In a throwback to a Great Depression-era effort, the See America project is encouraging artists and designers to create posters for all of America's National Park units. Minnesota is home to six such places, but is under-represented so far.
Designers and artists are all too often asked to work for free these days, so it's worth noting that See America isn't one of those times: by contributing a piece of artwork to the project, artists receive 40 percent of revenue from sales after costs.
So far there are two posters in the collection for Minnesota park units: Voyageurs National Park and Pipestone National Monument. Both are well designed and reflect the unique character of the parks. Both are also by overseas designers (one from India, one from New Zealand). It would be great if people more familiar with our state's landscapes, identity and history shared their own interpretations. (There are also posters for the interstate North Country National Scenic Trail and the Mississippi River, but neither include Minnesota imagery.)
The original See America project was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program, addressing unemployment while showcasing the nation's natural beauty. The new See America, organized by the Creative Action Network in partnership with the National Parks Conservation Association, seeks to do the same in a day when the federal government doesn't have the ability to pay artists.
"We have always been inspired, since we started doing this kind of work by the New Deal Arts Project, the WPA, and that era in our history when the government was putting artists to work," Max Slavkin, CEO of The Creative Action Network, told Fast Company magazine.
Here are the National Park units in Minnesota:
Learn more and submit your artwork here.
The PolyMet environmental impact statement which has been discussed around Minnesota the past couple months is based on bad data, the Timberjay newspaper reported this week (Star Tribune story here). It significantly underestimates the amount of water flowing through the mine area, which means big parts of the document are likely incorrect, and might mean another year of work and a third draft of the study is needed.
You could almost hear heads spinning across the state at the news that this long-awaited second version of the company’s environmental impact statement is seriously flawed.
PolyMet can’t get its impact study right in two attempts and millions of dollars, but the company says it will get essential environmental protection right on the first try. There is no margin for error with mining pollution – one mistake and contaminants could flow from into nearby lakes, rivers and wetlands.
Once pollution reaches water, it’s almost impossible to contain it. Folks in Charleston, West Virginia, have been dealing with water that is dirty and smelly and of questionable safety after a chemical spill upriver on January 9th.
In Grantsburg, Wisconsin in 2012, a sand mining company incorrectly built a wall around a holding pond and ended up dumping harmful sediment into the St. Croix River for five days.
There are few second chances with mining mistakes. Preventing pollution means doing it right the first time and every time.
The latest news about PolyMet must be a shock to everyone following the issue. Whether an Iron Ranger looking for a job, a resident worried about their drinking water, wild rice or fishing lake, or an investor at big PolyMet investor Glencore, it is universally hard to believe that after all this waiting, we might need to wait again.
But they say the third time’s the charm.
Our Royalex Wenonah Spirit II on the Cannon River
First it was kayaks. Now it’s stand-up paddleboards. Canoeing just can’t seem to compete. The recent news that a popular material for canoes will no longer be manufactured is perhaps a sign of how far the once-dominant watercraft has fallen. If not a symptom, it could very well push the canoe further to the margins of paddling.
Tough, lightweight, and inexpensive, Royalex has been used in many a fine canoe during the past 30 years – including my Wenonah Spirit II. The Minnesota company uses the material in 50 percent of the canoes it makes on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Our Spirit II has taken us deep into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and down many miles of Minnesota rivers. Sure, I have envied my companions’ super-light Kevlar boats when carrying it across BWCAW portages, but love the durability on the rivers during low water, when scraping gravel is unavoidable. It’s the ideal all-purpose boat.
Royalex is best known for its use in whitewater boats. I don’t paddle rapids much, but I love the stories of canoes wrapped around rocks by hydraulic forces, only to snap back to their original shape when pulled out of the river, often with a winch.
Apparently this position as the preferred material for the hardcore fringe of an increasingly marginal pastime doesn’t make manufacturing the stuff economical any longer.
Rise and fall
Canoes were once made out of birch bark and then wood and canvas. After World War II, airplane manufacturers converted their plants to making the ubiquitous aluminum canoes (and many war pilots turned to flying those craft into remote lakes with vacationing paddlers).
The vortex of baby-boomers and post-war industry and a national passion for the outdoors defined canoeing's peak.
Then along came Royalex and eventually the premium Kevlar. And then came the meteoric rise of kayaks in the late 1990s and 2000s. People – including myself – love the indepence, the ease, the intimacy of a kayak. Stand-up paddleboards are the latest and greatest thing – it looks fun, and boasts the simplicity and closeness to the water to which all paddlecraft aspire.
But you can’t beat the connection between boat and water and people as you can achieve while paddling a tandem canoe. To make it swing and pivot in the current as you descend a river, or to pull it against a headwind stroke by stroke, brings you close to each other, and to the canoe’s history as an efficient means of transportation – loved by indigenous people, voyageurs and explorers.
The big question with Royalex is what will happen next? Will someone buy it up and keep the stuff available? Will some other material replace it? Either way, I suspect it will be a more expensive future, recognizing the smaller niche market it supplies.
