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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