People’s History Expedition on Upper Mississippi: A Reportback

A Secret History of American River People from the deck of a traditional shantyboat

Santa Cruz artist Wes Modes built a traditional shantyboat with the help of friends to float down American rivers to gather the lost stories of river people. He and his crew just returned from the Mississippi where they spent part of the summer interviewing dozens of people who work and live on the river. The collection will serve as an archive for future scholars as well as be publicly-accessible online. When not on the river, the shantyboat itself serves as the project library and archive and will be temporarily sited at museums and galleries starting with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History in November.

On September 11th 2014 he will offer a reportback on the journey, with photos, video, and reportbacks from the rest of the crew.

Secret History Expedition Reportback
September 11, 2014 at 7pm
SubRosa Community Space
703 Pacific Ave, Downtown Santa Cruz

In late July, after an epic cross-country journey, California artists Wes Modes and Kai Dalgleish launched the shantyboat on the Mississippi River starting in Minneapolis. They floated for five weeks over several hundred river miles, stopping in big and little town to interview river people. The journey is detailed in the project website at

Secret History is an art and history journey to discover, present, and connect the lost narratives of working-class river communities from the deck of a recreated shantyboat. A few generations ago, communities of shantyboats, or rustic houseboats, lined the banks of the river in every river town in America. Now they are mostly gone and soon the stories will be lost as well. The project is an attempt to capture some of these stories.

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