Mississippi River Stories

Mississippi River Stories

Shortly after Christmas and before the New Year, I received an announcement congratulating me that I am selected to participate in the upcoming Mississippi River Stories Exhibition to show at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) in NE Minneapolis.

It will be a unique exhibition blending audio recorded stories with art. Artists will be presented with a Mississippi River story as told by members of the Twin Cities community collected by the St. Thomas students through a research partnership with the St. Thomas Sustainable Communities Partnership, The Natural Heritage Project, and Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO).

The Elm Tree Booth © The Natural Heritage Project

The stories were collected and recorded in the Elm Tree Booth, a marvelous design created by The Natural Heritage Project. I can tell you first hand the craftsmanship that went into building the Elm Tree Booth is stunning.

Each of the stories varies in length, complexity, detail, and perspective. It is up to each of us artists to create original artwork illustrating the diverse interrelationships of people and the river. Exhibit requirements are that the work must be two dimensional and sized at 18 x 24 inches unframed. Other than that, artists are free to visually translate the story they receive as best they can in the medium of choice.

In anticipation for my story to arrive, I have been working with watercolors and diversifying my color palette. I am not one to paint landscapes, rather landscapes within a landscape. The story could instantly bring images to mind or leave me utterly struggling with the challenge.

Along with samples of my current artwork, I needed to respond to two questions. Why would I like to participate in this exhibition; what is my connection to the Mississippi River? The answers I hope are as inspiring as the story I will be receiving.

Mississippi River Bluffs Near Weaver Bottoms / Paul Vincent

WHY WOULD YOU LIKE TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS EXHIBITION?

Stories are the stuff that unites us where we have a chance to share knowledge and experiences and create connection and empathy. I weave stories alongside my artwork to give it meaning and to make it more relatable to others. What I find intriguing about this exhibition is the challenge. Can I, with care and respect, translate the words of another’s story into a visual representation that is clear and true? Translations often miss the nuances of meaning in the spoken word. As an artist, I believe there is a language between stories and art that everyone can feel.

WHAT IS YOUR CONNECTION TO THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER?

Throughout my life, I viewed the Mississippi River as a character found in books, poems, songs, and film. I have learned of its power, its perilous polluted conditions, and how organizations and individuals strive to preserve and restore a healthy river ecosystem. For a long time, it’s been an acknowledgment, yet a detached relationship with the river.

Not until my stepson and his young wife introduced me first hand to the Mississippi River did I fall in love. They took me on long hikes along the area known as Crosby Farms and Fort Snelling. We all expressed how we love to hear the water lap at the shoreline, watching the water flow between its banks. The experience brings a sense of peace and groundedness. It’s like being ”away-away” without having gone anywhere.

The meandering Mississippi River illustrated in a historic topographical map.

Someone recently told me about a “Mississippi Meander,” something of an art crawl between studios dotted along the Mississippi River. I tried to find a write-up about such an event online. I didn’t find a thing about an art crawl. What I discovered were these most beautiful full-color maps illustrating how the Mississippi River meanders. I had never seen a topographic like it.

The song may call the river “Old Man River,” but I see her as a woman – with all the complexities and power to shape a nation. She has done that well. It’s our turn to treat her right.

Like all events in this COVID era, the showing dates for the Mississippi River Stories Exhibition remain flexible. It’s expected to run in the fall of 2021 or if fate has it, in early spring 2022. Watch this space for updates!

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Listen to Whispers

Listen to Whispers

Photo Credit: Warrior Publications

Things come to us quietly, in whispers, as it should be. Most of us recoil from loud noise or when someone or something is shouting at us. But whispers, like serendipity, are something I pay attention to — not in a “woo-woo” sort of way (I’m seriously allergic to woo), it’s more about patterns, nudges, and asking “why does this keep showing up” sort of thing.

