Ekphrasis at the NCMA

Antonis Mor (Antonio Moro), Portrait of a Gentleman, circa 1570, oil on panel, 48 x 35 1/4 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph C. Price

Alice Pettyjohn on Portrait of a Gentleman

Yes, I am watching you.  

I am not merely a man

of some importance.  I intuit

much about you.  My eyes

follow you even as you dismiss me. 

Some of you might consider me pompous,

others evil.  And others

just another wealthy patriarch from a bygone era.  But I

am observing you

and sensing your life in a very

personal way.  You would be amazed

at my ability to discern your passions.  Oh,

what a pleasure it is

to watch you glance

my way and then, quickly,

move on.  Is it my eyes

that make you so uneasy? 

Or do you intuit that I see

what you would rather keep hidden?  Linger

and let me feel your desires. 

How else am I to amuse myself

hanging here

day after day?  If you look deeply

into my eyes I will enter

your dreams.  Your inner life

feeds me

in a way I can’t explain. 

El Anatsui, Lines That Link Humanity, 2008, discarded aluminum and copper wire, 18 x 25 ft., Gift of Barbara and Sam Wells

Ruth D’Adamio on Lines That Link Humanity


“Metal Reading Water”


Contemplate the swells                                

as colors of muted clouds form                   

in pools of tranquil sea.                                                       


Where shadows surface in quiet pose       

splashes scatter movement                                                       

in breaks of pattern play.


Where currents wake in textured flow          

graceful bends meander                                                 

in knots of measured pace.                         


Where waves resound in folded ease

stirring drifts emerge          

in tides of casting aim.                          

Pierre-Jacques Volaire, The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, 1777, oil on canvas, 53 1/8 x 89 in., Purchased with funds from the Alcy C. Kendrick Bequest and the State of North Carolina, by exchange

James Hatfield on The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius


“torrents of lahar, No. 36”


in Naples unaware of

the rare privilege of hearing

a mountain split no one believed

what they heard until they saw

a patient avalanche of

     rolling molasses spit candlelit

          rose and sunflower petals

              blanket roads like riverbeds

                    without encouragement


                               fire spreads


                                      with tragedy one assumes

                                            displacement would relocate

                                                  oneself a continent or

                                                            two away but if refuge

                                                                           is no farther than a river’s

                                                                              width a metamorphosis

                                                                           in the refugee happens it

                                                                           converts them into nearly-

                                                                     damned onlookers who wish

                                                                  they would be transformed into

                                                                            pillars of salt after turning

                                                                   apathetic moons anchor ships

                                                                     their lazy port beam audience

                                                                              observes classical ruins

                                                                                   being made visible by

                                                                                a devastating orchestra

                                                                            of sound performed in the

                                                                             sacred key of apocalypse.

Louise Bourgeois, Spiral Woman (large detail), 1984, bronze figure and slate disk, 14 x 4 x 5 in., Gift of Lucy Daniels

 Denise Boster on Spiral Woman         


“About a Spiral Woman”


Dairy Queen bouffant or creamy pile of shit?

Mottled belly of old age or expecting a boy?

        Arms instructive or pointless?

          Feet purposeful or pathless?

               Heavy or weightless?

                   Habitat or hole?

                      Friend or foe?

                         Yes or no?



Helena Feder
Dr. Helena Feder is the Mellon/ACLS Scholar and Society Fellow in residence at the NCMA in 2019–2020, and associate professor of literature and environment at East Carolina University. Feder has published a monograph, Ecocriticism and the Idea of Culture (2014, paperback 2016), and articles and poems in various venues, including ISLE, Green Letters, Configurations, Women’s Studies, Western American Literature, North American Review, Radical Philosophy, Georgia Review, Twentieth-Century Literature, The Writer’s Chronicle, and the Journal of Ecocriticism. She is currently working on a new book and two edited collections.

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