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Friends helped at every stage of the shantyboat being built. Dotty was constructed over a period of two years, mostly from reclaimed and recycled material

Meet the Artists and the Crew

A Secret History of American River People is the result of the hard work of dozens of artists and crew. From the many friends who helped build and maintain the boat, the artists with whom the project has collaborated, the production team who worked on the project, and the amazing crew who have joined the journeys since 2014. 

Primary Artist: Wes Modes

I am a Santa Cruz artist focused on social practice, sculpture, performance and new media work. I have an MFA from the Digital Art and New Media program at UC Santa Cruz. I have exhibited my art and performed regionally since 1996. I am also a UCSC art lecturer and curator at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. In other lives, I am a high-tech runaway, writer, community organizer, geek, and mischief-maker. You can find out a lot more at

Secret History brings together several threads of my work: Public space and people’s use of it, social practice art, connecting diverse populations, digital and new media work, an interest and background in personal narrative and documentary production, and DIY adventure.

From 2001 to 2007, I produced Night Ride, a weekly radio show on Santa Cruz public radio station KUSP that focused on the narrative voice. As in the weekly intro, “Written as in literature, or spoken as in oral history. Human beings traffic in stories. Let me tell you about my day, my life, or something that happened to me once upon a time. Stories are dreamy. They take you to other places, other times, other lives.” Night Ride makes up an aural collage of story and music, the mood and tone of an intimate conversation with a friend on a late night long-distance drive. Each week, Night Ride explored a different theme. Of the 120 volume, 250 hour archive of Night Ride, many can currently be heard at

In 2005, I set out on a punk rafting journey, driving cross-country to Omaha, Nebraska, building a raft out of found and scavenged materials and floating for hundreds of miles, Huck Finn-style, on one of the largest fastest rivers on the continent, the Missouri River. After that first single raft trip, we invited others, launching with whole punk raft flotillas. Year after year, we took longer and longer adventures, floating many major American rivers on homemade rafts.

In various lives, I am a sculptor, writer, performer, artist, community organizer, geek, and mischief-maker.

Twitter:    @wmodes
Instagram:   wmodes

Ship’s Hound 2014-19 Voyages: Hazel

Hazel is a veteran river dog but indifferent to the river really. Her biggest concerns are, “Where is my food?” and “Will I have a place to sleep tonight?” Beyond that, she’s happy to be with her crew.

Instagram:   gooddoghazel

Shipmate 2014-19 Voyages: Jeremiah Daniels

I am a Network Engineer from California. My experiences thus far have given me a keen interest in community building, communication, and exploring the role that industrialization has played in society. While my day job requires me to leverage technology to build new infrastructures, my passion brings me to investigate the relationships between people, their history, and the land.

I was a soldier for a time and was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq for two combat tours at a base nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Having been raised in a myth-rich household, I knew the incredible significance these two rivers have played in the shared history of our species, and I imagined a time when Baghdad was the lush metropolis that spurred civilization onward. The River’s there have framed my relationship with the world in many ways. Though I am far from those rivers today, the waterways around me offer color to the history that I’ve lived, and offer clarity to the sometimes chaotic ongoing cycles that allow for growth.

Now that I am home, I’ve been exploring and adventuring along the California coast, contributing where I can to community building events, and learning to farm and grow my own food using sustainable techniques.

Shipmate 2016-19 Voyages: Lauren Benz


Benzy is an adventurer at heart, though often confined to her studies at the university. As a human ecologist, her curiosity makes her an ideal ships mate, ready to facilitate conversation and naturally see connections between land, life, and culture. Off the shantyboat, she is an experimental animation artist currently at UCSC.


Shipmate 2016 & 2019 Voyages: Adrian ‘Age’ Nankivell


I guess I’m a bit of an adventurer, based in the “Adventure Capital of the World” (Queenstown, New Zealand), working for an adventure travel company. With a background in the study of Plate Tectonics, I am used to life afloat, be it on a chunk of continental crust floating on a sea of molten mantle, crewing an Antarctic Research ship, or exploring the lakes and coastlines of New Zealand in a sea kayak.

In my spare time my happy place is in the outdoors, hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, or skiing. At other times, to satisfy the right side of my brain, I’m involved in a few local artistic projects – such as making short films, running a guerrilla outdoor cinema, and contributing to a local multimedia illumination festival.

Questionably useful skills that I will be bringing to the Shantyboat are:

  1. An irrepressible Kiwi No.8 wire mentality – the notion that basically, anything can be fixed with a length of fencing wire, much like duct tape works for Mythbusters;
  2. A vague recollection of the coastguard training I received in my teenage years, though gems such as knowing how to interpret tidal diamonds on nautical charts and how to sign my name in semaphore may not come in too handy on this trip;
  3. Wilderness First Aid certificates and a Dr prefix to my name that make me eminently qualified to attend to any injuries sustained by the crew – especially having previously saved Captain Wes’s leg from amputation following a horror bike crash (or something like that);
  4. Optimism that at some point, I’ll catch a fish that should be vaguely edible;
  5. Wisdom that dictates Chilli Vodka is far more tasty than Pepper Peach Whiskey.

