Watercolor pencil, watercolor, and gouache on paper
I have been thinking a lot about the Mississippi River lately; not just the ecological values and services it provides, but how the river inspires people to explore, write, photograph, and paint it. In 1944, Harlan and Anna Hubbard assembled a shantyboat from scraps and floated the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for 7 years, living a life style appropriately called “a real odyssey” by a fellow riverman. Recently, Ken and I enjoyed the company of another team, Wes Modes and Kai Dagleish, who traveled from California with their shantyboat in tow, and dropped it in the Mississippi at Minneapolis. Our friend, Marti Phillips, was so intrigued by the floating boat houses near La Crosse and Brownsville that she not only bought one, but wrote a book on their history (The Floating Boathouses on the Upper Mississippi River, their history, their stories )– an adventure that took her into years of research and exploration.
In the late 19th century, a book called Picturesque America was written to convey the wonders of the country’s lands to Americans. The book described the Mississippi River landscape as “a study for the painter, a theme for the poet, a problem for the geologist, a clew for the historian. Whosoever will study it with his soul rather than his wit shall not fail of exceeding great reward. It is a grief that Americans should wander off to the Rhine and Danube when, in the Mississippi, they have countless Rhines and Danubes…All that is beautiful in lake scenery, in lower mountain scenery, in river scenery, is garnered here.”
These days, I continue my own explorations of the river, drawing and painting in the quiet end of summer. Now, it seems we have the river to ourselves again, and I notice migratory shorebirds, v-formations of geese, and the steady chirps of insects in their final pleas for warmth. This Friday, I look forward to seeing the work of other artists inspired by the river at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum : “Revisiting Twain’s Mississippi: Photographs by Chris Faust , and Carved by the River: Woodcut Prints by Nick Wroblewski.
Harlan Hubbard said: “A river tugs at whatever is within reach, trying to see it afloat and carry it downstream. Living trees are undermined and washed away. No piece of driftwood is safe, though stranded high up the bank; the river will rise to it, and away it will go. The river extends this power of drawing all things with it even to the imagination of those who live on its banks. Who can long watch the ceaseless lapsing of a river’s current without conceiving a desire to set himself adrift, and like the driftwood which glides past, float with the stream clear to the final ocean?”
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