Hardcore canoeists will probably point to cedar strip, wood-canvas, fiberglass, or Kevlar as indication of thriving canoe communities, but those aren’t materials for the mass market. People will always canoe, but it's likely it will either be in heavy, noisy aluminum, or one of the expensive and precious materials.
Royalex is dead. Long live canoeing.
There are people everywhere, all the time, in New York City. On the sidewalks, at the parks, in the bars and restaurants. It’s a city defined by swarms of humans as much as skyscrapers or famous streets.
I was reminded while visiting recently that how those millions of people experience the city is a complex thing: They coexist relatively peacefully, mostly minding their own business. They search for companionship in the crowds. They make micro-refuges of miniscule apartments. They drink.
And they make art.
The city’s major art institutions – the Met, Lincoln Center, MoMA, etc. – are world-class. But this time, we saw what you could see without leaving the street.
Sunday morning, we took the E train to the 23rd Street stop, got coffee and pastries, and walked a couple blocks to the High Line, a nascent park built on an old elevated railroad. Grasses and flowers grow up from gaps in the pavement where the old tracks still lay, reminding you this was once a way to get dangerous freight trains off the streets of Chelsea, and it then sat abandoned for 25 years. Now it is a bright ribbon of green, threading a mile-and-a-half through the concrete and steel landscape of Manhattan.
The first part of the High Line opened in 2009, a second part in 2011, and another section is due to open next year. The park feels like something that could only have been created in the last decade. The design is thoughtful, confident, and informed. People move along its length smoothly, conveyed by a constant shifting of scenery.
At every turn, art asks you questions. We sat on a bench and listened to an automated male voice recite the names of animals. I wonder, will this be the outcome of one extinction after another? In the future, will our kids go outside with only a list of that which once lived here? What beasts once wandered the Manhattan wilderness? Fine questions to consider in a park reclaimed from industrial use.
It was a sunny and hot morning and for these Minnesotans it just felt good to be walking outside. We beheld creations big and small. Variations on busts, a wall of pressed tin and broken mirrors, billboards of baseball moments, gardens carefully curated for beauty and wildness.
The art and the gardens and the structure fit together in perfect harmony. An amphitheater over 10th Avenue, with a long view uptown through windows where a stage or screen might be, lets you sit and rest your feet and consider the city as a play or a movie: a comedy, a tragedy, a romance, and a drama, all at once.
After our walk on the High Line, I took the subway out to Brooklyn. When I stepped out of the Morgan Street station, I immediately noticed two things: it was a lot dirtier than Chelsea, and there was art everywhere.
Street art, an evolution or an expansion of graffiti, is often vandalism, and illegal. But in blighted neighborhoods, especially industrial areas, it can improve one’s experience of the place. It states that people live here, and says a little about who they are, and it adds color and depth to the landscape.
The Bushwick neighborhood is full of good examples. The sort on display there isn’t your typical tag, and most of what I saw seemed intended to to delight, beautify, or challenge.
Its very nature is a statement about contemporary art. These are not artists content to work in a studio, hoping a curator will one day decide their work is worthy enough for a gallery or a museum. These artists go directly to the public. They also create knowing that their work is impermanent, that it will last at most a year or two, and often much less.
These artists do not work so that the paintings will hang in a climate-controlled environment for centuries, viewable with a ticket. They work so that many, many people see it now.
Our hotel was only a few blocks north of Times Square, but I had no intention of going there this trip until a friend told me about Max Neuhaus’s sound installation. It was worth fighting the hordes to experience.
You have to go looking for the piece, which is simply called Times Square, at the tip of the pedestrian triangle in the middle of this famous intersection. We found it surrounded by two people dressed up as the Statue of Liberty and a Buzz Lightyear – hokey impersonators who take photos with tourists in exchange for a couple bucks.
The large, unmarked grate in the sidewalk was unnoticed by the crowds. They walked over it quickly, perhaps assuming the weird drone from beneath their feet was the subway or ventilation or perhaps not thinking about it long enough to assume anything.
Neuhaus first installed the piece in 1977, when Times Square was one of the seediest places in New York, and possibly America. How the work has remained relevant as the square has evolved into a highly-commercial tourist destination is an interesting question worthy its own article.
The experience of the piece today is fascinating. If you stand on the grate, you are suddenly in a bubble. For the most part, people do not congregate on the grate, so you have rare space around you, and the droning emanating from beneath has the effect of white noise, blocking the cacophony of the area. You are surrounded by more activity than just about anywhere, and you are suddenly very alone.
Then you step off the grate and back into the fray and you walk as fast as you can past neon signs to escape the area. A museum like the Metropolitan has peace and quiet going for it, but none of the works we enjoyed last month would have had anywhere near the same impact in a traditional museum setting. I came home feeling I had a better sense of New York than before – not the accumulated art of our world found in the big museums, but the city itself.