The Mississippi Project | A Gathering of Stories and Art

Mississippi River Project | A Gathering of Stories

Solon Center projects aren’t limited to communities in Maine. We are currently sponsoring an aesthetic journalism project (“aesthetic journalism” is defined by writer, artist and curator Alfredo Cramerotti as “the blurring of art and information practices”) by Carrier Pigeon Studio that involves collecting stories from business owners, whose businesses rely on the Mississippi River. The course of the river is shifting, as is the nature of business along it, in many ways due to the large-scale commercial agricultural practices in the river’s drainage basin. In order to collect stories related to the shifting nature of the river and also to gain a physical understanding of the changing environment of the Mississippi, two writer-artists are traveling the river from north to south. Along the way, they will talk with lock-masters, tugboat captains, clam divers, catfish trawlers, restauranteurs, and descendants of the shell-button industry. At the same time, they will be recording the Mississippi itself by scanning the riverbed.

The project will result in a gallery installation, which will communicate a sense of history and change along America’s centerline. The boat used to travel the Mississippi, built specifically for the project, will be an important part of the installation. It will be a simple design, based on a the raft, with detailing inspired by historical Mississippi showboats, which died out as television and film became popular. The cabin on the raft will become a surface upon which to internally project interviews and footage from the project in a gallery space, making it into a “showboat” that is vitalized instead of outmoded by film.

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The first news from the project, which raised over $10,00 on kickstarter last summer:

In which Emily and Morgan set up their workspace, enlist their favorite German as a volunteer, encounter a bat, and build the form for Michi Zeebee

It has been a little over a week since we have arrived at The Apprenticeshop and so much has already happened.

In early July we arrived at The Apprenticeshop, one of the oldest traditional boatbuilding schools in the country. It smelled of fresh cut wood, and everywhere we looked we saw beautifully crafted boats in process or finished. The community was very welcoming, quick to help, and joined by a common love of craftsmanship. Peaking out the window we saw The Apprenticeshop’s sailing classes on the Gulf of Maine waters. If you are in Rockland this coming Saturday stop by the shop for the Red Jacket Regatta, an event that celebrates Sailing, Seamanship, and Boatbuilding.

Once we got settled in we went straight to work setting up our workspace--building sawhorses, a work table, and the form, which essentially determines the shape of the boat. There’s nothing more satisfying than working a solid day with your hands and walking away with something you can see and feel.

In the midst of all of our building a groundhog visited us at our workspace. His arrival seem to set off a series of visits throughout the week. Estella came along the following day, all the way from Germany. She is a perpetual traveler, hitchhiking across the world. She has witnessed an active volcano, spelunked into an abandoned cave, and simultaneously got into trouble and became famous in Somaliland, all the while studying global development and economics. Our visitor moved in with us for a few days in our cozy little room in the attic and was a huge help during the building process.

The Mississippi River has a rich history of visitation. Nomadic cultures lived on it hundreds of years before European explorers first visited its banks, and its name reflects this constant coming and going. The Objibwa tribe called it the ‘Michi Zeebee’, meaning ‘greatest river,’ a name that was adopted by European explorers. Through repetition and misinterpretation it morphed into ‘Mississippi.’ During our first week building, as we reflected on our series of visitors and the changing name of the river, we started calling our boat the Michi Zeebee.

Our final visitor of the week was a winged friend--we eventually called him Clyde. Clyde came to us in the middle of the night. He didn’t seem to mind our screams as he swirled and dive-bombed over our heads. I guess he figured he was invited because we had left the window open with no screen. Bats are funny creatures and we were sad to see him go once he made his way back out into the night sky.

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To follow Morgan and Emily on their journey check out their blog and social media: