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An epic journey and major show to uncover forgotten stories on New York's Hudson River.
An epic journey and major show to uncover forgotten stories on New York's Hudson River.
76 backers pledged $8,001 to help bring this project to life.

About

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$8,001

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A rustic recreated mid-century shantyboat, a series of daring river voyages, 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. 

We are trying to raise $8000 to collect forgotten stories along the Hudson River, and stage a major exhibition in New York City. Your support is critical.

Shantyboat under stormy skies
Shantyboat under stormy skies

 There are lots of ways to support the project so check out the website. But if you can give your financial support, every little bit helps. A road trip across North America, fieldwork on the historic Hudson River, a half dozen pop-up exhibitions and a major show in New York are all part of our ambitious plan for this year. 

Thanks for making a Secret History of American River People possible.

How We Got Here

For more than a decade, I have been building watercraft and floating down major rivers with my collaborators. The small river communities we visited were frequently ghost towns that had turned their backs to the river and recentered near the highway and the Walmart. Larger towns that were reestablishing a connection with the river were rapidly gentrifying, erasing generations of river culture. I built a homemade shantyboat to explore major American rivers to understand these contemporary conflicts and preserve the heritage of river life. 

Punk Rafting in a Homemade Craft
Punk Rafting in a Homemade Craft

Every summer since 2014, I've embarked on epic journeys to discover, record, present, and connect the personal narratives of river people. Visitors step onto the shantyboat into another world where they can pick up the banjo or a book, sit awhile and overhear stories of river people, or share their own stories.  

This project inspires deep wonder and connects meaningfully with people's personal histories. We've done fieldwork on the Mississippi River, the Tennessee, the Sacramento, and with your help, this year on New York's Hudson River.

The project is in its fifth year, has traveled over 1250 river miles and 20,000 miles by land, and has been featured in numerous articles and 15 exhibitions. I've conducted over 100 interviews and talked to thousands of people about the river.

A few of the project's more than a hundred interviewees
A few of the project's more than a hundred interviewees

Thanks to your support, our previous Kickstarter journeys over the last four years were successfully funded. Despite fantastic odds the voyages were successfully completed. 

Year after year, this project continues to excite me. These archives telling otherwise untold personal narratives are a significant contribution to American history. They have wide-reaching significance to people living and searching for solutions to shared challenges in river communities elsewhere on the continent.

Where We're Going

This year we are traveling across country to New York's historic Hudson River with fieldwork and exhibitions in towns along the way. We have a month-long Secret History exhibition at WhiteBox Art Space in Lower Manhattan. 

Blanket Above the Bridge by Jason Jenkins
Blanket Above the Bridge by Jason Jenkins

This summer we are expanding the exhibition to include a large installation of photographs and video from the project, participatory elements, and new media that allows visitors to overhear interviews and ambient sounds from the river.  

Expedition Route on New York's Hudson River
Expedition Route on New York's Hudson River

The Exhibitions

I am currently working on a research archive and the first volume of a book series, with other projects planned, including collaborations with other artists, and short and feature documentaries. Plus, the project exhibits regularly at galleries and museums across the country.

Exhibition at New York's WhiteBox Art Space
Exhibition at New York's WhiteBox Art Space

We are also doing a series of pop-up exhibition on the river in four historic river towns. While the artist and shantyboat are in town, the public is invited to visit during open hours at the nearby waterfront. Visitors may step inside the boat, explore, hear stories, and leave their river stories for the archive.

Sketch of pop-up Exhibition
Sketch of pop-up Exhibition

Join us for any of our exhibitions on the Hudson River:

  • May 26 - Felton Remembers Parade, Felton CA
  • June 1-2 - Ebb & Flow, Tannery Art Center, Santa Cruz CA
  • July 1 - Yacht Basin, Fort Edward, NY with the World Awareness Children's Museum
  • July 5-7 City of Waterford, NY
  • July 13-15 Hudson River Maritime Museum, Kingston, NY
  • July 19-21 Haverstraw, NY with the River Arts Fund & Haverstraw Brick Musuem
  • July & Aug -  Whitebox Art Space, Lower East Side, NYC
  • July & Aug - Waterfront Museum, Brooklyn, NY

The Shantyboat 

In 2012, I began building the Secret History shantyboat. Inspired by historical accounts of shantyboaters on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, I lovingly recreated a traditional wooden-hulled barge-bottom houseboat with the help of friends over two years out of rustic reclaimed materials.

The shantyboat is the centerpiece of the project as well as where we live and work while we are on the river. The people that we meet consistently tell us that the shantyboat draws them to the project. Did you make this? people always ask, I've always dreamed of doing this. People recognize that we are connecting to both a bygone era and river life today. 

