Peer ReviewedTitle:A River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper MississippiJournal Issue:Journal for Learning through the Arts, 11(1)Author:Henderson, Lynette K, California State University, NorthridgePublication /12f3c2m2Acknowledgements:I would like to thank the National Art Education Foundation for their funding and support, as wellas all the faculty and students who participated and helped bring the project to life.Author Bio:Associate Professor of Art Education. Joined CSUN Department of Art in 2006. BFA (1986), MFA(1989) and PhD in Art Education/Curriculum and Instruction (2006). Research interests includeinterdisciplinary, multi-and cross-cultural topics and issues in art and education. Dr. Henderson isalso a working artist (painter) and regularly participates in exhibitions.Keywords:Art Education, Art, Environment, Geology, History, InterdisciplinaryLocal Identifier:class lta 20880Abstract:This article presents a pilot interdisciplinary project for middle-school students including visualliteracy, studio art, English-language literacy, geology and the study of indigenous groups.[i] Thelocation of the pilot was in the upper Midwest, along the Mississippi river bluffs of St. Paul,Minnesota. English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) students from a Title I school joined a six weeksummer program, where they examined the banks and bluffs of the Mississippi river, effigy moundsites, and made visits to the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Institute ofArt. This curriculum investigates ‘place’ and effects of time, with the intent to increase students’knowledge of local history, and their placement within the socio-cultural context of a river-city.Students took digital photographs, created mixed-media art, conducted computer research andeScholarship provides open access, scholarly publishingservices to the University of California and delivers a dynamicresearch platform to scholars worldwide.

wrote about their experiences. Teachers agreed that this combination of learning strategies wasa rich interdisciplinary experience for students. This article describes the various componentsand resources for such interdisciplinary curriculum, with emphasis on skill-building, knowledgeacquisition and exploring connections.[i] This project was funded by a grant from the National Art Education Foundation (NAEF).Copyright Information:All rights reserved unless otherwise indicated. Contact the author or original publisher for anynecessary permissions. eScholarship is not the copyright owner for deposited works. Learn moreat copyright.html#reuseeScholarship provides open access, scholarly publishingservices to the University of California and delivers a dynamicresearch platform to scholars worldwide.

Henderson: A River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper MississippiA River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper MississippiLynette K. Henderson, Ph.D.California State University, Northridge.AbstractThis article presents a pilot interdisciplinary project for middle-school students includingvisual literacy, studio art, English-language literacy, geology and the study of indigenous groups.This grant-funded project (National Art Education Foundation, NAEF), was located in theNorthern Midwest, along the Mississippi river bluffs of St. Paul, Minnesota. English-as-aSecond Language (ESL) students from a Title I school enrolled in a six week summer programThey examined the banks and bluffs of the Mississippi river and effigy mound sites, combinedwith visits to the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Thiscurriculum investigates ‘place’ and effects of time, with the intent to increase students’knowledge of local history, and their relationship to the socio-cultural context of a river-city.Students took digital photographs, created mixed-media art, conducted research and wrote abouttheir experiences. Teachers agreed that this combination of learning strategies was a richinterdisciplinary experience for students. This article describes the various components andresources of this interdisciplinary curriculum, with emphasis on skill-building, knowledgeacquisition and exploring connections.IntroductionA major bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed in 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota,killing 13 people and injuring many others. Video recordings of this tragedy are still available toview on YouTube (, 2007). While this type of disaster has been rare in the U.S.,citizens who live near rivers or lakes are periodically reminded of the importance and inherentpower of water and waterways. Many U.S. states have experienced an onslaught of movingwater due to heavy rains, such as Louisiana and Texas (2001, 2005), Oregon and Washington(2008), New Jersey (2011), and Colorado (2013). This type of event does not affect everyoneequally. The 2005 Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, for example, illustrated the divide betweenwho lived on low ground and who lived above, often a matter of socio-cultural and economicfactors (Walker & Warren, 2007).1

