Two Views of the Mississippi River: Art and Music
From the tales of Mark Twain to the lyrics of John Fogerty, the Mighty Mississippi has served as the muse for some of the most acclaimed American works. With paint and pencil, artists have been able to capture both the river’s power—that ruthless wildness that can be tamed, yet never fully contained—and the raw beauty that winds from northern Minnesota to the spillways of New Orleans, carrying with it generations of stories.
This April, the Big Muddy is honored right here in St. Louis with two special events, each one uncovering the surprising ways we’re all impacted by the river and how it touches our lives each and every day.
An exhibit for the eyes
Since 2011, sculptor and installation artist Libby Reuter and photographer Joshua Rowan have traveled to more than 300 locations in the Missouri-Mississippi river basin, including a trek in 2016 and 2017 from the Mississippi River’s headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, down to St. Louis.
Accompanying them are Reuter’s “cairns,” dream-like sculptures she’s created from found glass to mimic the stacks of rocks hikers construct to mark a trail. The cairns are positioned in watersheds along the river’s path to represent the fragility and beauty of the setting and then photographed by Rowan, who captures nature’s correlation with everyday life.
“The cairns are inspired by the forms of the Catholic reliquaries, which were these elaborate glass and precious metal objects in churches that contained the bone of a saint or another holy object,” says Reuter. “With this project, we reversed it. We’re trying to use the cairns as markers for what is sacred outside: the landscape and how we’re connected to it.”
Currently, Reuter and Rowan’s collaboration is on display at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, with a special exhibition of “Watershed Cairns” until October 2019. In addition, the Bonsack Gallery on the John Burroughs School campus is hosting “Art Marks from Minnesota and Montana to the Confluence: Watershed Cairns,” which features large-scale color photographs from their journeys now through April 10.
Besides drawing attention to the natural beauty that surrounds us, “Watershed Cairns” reminds viewers that what we do on land matters to the health of the river.
“About 50 percent of the water in the watershed flows by St. Louis,” Reuter says. “We have these three major rivers that connect here—the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois. We’re at this vortex, the very center of this powerful water energy. At a time when fresh water, clean water is a global concern, we’re rich in water, and I don’t think we appreciate that enough.”
A show for the soul
To close out its 26th season, CHARIS – The St. Louis Women’s Chorus will take its audience on an auditory expedition to the Mississippi River’s most iconic—and musical—ports of call.
“Cruisin’ the Mighty Mississippi” makes stops in Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans to highlight the songs influenced by the river as well as to dive to the roots of rock, jazz and blues music that were planted along its banks.
“For example, one of the tunes in our concert is ‘Purple Rain,’ and of course Prince is so associated with Minneapolis,” explains artistic director Stuart Chapman Hill. “The show not only celebrates the Mississippi River itself but also celebrates those four cities and the well-known and sometimes lesser-known composers and songwriters who are connected to them.”
Other hits include Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927,” Marc Cohn’s “Walkin’ in Memphis” and St. Louis native Fontella Bass’ classic R&B staple, “Rescue Me.”
Hill hopes the concert leaves fans feeling uplifted and hopeful—and inspires them to see the river basin in a new light. “These are cities right here in our region, right here in the middle of the country, that have such cultural richness. With our St. Louis selection, I hope people will walk away feeling proud of this city and what it has to offer musically, and with the rest of the show, they’re also proud and excited about all of the great music and musical history that’s available to us within a day’s drive.”
“Cruisin’ the Mighty Mississippi,” will be performed on Friday, April 26, and Saturday, April 27, at 8 p.m. at the Missouri History Museum. General admission tickets are $17 in advance, $20 at the door and $13 for seniors, children and students. Tickets can be purchased through the CHARIS website or from any chorus member.
Featured image courtesy of Bonsack Gallery.