A Secret History

Secret History Shantyboat in New Boston, Illinois, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

A Secret History of American River People: The Lost Narratives of River People, River Communities, & the River Itself

By: Wes Modes

FEBRUARY 16 – AUGUST 3, 2019
Opening Reception & Artist Talk: February 16th, 1-4 pm; Artist Talk starts at 2 pm; free & open to the public
Closing Reception + tour the shantyboat: August 3rd, 12-4 pm; free & open to the public

NOTE: time slots for oral history interviews have been filled

Portland Museum is hosting A Secret History of American River People, a participatory art installation led by California-based artist Wes Modes. Part art exhibition, part social history project, A Secret History is a contemporary artwork highlighting the project’s rich findings of oral histories, photographs, artifacts, and video – all of which are collected from epic river voyages aboard a recreated 1940s-era shantyboat. Overall, the project seeks to examine basic river ecology and the issues facing current river communities while preserving the endangered history of people who have long lived on and adjacent to the river. Modes particularly seeks out the communities that are not represented in the dominant historical narrative, including people of color, women, working-class, and impoverished people.

Now in its sixth year of travelling and exhibiting nationally, the art installation portion will be on view at Portland Museum through August 3rd. Mid-summer, Modes and his shantyboat team will journey down the Ohio River for the first time, stopping in Louisville to collect more stories and document the living history of the Ohio River Valley region for the project’s extensive archives.

The opening reception + artist talk (Feb 16th) and the closing reception + tours of the shantyboat (Aug 3rd) are free and open to the public. Free street parking is available, and there is a large parking lot on the south side of Lytle Street (behind the museum). Accessible parking is available on the museum grounds (north side of Lytle Street).

The exhibition and the museum’s related programs are part of a community-wide celebration, “Afloat: An Ohio River Way of Life” and are funded in part by an Imagine 2020 grant, in partnership with Louisville Metro Government and Fund for the Arts.

CLICK HERE to visit the official website for A Secret History of American River People.