The People 

We've talked to farmers and fishermen, wildlife biologists and water experts, people raised poor in shantyboats on the river, people who remember the river when it was wild and dangerous, people who remember their family history going back five generations before emancipation, people living openly gay or transgender lives in tiny rural towns, people living under bridges whose lives have been shattered by addiction or alcoholism.

Dorris Turner grew up on the Tennessee River
Dorris Turner grew up on the Tennessee River

We've talked to people descendent of the first people on the continent who've made the river their home for untold generations, and people who have lived within sight of the river every day of their lives. We seek out these people whose stories aren't typically included in the dominant historical narrative. 

This year we are already making connections with people who live in historic towns in the Hudson Valley, people whose parents and grandparents were part of the largely African-American communities who worked in brick-making towns that supplied New York City as it was built.

Through all the fieldwork, I've used the project website and social media to share stories, photographs, and video to connect river people with those far from the river. Over 80 thousand people regularly follow the project.

Why Kickstarter? 

We are trying to raise $8000 to bring the shantyboat to the Hudson River and work our way downriver collecting stories for the archive. Your support makes this project work.

Crowdsourcing makes up more than a quarter of the Secret History budget, so your support is critical. The rest of the project budget comes from expected grants and from the artist's contribution to the project.

UPDATE: We did not receive the foundation grants we hoped for and so this Kickstarter will be a critical source of funding for the expedition, even as we cut back on expenses and accept not being paid another year.

Crowdsourcing makes up a quarter of the project budget
Crowdsourcing makes up a quarter of the project budget

Help support our ambitious plans for the project. Every contribution, even small ones are important. Thanks again for making a Secret History possible. 

The Rewards

Get Project Updates - $1 or more - Any amount of $1 or more will get an email thank you and updates from the project.

A Thanks in Our Regular Updates - $5 or more - Nearly a thousand people follow our adventures by email. Your thanks goes out to our most diehard fans.

A Selfie Just For You - $10 or more - You send us your number and we text you a unique selfie and/or an inspiring photograph straight from our journey.

Benzy and Squirrelsy selfie from the shantyboat
Benzy and Squirrelsy selfie from the shantyboat

Outfit The Shantyboat - $15 or more - Take your modest contribution plus one of the many things we need for the trip from our wishlist at peoplesriverhistory.us/wishlist and have it sent straight to us! We will name it after you, send you a personal thank you, and email you a photo of it installed in the shantyboat. 

Your Art in the Shantyboat Gallery - $25 or more - If you send us your art before we depart for New York, we hang it in the shantyboat gallery/head and, in this way, you go along on the trip with us.

Art gallery in the Jeremiah Daniels Executive Washroom
Art gallery in the Jeremiah Daniels Executive Washroom

A Hand-Scrawled Drunk Postcard from the River - $35 or more - This was our most popular reward over the last several years. We will write you a postcard while we are drunk and traveling on the river. All those hard days of boating and interviewing and long summer evenings of river living. We will drunkenly tell you all about the stuff we'd never tell you when we were sober. 

Drunk postcards from the journey
Drunk postcards from the journey

Last-Chance Secret History Poster - $60 or more - The last of these beautiful silkscreened posters made by artist Jake Simowitz. A large print (24" x 16") of his woodcut for the project on beautiful sturdy paper.  

Silkscreened poster by Jake Simowitz
Silkscreened poster by Jake Simowitz

Classic Secret History Black Tee - $100 or more - A reprint of this gorgeous black t-shirt made by Jake Simowitz from his shanytboat woodcut print comes in a variety of sizes on quality fitted American Apparel-style Tees. 

Monica models the woodcut black tee by Jake Simowitz
Monica models the woodcut black tee by Jake Simowitz

Permanent Thanks On The Website - $250 or more - You’re not doing it for the reward or for the glory, but we are tremendously grateful for your support and want to highlight your generosity. Plus we will send you a poster or a t-shirt. 

Skype or Phone Date From the River - $500 or more - This is a special reward only for those diehard fans of the project who want to offer significant support for the project. Plus we will send you a poster AND a t-shirt.

How the Money is Spent 

This year, the project has an ambitious $21K budget with $8000 coming from crowdsourcing,. Most of that goes toward fieldwork and shantyboat maintenance. $3000 goes toward developing the new exhibition in New York City.

How the money will be spent
How the money will be spent

It is always our goal to pay the artists and crew, but we seldom bring in enough to more than pay our basic expenses. Your support will help us meet this goal. 

