"Upstream" Connects Us to Water


Bodies of water bind civilizations. Throughout time, humans have congregated on the shores of oceans, beside lakes and alongside rivers. These bodies of water have provided food, transportation, resources, and of course hydration to keep our bodies alive. Beyond the physical needs provided by water, these places connect people on a much deeper level. Many people often have spiritual connections to bodies of water and are drawn to them. For others, bodies of water represent a barrier.

Ceramic artist Anna Metcalfe, whose exhibition Upstream is on display at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, seeks to collect and share personal stories of people whose lives are touched by water. Her work investigates the relationship to water through community storytelling and personal narrative. On display in Upstream are collaborations with people of all ages that share their stories, which are then imprinted on her ceramic work. In this case, ceramic boats and teacups. Below are a few examples of the anonymous stories shared in Upstream. The images provided show some of the visual stories.

“Crossing the Mississippi River bridge at Marquette/Prairie du Chien meant we were almost to grandpa and grandmas, ready to play with cousins and eat lots of yummy homemade food. It also meant a practice in holding one breath, because every 10-year old knows that they’ll get 7 years bad luck for not holding their breath going over a bridge. It’s a 2 mile bridge.”

“I am a Hmong female. My family crossed the Mekong River to refugee camps of Thailand. Many other families and individuals did not. They became part of the river. It can give you life and take it away. Mekong, in memories of those lost forever.”

“I don’t remember the first time I saw the Mississippi but I know that every time I’ve seen it I’m struck by its size and power. Whether looking at the locks or from a bluff or driving over it on a bridge, I can’t help but think of the people who’ve done the same throughout history. I imagine the mound builders living near the river and realize that people have literally and figuratively been moved by this water for a very long time!”

“I am a Lakota woman. I grew up swimming in Wakpa Waste (Good River), also known as Cheyenne River. It was like swimming in chocolate milk. Now I know that was a result of the damming of the Missouri River, which relocated Lakota people and created mass land loss. I miss the river. I hear it calling me home. I think I’ll go visit.”

Anna Metcalfe: Upstream is on display  through May 5, 2019, at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

Dave Casey

Assistant Curator of Education and Exhibitions

Dave Casey