'Big River' trip for art, sustainability has Portland connection

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PORTLAND — No one will be mistaking Morgan Rogers or Emily du Houx for Huckleberry Finn anytime soon.

Yet next week, the women will follow the currents of literary history while promoting a green future as their vessel, the Michi Zeebee, floats 2,000 miles down the Mississippi River.

“We wanted to figure out a way to use art to talk about sustainability,” Rogers said June 28 while stopped at the East End boat launch on their way to St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Michi Zeebee is named for the Native American pronunciation of what became the Mississippi to French settlers. Rogers and du Houx consider the vessel “a floating sculpture in the form of a boat.”

It was built at The Apprenticeshop in Rockland, where du Houx and Rogers were artists in residence. The wooden hull is covered by framed plywood, with windows cut out and images of flora and fauna from river life scrolled in.

“Michi Zeebee in itself is a simple example of responsive, adaptable architecture: it moves and lives with the river,” Rogers said.

Canvas walls can be stretched over the fore and aft of the boat, Rogers said, and it will be equipped with solar panels donated by Portland-based ReVision Energy.

Brittany Angelo of Revision said the journey fits the company mission of promoting the reduced costs and environmental benefits of solar power.

The women will rely on river currents as much as possible, but the boat also has an outboard motor to power them away from heavier river traffic, and through and around locks and dams.

With the Michi Zeebee on a trailer in Portland, Rogers and du Houx had not yet installed the paddle wheel that will power animations of river life. While traveling, the two will also take sonar readings of river depths.

Planned stops include a floating exhibition in Dubuque, Iowa, a “River Monologues” event in Memphis, Tennessee, and a final party and exhibition in New Orleans.

Working together as Carrier Pigeon Studio, and with a grant from the Rhode Island School of Design, where du Houx teaches, the women plan to steer a course gathering stories and thoughts from people living on and near the river. Their progress can be followed at the Carrier Pigeon website.

The Apprenticeshop also donated a canvas canoe, built in Castine, that Rogers and du Houx will use to explore waterways that flow into the Mississippi.

The women expect to complete the trip in September, then return to Maine to share the stories they gather.

“We believe that to truly understand the narrative of a river and how it is connected to the communities along its banks you must travel it,” du Houx said. “The boat will act as a storytelling tool as well as a story-gathering tool.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Emily du Houx, left, and Morgan Rogers will float the Michi Zeebee down the Mississippi River this summer. They were joined in Portland June 28 by Brittany Angelo, right, of Revision Energy, which is providing solar panels for the vessel.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.