By Chris Battaglia
In the fall of 2013, I hadn’t the slightest clue how four nights and five days on the Mississippi River would alter the course of my life.
Those 100 miles on the Lower Mississippi River, between Greenville, and Vicksburg, Miss., led me to new lines of thinking about myself and my work, where I lived, and — somehow — led me on a seven-week expedition from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico in a 30-foot wooden, voyageur-style canoe. The following is a clip to try to express some of the feelings and perspective found between the levees:
This odyssey inspired me to create an artist residency and exhibition program that would mirror the virtues inherent in an immersive, outdoor expedition with strangers, and culminate in the creation of a space for the creative works produced or inspired during the expedition. Rather than on the Mighty Mississippi, however, it would take place on our coastal and interior waterways here in Maine. The project is called The Village Canoe, and it is happening at the end of summer/early autumn of this year, 2019.
After nearly six weeks paddling from St. Louis, our crew made it to the Bonnet Carre Spillway in early May, 2017— just 30 miles north of New Orleans. Due to severe weather conditions, we decided to suspend our final push to the Gulf for another time. Upon my return to Maine, I caught wind of a duo making an art/Shanty boat bound for the Mississippi River that year, their journey beginning in Minnesota and ending in New Orleans. I reached out, met Morgan, one half of the pair, and she suggested visiting The Apprenticeshop (where they were building the boat out in the yard). I assured her I would, as I had a canoe project in mind.
Several months passed. Our expedition resumed in November that same year, finishing with a 10-day trip from whence we left-off (just above New Orleans) and quietly arriving to the Gulf of Mexico, just below Southpass, Louisiana. Again, I returned to Maine, this time, with aspirations to bring elements of the journey— self-discovery, renewed agency in environmental stewardship, making meaningful social connection — back home. Someone along the way proposed I look into The Apprenticeshop in Rockland. I rarely shake my head at two independent nods in the same direction. So, on a drive from Belfast to Portland in mid-February, I chose to take the coastal route, stopping in Rockland.
Here I met the cohort of apprentices, in early 2018, who gave me an informal tour of the organization and its multi-level boatbuilding shop. With good fortune, I met Morgan’s other half of Carrier Pigeon Studio, Emily. We spoke quickly but excitedly about the strange connections cropping up between Mississippi and Maine and about various boat projects, buttoning up the conversation with plans to communicate about these things in the future.
One year later, The Village Canoe has developed into an immersive, outdoor, floating artist residency and exhibition. Structured as an expedition, the residence will take place from a 30-foot voyageur canoe, which holds space for up to six participants — chosen through an open-call application — and one or two registered Maine guides to paddle, camp, and make art for 10 days in late summer of 2019. The route will navigate from a tidal river, one which courses through the interior and flows outward, to the Maine coastline, following portions of the Maine Island Trail and accessible islands. At the culmination of the trip, artists will host a temporary, free, public, and interactive pop-up exhibition of the work produced during the residency. The show will take place outdoors in a movable bow-roof structure – the same enclosure in which the canoe will be built
By fostering an interdisciplinary cohort of participants, The Village Canoe aims to become an accessible opportunity for new creative voices, both emerging artists and established career artists, people who don’t normally consider themselves artists, naturalists, citizen scientists, anthropologists, and more.
Author Misao Dean, in her work Inheriting a Canoe Paddle: The Canoe in Discourses of English-Canadian Nationalism, writes, “The task of commissioning or building a canoe can be a great achievement in the health of a small community, signaling the growth of organizational ability, the ability to inspire young people and impose discipline, and the growth of hope and pride.”
The canoe tends to encourage growth of important personal qualities, while paddling in tandem with a boatload of other paddlers, including, but not limited to: teamwork, flexibility, self-and-other-care, accountability, and value of process.
This project aims to build on the rich canoe traditions of Maine — both historical and cultural — by adapting the traditional voyageur design to allow for flexible function, as well as to represent a variety of origins. The goal? To further reinforce this boat as functional art, an invitation to new opportunity, and symbol of community. It’s an art boat — a hybrid; both of these qualities are purposeful.
The residence will culminate in a weekend-long pop-up exhibition, celebrating and showing the work made during and afterward by the artists. The show will take place in a 20’ x 40’ Stimson Bow-Roof shed (traditionally used for greenhouses and boat storage) because it is affordable, easy to construct, transportable, and aesthetically echoes the image of an overturned-canoe — thereby reinforcing the connection between audience and the project conceit.
Hopefully, this (admittedly ambitious) project will become a roving community-arts destination, host to a dynamic and novel art experience equally educational, interactive, and inspirational. The Village Canoe looks to the future as a multi-phase program to make more meaningful art and increase social engagement with the outdoors.
Want to get involved?
Sign-up for the newsletter to receive updates on the residency, exhibition, volunteer opportunities, community events, and more!
Make a donation directly to the project (follow the website link below) orto our 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor, the Belfast Creative Coalition, attn: The Village Canoe.
Follow the journey online at https://villagecanoe.org, and on instagram and Facebook @thevillagecanoe.
Apply to be one of our artists-in-residence! Applications open on February 1 and will close on March 31, at 11:59 pm EST.
Support for The Village Canoe is provided by The Kindling Fund, a grant program administered by SPACE as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation For The Visual Arts Regional Regranting Network.