Gathering the Untold Stories of Vanishing River People - Quimby's Cruising Guide

Gathering the Untold Stories of Vanishing River People

A recreated, mid-century shanty boat, a daring river voyage on New York’s historic Hudson River and a meticulous archive of river stories are all part of a compelling art and history project, “A Secret History of American River People.” The journeys are part of a larger effort that spans many years and covers multiple rivers. The project reexamines the issues currently and historically faced by people living and working on American rivers.

The project is fundraising for this summer’s journey until May 26th:

The project has exhibited nationwide in conjunction with expeditions on the Mississippi, Tennessee and Sacramento rivers. Now in the fifth year of the project, Santa Cruz artist Wes Modes has already traveled more than 1,250 river miles on the shanty boat and talked with thousands of people about the river before beginning his next journey on the Hudson River.

This summer, in conjunction with a major exhibition at White Box Art Space in New York’s Lower East Side, the artist will be floating his homemade houseboat on the historic Hudson River. Starting on Lake Champlain at the end of June, the project will be on the river for a month, gathering stories and showing at a half dozen locations.

Modes seeks out people whose stories are not typically part of the historical record. “I talk to poor and working folk and people who grew up along the river and worked in vanished industry. I seek out the stories of the first people on the continent and people living in Black and Latino communities. I try to find our elders who grew up there and remember a different time and a different river.”

Visit the project’s extensive collection of stories and photos at

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