Drawing as Imagining Absence: Sometime prior to 1963 a person sat down at a table to draw a map. This person could effectively communicate with lines across a page, possessing the technical skills of rendering exact scale ratios of a three-dimensional space on a sheet of paper. The task of this artist was to draw a blueprint that would be used to harness a river for industrial use.
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For millennia, Native American people traveled and traded on the Mississippi River. When colonial powers moved into North America, they quickly saw the importance of controlling transportation and the movement of goods on the river. In 1820, The United States government established Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers to protect American fur trade interests in the region and to gain a foothold in the western territory that would become Minnesota.
In February 1872, Horace W. Cleveland trudged through the snowy streets of Minneapolis to the Pence Opera House. His goal was to deliver a speech convincing the city planners, wealthy landowners, and businessmen to work quickly on protecting and preserving the scenic beauty found throughout the growing cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Angie Tillges is the Great River Passage Fellow. She is a public space artist and educator who is skilled at working with public institutions and community organizations on projects of social, artistic, and ecological importance. She leads projects that provide people the opportunity to make personal and lasting connections with public spaces in their communities.
Within its relatively short length (194 miles) from its source to Lake Superior, and the truncated time frame of 300 years since European contact and colonization, the St. Louis River is emblematic of historical patterns of use and exploitation in the region, as well as recovery attempts, for rivers across the state of Minnesota and indeed much of the country.