Journal for Learning through the Arts, 11(1) (2015)Aside from potential dangers of settlement near a river, one of the fascinating aspects ofriver towns such as the ‘Twin Cities’ of St. Paul and Minneapolis, is that the history of thewaterway and people who have come and gone over time is often still visible. From the watercarved sandstone bluffs (Theiling & Nestler, 2010; Delong, 2005), caves (The Herald, 2004; LosAngeles Times, 1896; New York Times, 1896) and human-made effigy or ‘Indian’ mounds(Schermer, 2012; Mann, 2005; Ravenscroft Danzer, 2002; Wilford, 1950), to the early railroadtracks used to transport people, materials and goods (Grant, 2000/2001; Martin, 1976; Ryan,1946; Sedgwick, 1944), a variety of people have come in waves to the upper Mississippiregion. Indigenous peoples lived there as early as 3000 BCE (Nassaney, 2008; Savage & Spence,2011). French explorers arrived in 1659 (Ibson, 2005), and various European descendants(including Britain, Germany, Finland, and Sweden) marked U.S. statehood in 1787 (1858 forMinnesota) (Card, 2008; Dyer, 1959). Hmong people came from Southeast Asia in the 1970s(Tribune, 1999; Tatman, 2004), and the most recent major group to settle in Minnesota is fromSomalia (Shah, 2012). Some of these individuals came to explore, some groups hoped to conquercommunities already in residence (Meyer, 1999/2000; Ritzenthaler, 1970), while still otherssought refuge from their place of origin. This curriculum investigates people, place and effects oftime (see Figures 1 & 2), with the intent to increase students’ knowledge of local history, seatedin socio-cultural and political context (map of Minnesota river cities at ).22

Henderson: A River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper MississippiFigure 1. St. Anthony Falls on the upper Mississippi, oil on canvas, 22” x 30”,by Henry Lewis,1848-1849. (Photo from collection of MNHS, 2014).Figure 2. Upper Mississippi River, view from the east bank, just above St. Anthony Falls,Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Dreamtime, 2009).33

Journal for Learning through the Arts, 11(1) (2015)Project CurriculumStudent ParticipantsThe middle-school students that participated in this project were part of the summerprogram at a Title I school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Just entering 7th through 9th grades, theyrepresented students with the highest academic needs, English–as-a-Second-Language (ESL)student group. The lowest 25% in standardized test scores were from the seventh grade class.Students represented countries such as Mexico, Nepal and Tanzania. In addition to the languageand academic variables, some of the students had family concerns: frequent moving, lowincomes, and some were occasionally required to take care of siblings rather than come toschool. In addition to those issues, sudden changes sometimes occurred in our class schedule,including periodic sessions at a week-long summer camp, day activities with communityorganizations, or testing.The ESL teacher noted that in general students were happy to come to school in thesummer because they would otherwise have few activities in which to engage. All of the 20 pilotstudents participated at various points during the summer and a core group of about 14 attendedregularly. About 30 additional students accompanied our smaller group on the field trips to theScience Museum, the effigy mounds and the River bluffs.Teaching ParticipantsIn addition to myself, three teachers from the participating school comprised our coregroup: an ESL and social studies teacher (Teacher I), whose student groups were the mainparticipants; a media teacher (Teacher II) who worked with students on manipulating their digitalphotographs, and a middle-school teacher who was completing her credential and worked withus in the classroom for several weeks (Teacher III). This group of teachers and I utilized theentire summer 5.5-week program period (approx. 1.25 hours per day for each of two groups, 4days per week for classroom instruction) for the project.Researcher Participation and Data CollectionDuring our class instruction I was the main teacher for all art activities, relatedvocabulary, and part of the reading. On field trips I facilitated the photography and was one ofseveral group supervisors, while for the writing and parts of the reading I was an observer. I took44

Henderson: A River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper Mississippiphotos of students’ work at the end of the class day, when projects were complete and during ourfield trips at the Science Museum, the Minneapolis Art Institute, Indian Mounds Park andMississippi River Bluffs. I collected students’ individual artwork and writing, and extensivelydocumented the collaborative display, which culminated the project. This display remained intactthe entire 2011-2012 school year. It was a mixed-media representation of the Mississippi RiverBluffs and effigy Mounds, including landforms, figures and artifacts (Figures 3 & 4). The figuresrepresented two Native American groups - the Anishinabe (Ojibwe) and Dakotas (Sioux), whohad immigrated up the river to this location, and still live in various parts of Minnesota (Peacock& Day, 2000; White, B.M., 1992). The characters in the display are depicted conducting dailyactivities in their early settlement years, on top of the bluffs and on the river’s banks.Figure 3. Final display with effigy mounds and figures, upper bluff. (Photo by Author, 2012.)55

