The Androscoggin River, once devastated by contamination and labeled one of the 10 most polluted rivers in the country, is now partially recovered and in a new phase. The complexities of the river’s legacy and its potential are captured in a cross-disciplinary, collaborative project by Bowdoin professors Matthew Klingle and Michael Kolster.
Klingle, an environmental historian, and Kolster, a photographer, pose important questions about its shifting cultural and economic status in their interactive installation, A River Lost and Found: The Androscoggin in Time and Place, a companion to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art’s William Wegman: Hello Nature, both of which opened July 13.
Also incorporated are oral histories collected on an ongoing basis from members of the Maine community. Visitors to the gallery will be invited to contribute their own memories to the project.
Reflecting upon Maine’s historical identity as both seat of industrial production and vacationland, and looking closely at a river whose very headwaters are in the Rangeley Lakes, A River Lost & Found makes for a compelling companion to William Wegman: Hello Nature.
“Interestingly, Rangeley Lake, where Wegman has lived and worked summers for 30 years, is one of the series of lakes that feed the Androscoggin, directly linking the two places our two shows explore, yet our two shows examine and treat differently certain myths and realities comprising our state’s history and present moment,” says Kolster.
“Ultimately, both William Wegman and the two of us are interested in the way we engage with what we call the “˜great nearby,’ although we use different ways to get there.”
Ultimately, both William Wegman and the two of us are interested in the way we engage with what we call the “˜great nearby,’ although we use different ways to get there.
At the center of the exhibition are photographs of the present-day river and its environs produced through a variety of techniques including 19th-century wet-plate processes that emerged roughly contemporaneous with the Androscoggin’s industrialization.
“Moreover, our project has its own unique merits, some of which are specific to Maine, others of which are national,” adds Klingle.
“First, 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, authored by Sen. Edmund Muskie, who grew up along the banks of the river in Rumford and attended Bates College in Lewiston at the height of river’s pollution. Second, the Androscoggin isn’t a Maine story alone.
“Other iconic American rivers – from the James River in Virginia, birthplace of the American nation and home to the Confederacy’s capital, to the Schuylkill in Pennsylvania, the defining river of Philadelphia – are also waterways once ignored but recovering, if incompletely. Our project reconsiders how we define and value nature in a world were we cannot escape the legacies of our history.”
Visit the A River Lost and Found: The Androscoggin in Time and Place website comprising photographs, writings, oral histories, maps and more about the collaboration.