This Summer’s Expedition on the Sacramento River



In previous years, I have exhibited the project in the Midwest on the Mississippi River and in the Southeast on the Tennessee River. Over three years of the project, I’ve collected over 85 oral history interviews spanning 100 hours of recording, exhibited a dozen times, lived six months in the boat on the river, traveled over 1000 river miles, and talked to thousands of people about the river.

This year, I bring the project “home” to the historic Sacramento River, a river I am deeply familiar with after 3 different punk rafting trips on the river.

The Sacramento History Museum will host a month long exhibit during July. Exciting things planned are an installation at the museum, artist talks, and exhibitions of the Secret History shantyboat.

Wait, what?

What is this all about? Here’s an overview of the project.

How did this get started? It began with gin and tonics on the shore of a lake.

In the meantime, you can check out the story in pictures, words, video, or check out some of the interviews I’ve conducted. And for those into building things, see how the shantyboat was built.



Santa Cruz artist on daring river voyage through Central California

For the last several years, Santa Cruz artist Wes Modes set sail on major American rivers and floated for months at a time to collect the stories of people who live and work on the river from the deck of his shantyboat. He’s floated a thousand miles on the Mississippi, the Missouri, and Tennessee Rivers. This year, Modes, his crew, and dog Hazel are floating down the length of California’s Sacramento River.

Modes seeks out people whose stories are not typically part of the historical record. “I try to find our elders who grew up here and remember a different time and a different river. I talk to poor and working folk and people who grew up along the Sacramento River. I find the stories of Latino and African-American folk and the stories of native people.”


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