A surprising scene: The Mississippi River, before and after

“The Living Mississippi: From Twain to Today”, a photo exhibit displayed in Roberta’s Gallery, pairs classic literature with a set of surprising before and after pictures of the Mississippi River.

Photos, like the one above, depicting the horrid states of U.S. rivers, particulary the Mississippi, will be on display in Roberta’s Gallery in the U.C. until April 4. Photo submitted.

The exhibit will feature historic photos taken by Henry P. Bosse, who worked for the Army Corps of Engineers, and restoration photos submitted by the nonprofit organization Living Lands and Waters. Each photo will include a quote from Mark Twain.

Developmental and Assistant Director of the Young Auditorium Ben Strand said nobody knew the historic photos existed until they were found on an old Army Corps riverboat.

“The historic photos of the Mississippi River are special because they’re the oldest photos of the Mississippi River before it was dammed up,” Strand said.

The photographs will give students an idea of what the Mississippi looked like before there were dams.

“The world Twain writes about, even though he’s a great, vivid writer, is hard for the 21st century readers to visualize it,” Strand said. “This exhibit helps put Twain’s time in perspective, while also linking his time with current issues that are going on in our own environment and era.”

Volunteers and staff of Living Lands and Waters submitted the modern day photos of the Mississippi River. Chad Pregracke founded the Illinois-based group when he was 23.

“Living Lands and Waters is a nonprofit organization that was started in 1998 with one mission: to clean up the Mississippi River,” Pregracke said. “Since then, it has expanded to include 17 other rivers, and we’ve removed nearly seven million pounds of garbage from our nation’s rivers.”

The modern photos of the Mississippi River will show what the river looked like before and after Living Lands and Waters helped clean it up.

“Some of the photos display large amounts of garbage, showing how neglected our river systems are,” Pregracke said. “To contrast that, we also provided photos of people taking action and cleaning up the rivers. Proving that if a group of people join together for a common cause, they can make a difference.”

The exhibit is a partnership with Whitewater’s The Big Read program, which is a national literacy and arts event funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Big Read provides funding to have a community focus on one author for about a month. Only 75 communities in all of the U.S. are selected for the grant, and this is the fourth year the program has been chosen. Ben Strand said the program will be giving 1,500 copies of ‘Tom Sawyer’ to middle schools, high schools and to our partner libraries.

The exhibit is a partnership between Roberta’s Gallery and the Young Auditorium.

“It’s a great opportunity to reflect on classic literature,” gallery supervisor Kim Adams said. “Then see how that’s tied in with a photo exhibit that focuses on the historic and modern Mississippi River and see some of the efforts to restore that great body of water.”

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