Shipmate 2016 Voyage: Penske Pocketknife


Folks call me a free spirit, bohemian, vagabond, bag lady. I call myself a witch, teacher, radical, artist. Sometimes real big feelings move through me. I make art when the mood strikes me. I desire more discipline and mentorship. Sometimes I can be found cuddled up in my family’s home in Fresno. Sometimes I’m wandering through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Sometimes you’ll find me with my bike in streets in Santa Cruz.

I dance, laugh, sing, cry, help and write wherever I go. I strike up conversations with strangers. I spread my joyous weird all over the place. I study the stars, nature and humans. I am fascinated. I share what I’ve found out so far and listen to what others can tell me. I get down with all kinds of folks. I am recovering from codependency. I love petting cats. I throw camps for witches (Free Cascade Witch Camp and Teen Earth Magic).

I save all my trash which is becoming an interesting problem as it piles up faster than i can make art with it. I am loved by many and I love almost everyone and everything. I pray everyday for the healing the earth, its waters, and all beings.

Shipmates 2015 Voyage: Monica Haller with Sebastian Müllauer


I am from Minneapolis and jumped on with Wes while mapping underwater sounds along the Mississippi River (from the headwaters to the gulf using an environmental robot my partner here designed). Wes graciously invited us on as first mates, and it was one of the most magical and meaningful experiences.

My work spans media in order to highlight what lives below the surface of a shared natural and social landscape, directing my attention on the complex, at times volatile, activities within environmental and human systems. Most often I do not work alone, but with collaborators. Most often the work and collaborations unfolds slowly, with time. I exhibit and works internationally, and live in my hometown of Minneapolis and my partner’s of Berlin.

Launching from land that has been in my family for five generations, my most recent work brings me to the wetlands of the Louisiana coast that are eroding and sinking into the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to understand a place that I am separated from by time, distance and a white elevation in the Creole hierarchy.

Production Team: Regina Ortanez


I’m a 3rd year transfer at UC Santa Cruz, majoring in Film & Digital Media. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, I received an ROP certification in Video Productions at the age of 17, having been a part of my high school’s daily broadcast production program for 2 years. After high school, I attended Diablo Valley College for 3 years to polish my filmmaking skills, while also dabbling in politics and debate. I have helped make many films and as well as films of my own that I have entered and premiered in local film festivals. My passion consists of using film as a medium to further examine issues of social justice regarding race, gender, class, etc. I moved to Santa Cruz to finish my bachelor’s degree and I am currently working as a video editor for a documentary about football towns, as well as an undergraduate researcher for A Secret History of The American River People.

Production Team: Kyle Doria


I am a 2nd year Politics major and FDM minor at UC Santa Cruz. Born and raised in the San Diego area, I volunteered at the local nature center for a couple years and also played bass in a punk band (the SD hardcore scene is severely underrated). A relative newbie to film and digital media, A Secret History is my first foray into a long term project in this area. My interest in documentary filmmaking, post-modern history and storytelling is what drew me to this project. Although Politics is my primary area of study, much of my heart still lies in the world of film and I relish the opportunity to work with A Secret History. When I’m not buried in my studies, I am also a film blogger, musician, writer, and Prince enthusiast.

Twitter:    Follow @kyledoria

Production Team: Monica Yap


I am Monica Yap, a fourth year Film Production and Creative Writing major at UC Santa Cruz. Since 2010, I have been an active contributor to hitRECord, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s open collaborative production company. I create post-it artwork, edit videos, and curate various content for them. When I graduate, my ideal job would be screenwriting (either be part of a writing team for a TV show or write feature films) or film editing.

I learned about the Secret History project during summer 2014 and got involved the following autumn. What attracted me to the project was the archive of different experiences of people who have lived on/experienced the river and the presentation of that archive through an art installation and the web documentary. When I’m not studying or working on Secret History, I love to watch Giants baseball, create post-it projects, binge watch shows and movies on Netflix, and swoon over talented British actors on Tumblr.

Website: Monica’s Hitrecord Site

Shipmate 2014 Voyage: Kai Dalgleish


I am an artist and student in Santa Cruz, California, and am actively involved in several non-profits centering around community sustainability, bicycle advocacy, and salmon restoration. I’m currently studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and using this knowledge to better understand my backyard bees and garden, as well as the surrounding forests, meadows, coastal scrub, chaparral, and riparian zones.

In 2013 we took a kayak and an outrigger canoe and floated down the Sacramento river, and I was hooked. We passed though the secret waterways of the Central Valley, hidden by levees and dams from the surrounding farms. Native birds and plants flourished along this band of habitat winding through monocultures of almonds and rice, and we floated unseen as though through an entirely different world. The river provides a window into the valley before industrial agriculture, and I’m excited to document and explore what’s left of these vibrant ecosystems.

I connect with the human history of my environment by using salvaged materials to build kinetic art and functional sculpture, including the shantyboat. A trip to the dump reveals timber locally logged and milled a hundred years ago from old-growth redwood, and a walk in the woods yields rusty keys and vintage canning jars from an old home site. I incorporate these remains into sculpture that allows us to appreciate the textures and colors of an era that is ending, one in which the work of our hands has little significance.

When not thinking about lost histories, I befriend bees, wander the hills, compulsively create, play with clay, organize within my community, and keep the books for worthwhile non-profits.

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