More Information and Updates

If you support the project, you will get regular project updates (Each year we post about 50 blog updates and hundreds of photos). If you want to sign up for regular project updates, especially when we are on the river, you can sign up via email, instagram, rss, and twitter on our contact page.

A few of the more than 100 Secret History interviews
A few of the more than 100 Secret History interviews

  Check out the stories at peoplesriverhistory.us

Captain of the shantyboat and project artist Wes Modes
Captain of the shantyboat and project artist Wes Modes

Risks and challenges

I am a veteran DIY boater and know from a decade of experience that the challenges and setbacks that you encounter on the river are part of the journey.

The project is an oral history of people's river experiences. This includes my own meta-narrative of the Secret History exhibition. There are the stories that people have to tell, and, as well, there is the story of discovering that story. The people, the places, the blissful days, the heat and humidity and mosquitos, the driving wind and rain, the setbacks. These are all part of the human history that we are all part of making.

Last year, reward fulfillment was mercifully prompt, and we thank you for your patience.

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Questions about this project? Check out the FAQ

Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 1 or more About US$ 1.00

    Get Project Updates

    Any amount of $1 or more will get an email thank you and updates from the project.

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    1 backer
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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 5 or more About US$ 5

    A Thanks in Our Regular Updates

    Nearly a thousand people follow our adventures by email. Your thanks goes out to our most diehard fans.

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    Estimated delivery
    2 backers
    $
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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 10 or more About US$ 10

    A Selfie Just For You

    You send us your number and we text you a unique selfie and/or an inspiring photograph straight from our journey.

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    3 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  4. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 15 or more About US$ 15

    Outfit The Shantyboat

    Take your modest contribution plus one of the many things we need for the trip from our wishlist at peoplesriverhistory.us/wishlist and have it sent straight to us! We will name it after you, send you a personal thank you, and email you a photo of it installed in the shantyboat.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Limited 4 backers
    $
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    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 25 or more About US$ 25

    Your Art in the Shantyboat Gallery

    If you send us your art before we depart for New York, we hang it in the shantyboat gallery/head and, in this way, you go along on the trip with us.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    9 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $35 or more About $35

    A Hand-Scrawled Drunk Postcard

    This was our most popular reward over the last several years. We will write you a postcard while we are drunk and traveling on the river. All those hard days of boating and interviewing and long summer evenings of river living. We will drunkenly tell you all about the stuff we'd never tell you when we were sober.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 32 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $60 or more About $60

    Last-Chance Secret History Poster

    The last of these beautiful silkscreened posters made by artist Jake Simowitz. A large print (24" x 16") of his woodcut for the project on beautiful sturdy paper. See photo in rewards to the left.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 7 backers
    $
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    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Classic Secret History Black Tee

    A reprint of this gorgeous black t-shirt made by Jake Simowitz from his shanytboat woodcut print comes in a variety of sizes on quality fitted American Apparel-style Tees. See photo in rewards to the left.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    4 backers
    $
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  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    Permanent Thanks On The Website

    You’re not doing it for the reward or for the glory, but we are tremendously grateful for your support and want to highlight your generosity. Plus we will send you a poster or a t-shirt.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 3 backers
    $
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    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  10. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    All The Things - NEW!

    We offer a reward that includes everything. This is the everything bagel of rewards. This includes a selfie, drunken postcard, a poster, and a t-shirt.

    I designed the postcards as a hand-colored black-and-white replicas in a mid-century-style. The poster and T-shirts are based on Jake Simowitz' dazzling woodcut and are gorgeous.

    Includes:
    • A selfie from the river
    • A Hand-Scrawled Drunk Postcard
    • A Last-Chance Secret History Poster
    • A Classic Secret History Black Tee
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    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 1 backer
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  11. Select this reward

    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    Skype or Phone Date From the River

    This is a special reward only for those diehard fans of the project who want to offer significant support for the project. Plus we will send you a poster AND a t-shirt.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 1 backer
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  12. Select this reward

    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    All The Things And More - NEW!

    This reward is like All The Things plus a permanent thanks on the website. This includes a selfie, drunken postcard, a poster, a t-shirt, and a permanent thanks.

    I designed the postcards as a hand-colored black-and-white replicas in a mid-century-style. The poster and T-shirts are based on Jake Simowitz' dazzling woodcut and are gorgeous.

    Includes:
    • A selfie from the river
    • A Hand-Scrawled Drunk Postcard
    • A Last-Chance Secret History Poster
    • A Classic Secret History Black Tee
    • Permanent thanks on the website
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 0 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

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Funding period

- (38 days)