May 20, 2011

The River as Muse

River Excursion with Shawnee Mission East & North and St. Theresa's Academy art students
Kaw Point Park to Riverfront Park - Kansas City
April 23, 2011

text by Vicki Richmond, photos by Sarah Cook and Katie Crow

Boat trips are a terrific way to get folks immersed in the Big Muddy.  Hundreds of people experience the Missouri River this way each year, through River Relief’s field trips.

Way back in January’s chill, I received a note from Adam Finkelston, Shawnee Mission East Visual Arts Dept. instructor and self proclaimed photography geek.  He wanted to take students out on the river to inspire them to create art, and to view their community in a unique way.  We’d be hosting aspiring artists, students who would be nominated and chosen by their teachers, and we’d spend the day traveling by boat.  The outcome of the day would be an art show, held at a gallery this fall that would showcase the student’s work.

April 23 was a good day for a boat ride.  Rainy weather gave way to clouds as MRR crew met at Kaw Point to splash boats in preparation for taking a unique group out for a day on the river.  Students began arriving armed with cameras, sketch pads, notebooks and bags for collecting objects.  Parents stood by watching as their kids were fitted into life jackets, given a brief safety talk and boarded the boats.

Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11
photo by Sarah Cook, Shawnee Mission East
The boats left the ramp on the Kaw (or Kansas River) and slowly made their way to the confluence with the Missouri.  The bigger river was quite obviously running higher than the gentler Kaw; our boats were pushed to the south shore as the mighty Missouri currents push towards St. Louis. 

We traveled the stretch between Kaw Point and the Main Street Pedestrian Walkway, taking time to notice the effects of our urban amenities.  Bridges, a scrap metal yard, a wastewater treatment plant, armored stream banks and levee walls are juxtaposed with the original limestone ledge that allowed steamboats to unload cargo for transport to the Westport Trading Post.  Cameras clicked as we powered past the Kansas City skyline.

Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11

Berkley Park, once the Kansas City Municipal Landfill, illustrates what can be done with land that isn’t suitable for building.  Our boats pulled into shore so that students could walk the recently created USB Bridge underpass, investigate the Wharfmaster building and see the leftover round pads where grain bins once stood.  Old brick in the power plant and newly planted native prairie and wetlands work together to combine the old and new.

Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11
photo by Katie Crow, St. Theresa's Academy
Back to the boats, and a migration to Riverfront Park Boat ramp allowed students to get a duck’s eye view of progress. The Paseo Bridge is being taken down in pieces to make way for the newly opened Kit Bond Bridge that connects Kansas City with her northern neighbors.  Large cranes, working barges and a tug boat offered fodder for sketch books and cameras.

Canada Goose nest (with pretzel)
Pulling into Riverfront Park, we were greeted by the fisherfolk and morel hunters who have come to know our boats and crew.  We disembarked and headed just downstream of the ramp to a high sand bar and large pile of drift wood for lunch.  A small fire was lighted to warm marshmallows for tasty deserts.  Students ate lunch and headed off to hike in the woods and explore the flood plain.  Our crew relaxed while enjoying the student’s comments. 

A goose was gently persuaded to leave her nest so that students could see the eggs nestled in warm down.  The hubbub of lunch quickly became a deserted scene of jackets, backpacks and lunch bags as students explored the woods and hiked downriver.

Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11
photo by Katie Crow
While enjoying lunch, the tugboat Mary Lynn came through, offering everyone a chance to see commerce at work along the Big Muddy.  Quickly employed cameras captured the turbulent water as crew raced to the boats to secure them.  A small gathering of onlookers enjoyed looking over our vessels; it is a rare occasion when our boats don’t cause a stir.  Having 28 red life-jacketed people made the scene even more inviting, and new friends were made in the assembled group.

Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11
All too quickly we loaded the boats again for the return trip upriver.  Several stops were made for students to capture scenes and again we beached the boats, this time at the base of the scrap metal  yard.  Students made their way up the banks to investigate the area , and returned with pockets bulging with scraps of metal destined to become sculptural elements.  A sign, a saw blade and a bag of metal disks joined the drift wood, beaver chewed willow poles and refrigerator door already on board.

We returned to Kaw Point and to a group of waiting parents, cheering and clapping as the boats gently touched shore.  Students unloaded sketchbooks and backpacks with wide grins.  The river made new friends, and the artists left with new inspiration.  The fall will bring us full circle, when the art created from the day is shown. 
Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11
photo by Katie Crow

We could not do projects like these without support!  A  big, muddy thanks to:
  • Students and Parents from Shawnee Mission East, Shawnee Mission North and St. Theresa’s High Schools
  •  Missouri River Relief Crew Members:   Vicki and Michael Richmond, Larry O’Donnell, Bill Fessler and Layla the Dog

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