In early February, we staged an exhibition at Portland Museum in the Portland Neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky. This was the full shebang with photographs, video of interview excerpts, and expedition footage, ambient video and audio, and installation components. A full size johnboat and pier were built out in the Portland’s Comstock Gallery.
Originally, we were thinking we would drive out to Louisville, but thinking more about the timing and the four days minimum it took to drive to Kentucky and four days back, it was looking absurd. Plus, in the middle of my school year, no matter what, I would be ditching my classes as it was.
So we opted to fly, but the question remained: How do we get all the installation components, the monitors, the pier, the table, the chairs, the boat, the photographs, and the suspension system out to Louisville.
I’d never shipped anything before and it was a little intimidating. I had to learn about LTL (Less Than Truckload) shipping, NMFC freight classes, and carriers and subcarriers and bills of lading and PRO numbers and on and on.
Fun fact: It is cheaper to ship a pallet of bricks across country than it is to ship a pallet of pillows. Rates are calculated according to freight class which is determined by density. Like the old trick question: Which falls faster, a pound of lead or a pound of feathers? Well, they fall vertically at the same rate, but you can move the lead horizontally a whole lot cheaper.
So I built a special pallet and a crate to protect everything and after a few false starts, burly men with pallet jacks and a lift gate came and took it away.
It was fun and a little nerve wracking to watch it move across the country. Especially when it looked like we would beat the crate to Louisville.
I prepared video lectures for the students in the six classes I would miss, and Benzy, Hazel and I headed off to Louisville. Benzy was just starting to get good and sick with a cold by the time we arrived.
The Portland Museum board set up in a swanky apartment right in the trendy NuLu district a half block away from a half-dozen great restaurants and coffee shops. With our rental car we could skip back and forth across town to the Portland neighborhood.
The Portland neighborhood is worth talking about. This is one of the oldest and largest neighborhoods in Louisville, predominantly African-American, and listed as the tenth poorest place in America. By suburban American standards, it could be described as derelict, with numerous houses abandoned and boarded up, trash on the street, abandoned cars, and a feeling of economic desperation.
Yet, there was a lived vitality that I appreciated, still neighborhood stores here and there, active churches, great food at tiny hole-in-the-wall homespun neighborhood restaurants, a feeling of community. I loved Portland.
A day into our visit to Louisville, our shipment of exhibition supplies caught up to us at the Portland Museum and we were off and running.
Benzy, the Portland Museum manager Ash, her conscripted husband Brian, intern Bailey, and I worked to set up a complicated exhibit featuring photos, video, audio, a full installation, and complicated lighting in a matter of days. Hazel made herself comfortable and attempted to stay out of the way.
One of the many challenging moving parts of the exhibit was the johnboat. The “pie tin,” our 10 foot johnboat that never worked out on the river, but has served well in exhibits across the country was too large and awkward to ship. From Day One in Louisville, I was looking for a johnboat to use in the Portland Museum exhibition.
I was scouring Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace every few hours for an inexpensive and small johnboat, dory, skiff, or tender we could snap up for the exhibit. We looked at a free boat that someone offered, but it was a huge 16 foot behemoth. It wasn’t until the morning of the opening that we found a possibility. We drove an hour into the Appalachian hills around Louisville to take a look. It turned out to be more perfect than we has allowed ourselves to imagine, and the people from whom we bought it were charming and funny. A 12 foot boat roped down to a tiny economy rental car is a funny sight. I had to climb in and out of the car window.
As the exhibit opened and visitors started milling about, I still had a dusting of plaster on my shoulders from hanging photos.
While a new little restaurant catered the event with over-the-top goodies and new friends liquored me up with Kentucky bourbon, I gave an artist talk about the project to an eager, standing-room-only opening crowd.
I had the chance to meet a few Ohio River folks I’d been talking to for months, hangout with old friends now living in the area, and meet lots of new people I’m looking forward to seeing again when we float back down through Louisville in late July.
Afterwards we sat out in the weak winter sun on the delightful back porch of the museum and smoked cigars and drank whiskey.
Here are some additional photos Portland Museum manager Ash Braunecker took: