The Dory Project is the latest in a series of projects that began with my Floatposium on Art, Nature and Science (a multi-day, river-based symposium) which evolved into the Headwaters Field Study course. Through these projects I have been looking for new ways to bring together Colorado creatives, scientists, and environmental advocates to share ideas on the serious water issues facing Colorado and the Western United States with a larger audience.
The latest iteration of this research, The Dory Project, is socially engaged art research project that would use a wooden river boat as both a metaphorical and literal vehicle to foster discussions about the exploration and exploitation of Western rivers. The project seeks to raise awareness of urban dwellers to whom water issues can seem remote and abstract. I am a great believer in the narrative power of objects, and in my many years of working as a river guide and outdoor educator there have been few objects as evocative as dory boats. Aside from their sometimes-lyrical aesthetic qualities, wooden boats have played a significant role in our relationship to the Western landscape. The Colorado River basin remained largely unexplored until the 1869 expedition led by John Wesley Powell took four wooden Whitehall boats on a three-month trip to explore the Green and Colorado Rivers. Nearly a century later it was a version of the wooden McKenzie River drift boats that conservationist/ agitator Martin Litton used to explore the Grand Canyon while he and the Sierra Club opposed plans to dam the Colorado River inside the national park in the early 1960’s.
Phase 1: Construction and Community Outreach
The boat would be a focal point for conversations about Western U.S. history, science, and even engaged object-making with the Denver community in general, and creatives, teachers and students in particular. Initially these conversations will take the form of community discussions and demonstrations around the boat as it takes shape and could include events around the greater Denver area. guest speakers that could be to engage with participants and lend new perspectives and expertise to the discussions. In addition, there will be opportunities for undergraduate students and local creatives to participate in the project at this stage and leave their mark on the boat itself.
Phase 2: The Boat Residency
In the second phase of the project Denver creatives will be invited to participate in short river trips in the dory and then create a work based on their experience. These pieces could span a variety of creative disciplines and media such as literature as well as visual and performing arts and would be cataloged in an online gallery. The completed dory will be able to take artists to places that are difficult to access in any other way which will give them a unique perspective on Colorado’s water issues. Much as Martin Litton used his fleet of boats to build a community of advocates for the rivers and canyons of the West, so too will this boat enable creatives and others to see the rivers that form the lifeblood of Colorado and the West.
Martin Litton running Lava Falls in a dory.
Image courtesy of OARS