Joshua Rowan and Libby Reuter have been collaborating on Watershed Cairns since 2011 to draw attention to the unseen water in our communities. Rowan has photographed more than 75 evocative, large-scale photographs of Reuter’s found-glass sculptures, or cairns, temporarily placed to mark locations in metro St. Louis where the watershed is working to collect, clean, and conduct fresh water … or not. Because the entire Mississippi River watershed is interconnected, Watershed Cairns’ goal is to mark the entire length of the river.
In June 2016, they began creating new work starting at the river’s headwaters, flowing from Lake Itasca, Minnesota. Following the river as it meandered north, then east, and finally south along the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, they produced 23 new cairn images at 20 distinct locations. The artists will return to locations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa during 2016-17 to continue representing the Upper Mississippi River. In 2017-18 they will work at sites from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico.
Two cairns, one featuring blue glass and a second with white and clear glass, were created for the Upper Mississippi River cairns from glass Reuter purchased in the immediate area in March 2016. Driving along the river on the way to Lake Itasca, the artists observed that the shapes of channel-marking buoys, with broad bases tapering to a light at the top, were similar to the blue cairn’s form. The resemblance was a happy coincidence because Watershed Cairns also mark the river’s path, and this cairn was named Blue Buoy. In contrast, the white cairn is slender and curvaceous, a shape similar to hands displaying the hours and minutes on old clocks. This silhouette forms another parallel relationship because the cairns function as pointers, drawing attention to specific sites on the watery web. In the first photographic shoots in June 2016, the Blue Buoy and White Pointer cairns were used separately, but as the artists moved southward in Minnesota and into Wisconsin, the two cairns were modified and combined in different ways to best fit the site. Changes were made as glass parts broke and new elements were added on the journey. New cairns will be assembled for larger cities in the Upper Mississippi River in 2016-17. They will be combined with components from Blue Buoy, White Pointer, and other cairns for additional sites on the watershed.
Images are listed in sequence traveling away from the headwaters.