Braiding Sweetgrass is just one such whisper. It first came to my briefest attention back in 2013 when I was taking a writing class at The Loft. The Loft is housed inside the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts where I have also taken classes in letterpress and bookbinding. There is was, in the lobby, this simple, elegant introduction to MCBA’s Winter Book, Minidewak Readings from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. There would be a reading event and author’s reception. Did I attend? I wish I had been brave enough. I was fearful of driving at night in winter and even more reluctant to attend events solo. At the time, I don’t even think I entertained the idea of going, even though it was free and open to the public. The question I always hold on to is “would I fit in, enough to be present and enjoy myself?”

Mididewak Readings from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Minidewak means “they give from the heart.”

But I held on to the little printed piece promoting Minidewak. It remains displayed in my studio as if a reminder of something I hadn’t figured out yet. I didn’t even look up who the author was or what her life’s journey was that lead her to write her book — which is so odd. I’m naturally a very curious person.

It wasn’t until almost another winter had ended six years later, that I ran across Wild Ones Minnesota Annual Conference being held at the University of St. Thomas in February. It would have been a wonderful conference to attend, even solo, but a waiting list and my poor timing blocked the possibility. One of the conference speakers was Robin Wall Kimmerer, Ph.D., who would talk about healing and restoring our relationship with nature. There was her name again from the little printed piece I have sitting in my studio.

This spring, April to be precise, another artist’s talk and reception caught my attention. It was for Riverlines, a new exhibit of abstract paintings illustrating the deep connection with the Mississippi River by artist Annie Hejny on display at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO). (Now through July 1st)

There in the online write-up about the exhibit, it noted Hejny’s inspiration for her work — the teachings of the Honorable Harvest as recorded by Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. There was her name again and the title of her book, just as it was on the little printed piece sitting in my studio.

So now I have a little over six years of whispers and a certain amount of FOMO* setting in. It hurts being an anxious introvert at times. Latent curiosity aside, I really wanted to find out what was it about Robin Wall Kimmerer and her work that kept coming into my view.

* Fear Of Missing Out

I wrote her name on a yellow post-it note and headed to the local library. I find books easily enough in the Fiction section but things get fuzzy finding a title in the Non-Fiction stacks. Luckily, a young librarian had just finished helping another patron stopped and asked “can I help you find something.” I showed him my post-it and it was if he had actually met the author. He knew exactly what I was looking for. A quick check on his mobile declared the library didn’t have a copy of Braiding Sweetgrass and it was on hold at another branch. (Some days I feel like my whole life is on hold). Had I heard of Hoopla, he asked, “you can download the audio book, it’s read by the author and her voice makes it worthwhile listening.” He had obviously listened to her book before. It was like another whisper.

So now I’m in my studio, working on a large drawing, listening to Robin Wall Kimmerer read from her book Braiding Sweetgrass. The young librarian was right. It’s not just a worthwhile listen, it’s wholeheartedly worthwhile.

From what I have gathered from all the whispers is that Robin Wall Kimmerer has inspired a lot of people, not just artists. I for one, would embrace living in a gift economy based on reciprocity and gratitude. It would flip the whole wage economy, consumerism, and private property on its head. Imagine Congress commencing its session with the Thanksgiving Address. Things might actually get done in an equitable and just way for all people.

I don’t mean to exaggerate that shifting our mindsets to those Robin Wall Kimmerer so eloquently tells in story would cure all our country’s ills, but it would be productive, healing place to start. It would have to be a collective mindset to happen of which I’m not certain we are ready for but am hopeful that a majority are moving towards knowing that living in balance with nature will be our saving grace. Listening to her words has opened me to a way of thinking and being in the natural world that I’ve always felt but never effectively articulated.

You could say whispers are gifts.

Originally posted on May 6, 2019 at kristin-peterson.com, our old debunked website. Moving a few good posts over here.

Let’s keep in touch! Subscribe to Terra Kind Studio’s “A Creative Life” Blog and received posts about art, the art process, life as an artist, and exhibit news right to your inbox. No worries. Post frequency is around twice a month so I won’t overwhelm.

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