Journal for Learning through the Arts, 11(1) (2015)Figure 4. Display with lower bluff, caves, Mississippi River, figures and canoes. (Photo by Author, 2012.)Resources and InformationThere are a number of resources for both teachers and students that may be common toother states across the U.S. In addition to a library search for journal articles, two excellentsources of visual and written information for our project were the online collections of theMinnesota Historical Society (MNHS,, and the Minnesota Department ofNatural Resources (MN DNR, Another key resource wasthe Science Museum of Minnesota, for information on the Mississippi River( and their Anthropology online site( Examples of articles include Cutler’s (2009) overview ofthe Mississippi river around St. Anthony Falls (the first lock-and-dam site), which is very similarto the timeline we utilized, examining past to present. Our group looked at the river bluffsprimarily from a visual perspective, with a light discussion of sandstone and limestone, erosionand glacial movement, however, this aspect of the curriculum could be much more prominent for66

Henderson: A River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper Mississippigeological study. Anfinson’s (2003) article on St. Anthony Falls shows excellent visual images ofthe falls from 12,000 years ago to the 1850’s, including numerous photos and a map of the earlyriver-cities. Knox’s article on floodplain sedimentation provides detailed technical info, withmaps and description of similarities and differences in the areas surrounding the Southeasternportion of the state (Knox, 2006). Two of the books we procured: Life in an Anishinabe Camp(Kalman, 2002) and Life in a Plains Camp (Kalman, 2001) were illustrated with line drawings ofclothing, housing, tools and other artifacts, very similar to actual artifacts displayed in the NativeAmerican Arts section at Minneapolis Institute of Art (see online collections at( In addition to excellent illustrations, these books described environment,social structures, daily activities and what it was like to encounter Europeans, for indigenousgroups in the Great Lakes region (Kalman, 2002, p.3; Kalman, 2001, p.3).Historical Accounts and Cultural BiasesAlthough theoretically understood in education, an important reminder for teachers whilereviewing historical information in practice is that it is up to the teacher to recognize biases inphoto collections, articles and exhibits. Teachers need to keep an eye out for information that isskewed towards a perspective of the dominant group only as heroes, and indigenous people as‘romantic’, ‘primitive’, ‘savage’ or as victims whose culture exists only in the past, for example(Fleming, 2006; Hawkins, 2005; Belcourt-Dittloff & Stewart, 2000). It is important to rememberthat language makes a difference. For example, although described as primarily a peacefulpeople in other writings, the single phrase “war-like Sioux” (Drenning-Holmquist, 1951), canconjure up Hollywood stereotypes about continuously ‘hostile Indians’. To assist in creating anequitable picture of the past, investigating a variety of interdisciplinary information sources andlocal community and school sites can help balance points-of-view. For example, a website on theU.S.-Dakota War of 1862 provides details on causes of the war such as withholding of foodstores by the U.S. military, information which may be absent from local history museums(; another resource on this conflict is a documentary feature filmproduced by Smooth Feather Productions, entitled Dakota 38 (, 2012).Migizi Communications ( is a middle and high school program inMinneapolis, focused on science, technology, and math. This school has produced videos withstudents and posted them on YouTube, such as this video explaining meaning and connection77

