Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Documenting History at One River, Many Stories

Tom Hollenhurst and Sharon Rogers examine a section of the waterfront.
Last night was the opening reception for this week's One River, Many Stories exhibition at the Depot and my expectations were nicely exceeded. This week the Great Hall is filled with an expanse of maps depicting the snakelike channel of the St. Louis River as it wends its way to Lake Superior. One is immediately aware that a great deal of effort was made to produce these visually expansive depictions, but the real wonder occurs when you draw near and discover all the interaction that is taking place. These are not maps that you simply look at. Rather, they are participatory, jogging memories and giving viewers an opportunity to contribute as they interact with the visual depictions.

Contributions include stories, photos, and even samples of school science projects and other moments that occurred along these waters. One person affixed a photo with the legend, "I spent my Birthday on the Point." Other affixed Post-It Notes with small statements regarding places they caught fish or shared other memories. If I knew precisely where it was I may have told about the scenic railroad ride my family took and the swampy area where we saw dozens of bald eagles gathered.

The large close-ups of the river included the many inlets and points which are usually lost on a map one finds in a book. This amplification permitted event-goers to get a true sense of the river's contours, crags and hideaways. The only thing that would make this more special would be to have Duluth's original settlers here telling their stories, both the early white settlers and the generations of native peoples who preceded them. The river has outlasted all.

Dana Mattice, DAI Dev & Comm Director (R) discusses the exhibit with a guest.
On one panel there was a sheet of paper crammed with a list of endangered species from our region. On another panel I saw the Thompson Dam and the place near Carlton where we used to bring our kids to walk a trail overlooking whitewater kayakers there adjacent to Jay Cook State Park. Despite having grown somewhere else I realized that I had more memories stimulated than I originally would have imagined.

One aspect of the One River, Many Stories project was the encouragement to submit stories for potential selection to be read on KUWS. The deadline for submissions was Monday evening, but there is no deadline for telling your story. The selected stories will be read on the air later this month, April 27 from 7-9 p.m.

The more I've thought about it, the more stories that have come to mind. One of the first was this notion that Bob Dylan was born here in Duluth and moved to Hibbing. In contrast, the headwaters of the St. Louis River is birthed up on the Iron Range and flows down to Duluth. When I think of rivers, Dylan's song "Watching the River Flow" is seldom far away.

I have a handful of river stories to share myself, and a few of my past blog posts have danced around this theme. In 2011 I wrote about the blues song "Old Man River" and in 2008 my blog post Of Time and the River was stimulated by Norman Maclean's rewarding A River Runs Through It. (For what it's worth my blog post about the artist Larry Rivers is not about rivers.)


If there were just one takeaway from visiting this event, it's that there a lot of people here who care about this river. For more information about the project, visit OneRiverMN.com.

EdNote: Though the photography of Ivy Vainio was an important part of this event, it was not the centerpiece. Vainio's mood-drenched images had been integrated into the larger purpose of this exhibition, and seemed content to be woven into its fabric rather than stand in the spotlight.  

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