Gathering the Untold Stories of Vanishing Hudson River People

A rustic recreated mid-century shanty boat, a daring river voyage on New York’s historic Hudson River, and a meticulous archive of river stories are all part of a compelling art and history project, “A Secret History of American River People.” The journeys are part of a larger effort that spans many years and covers multiple rivers. The project reexamines the issues currently and historically faced by people living and working on American rivers.

The project has exhibited nationwide in conjunction with expeditions on the Mississippi, Tennessee and Sacramento Rivers. Now in the fifth year of the project, Santa Cruz artist Wes Modes has already traveled more than 1,250 river miles on the shanty boat and talked with thousands of people about the river before beginning his next journey on the Hudson River.

This summer, in conjunction with a major exhibition at WhiteBox Art Space in New York’s Lower East Side, the artist will be floating his homemade houseboat on the historic Hudson River. Starting on Lake Champlain at the end of June, the project will be on the river for a month, gathering stories and showing at a half dozen locations.

Jul 1, 2018 Yacht Basin, Fort Edward, NY with World Awareness Children’s Museum
Jul 5 – 8, 2018 City of Waterford, Waterford, NY
Jul 13 – 15, 2018 Hudson River Maritime Museum, Kingston, NY
Jul 19 – 22, 2018 Haverstraw Brick Museum and River Arts Fund, Haverstraw, NY
Jul 24 – Aug 16, 2018 Waterfront Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Jul 26 – `Aug 8, 2018 WhiteBox Art Space, New York, NY

Modes seeks out people whose stories are not typically part of the historical record. “I talk to poor and working folk and people who grew up along the River and worked in vanished industry. I seek out the stories of the first people on the continent and people living in Black and Latinx communities. I try to find our elders who grew up here and remember a different time and a different river.”

Visit the project’s extensive collection of stories and photos at


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: