California Artist Launches Tennessee River Expedition on Homemade Shantyboat

Artist raising funds for journey to collect stories of river people



A rustic recreated 1940s shantyboat, a daring river voyage, and a meticulous archive of river stories are all part of a multi-year art and history project, A Secret History of American River People. Santa Cruz artist Wes Modes is fundraising for this year’s expedition on the historic Tennessee River.

For the last few years, Santa Cruz artist Wes Modes set sail on the Upper Mississippi River 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 homemade houseboat. This year Modes and his crew (and dog) will launch in Knoxville, Tennessee for a journey through Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky. Modes is trying to raise more than $5000 before May 31st to bring the project to the American South. Exhibitions of the project are planned in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Huntsville, Florence, and Paducah.

At exhibitions throughout the country, visitors step onto the recreated shantyboat, pick up the banjo or a book from the library, sit awhile and overhear the stories of shantyboaters, scientists, historians, and locals who live and work on the river. The archive of river stories will be available to future generations of scholars.

The journey and the project are detailed in the project website at



Wes Modes
(831) 704-6690

For Immediate Release


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