more fun than Captain Ahab. My labors have garnered me three new sculptures as a result.