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Capturing the Spirit of the Mississippi River--Art Kenyon

As told by Art Kenyon
Red Wing, Minnesota

Story Narrative:

This story was collected as part of a collaborative effort to record the state of American lakes, rivers, and waterways as well an attempt to uncover what water means to Americans. Listen to other stories recorded by the Minnesota Humanities Center for their We Are Water MN initiative, an outgrowth of our national traveling exhibition "Water/Ways."  

"Not everyone has the pleasure or advantage of being able to live on the river, so the river that winds through Red Wing is a huge part of their heritage and tradition. There is a lot of pleasure in boating and of course the barges that come up, you read in the newspaper when the ice is going to break out and when the barges will open up and when commercial traffic is going to start again, that is a huge influence.

Well, we have three children and we raised them here in Red Wing and early on, well you want to give your children as many varied experiences as you can, so we bought a little boat, it was just a run about, nothing fancy at all, but it gotus on the river and back in those days, I’m talking about when, well my children are 40 something now, but back then, if you had the means you got on the river somehow - whether you had to build a raft. Living in Red Wing having that river constantly here, you just wanted to get out there. When you say the spirit of the river, some people see that as a trite sort of thing but it is very real.

That’s why I enjoy painting. It’s not capturing the true likeness necessarily but to catch the spirit of it or the feeling of it. With the river, I painted it on the Wisconsin side and on the Minnesota side and they are completely different views and then you put into that the different times of day and then if you put into that the different kind of lights that would come. Painting a storm that is coming across Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River in Minnesota is just an amazing experience because of the way the clouds roll, the way light changes. You have to paint fast if you capture the light coming through. That is why I like doing what I do."

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