Journal for Learning through the Arts, 11(1) (2015)regarding land and sacred sites (see amaniHcBsiA, 2010).Other community sources identify more recent historical (possibly ongoing) issues with NativeAmericans, land and water use. Aarnot’s 1997 article in The Circle newspaper, for example,identifies important contemporary conflicts relating to treaty rights and use of water and land.1Thorpe’s 1995 article describes the pressure of power companies to convince reservations toallow storage of nuclear waste on reservation lands. Additional resources may be found throughthe Native Web website, which provides news sources from indigenous groups across the U.S.and globally:, and Indian Country Today is a media network for awide variety of North American news sources, at such as these, in addition to peer-reviewed journals, can provide useful photos,interviews and contemporary news.Climate ScienceWhile not a part of our original unit it is difficult to ignore climate science and globalwarming as an important contemporary topic affecting people, water and land. Resources for thissubject include websites such as (2013), providing science information, resources and artcurriculum ideas for social-action oriented artwork such as banners. Other resource examples onthe subject of global warming, pollution, related economic and health issues are cartoons andillustrations by Stephanie McMillan (, and videos such as GlobalWeirding (2013). Journal articles such as Climate Science, Rising Tide (2013), Climate Change:Making Healthier Energy Choices (2013), and Can Climate Change be Reversed underCapitalism? (2009) provide points-of-view and factual information. Local universities couldprovide a contemporary guest speaker who could answer students’ immediate questions, anexcellent way to facilitate understanding of this complex and often contested topic.Early Inhabitants and a Changing LandscapeEffigy Mound BuildersIt is not known for sure if the early Dakotas contributed to the effigy (also called IndianMounds) mounds on top of the bluffs in the St. Paul area of the Mississippi River (see figures 5& 6), or exactly who were the “Late Woodland peoples” (Barrett, 2004, p. 141; Schermer, 2012;Peacock & Day, 2000) believed to be living in the upper Mississippi River area as early as88

Henderson: A River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper Mississippi20,000 years ago (Wilford, 1944), and as late as 1700 C.E. Some research on these groupsidentifies the mound-builders as the “Effigy Mound Culture” (Clark, 1982), dating fromapproximately C.E. 650 to 1200. Native groups in the area consider such effigy mounds assacred, regardless of the research mentioned. Research on mounds located in the lowerMississippi river basin and at the Rainy River on the northern border of Minnesota and Canada(Ritzenthaler, 1970; Wilford, 1950), infer that the same careful construction that occurred withthose mounds would also apply to the St. Paul location, including an eye not only onpreservation but concern for “symbolic and ritual practices ” (Sherwood & Kidder, 2011, p.84).At one time in St. Paul there were 19 additional mounds (Wilford, 1944), however due todevelopment of the city there are only 6 mounds left in what is now named Indian Mounds Park.A number of smaller mounds were actually destroyed in creating the park that currentlypreserves the remaining six (National Registry, undated document registering Indian MoundsPark).Figure 6.Figure 5. Indian Mounds Park, St. Paul, MN, early 20th century. Hiking path going to the topof the mounds in the early days of the park. (Photo from MNHS collection, 2014).Contemporary view of effigy mound with warning sign,Indian Mounds Park, St. Paul. (Photo by author, 2011).A Changing Landscape99

Journal for Learning through the Arts, 11(1) (2015)Factual information can highlight a compare and contrast of values for various groups,and how those values play out in a changing landscape. Individuals involved in early railroadconstruction in St. Paul, for example, were responsible for the destruction of much of Wakan Tipi(also known as Carver’s Cave), long considered a sacred place by indigenous groups(Brownwell, 2011; Anfinson, 2003; Lewis, 1896; Los Angeles Times, 1886; New York Times,1857). Although what is left of the area is now preserved, the cave - famous for carvings andpaintings dating from pre-history, was blasted to make way for a railroad yard.2 Individualsexcavating in the name of archeology or anthropology, for example, destroyed many effigymounds across the Mississippi region. Even if ‘professional’ (which many were not), excavators’documentation of their finds is often clearly biased and ignorant of the desecration. Dickeson, forexample, one such “physician and scientist” (Heilbron, 1942, p.349), travelled around theU.S.for 12 years advertising “scientific lectures” (p. 350) in excavations of over 1,000Mississippi mounds. One poster for his lectures advertised: “Scientific Lectures on AmericanAerchiology of the Antiquities and Customs [and a] collection of over 40,000 relics ofthose interesting but unhistoried Native Americans” (p.350).Visual art often functioned as both entertainment and a way for the public to view newlyexplored territory in the growing U.S. (Arrington, 1953). Painted mural-like panoramas forexample, were popular in the middle to late 1800’s. A poster advertising a ticketed panoramaviewing associated with Dickeson’s travels and excavations declared the images to be “ of alarge extent of Country, once roamed by the RED MAN ”, p. 351. Artifacts pulled from effigymounds in this type of excavation, including human bones (Lewis, 1896), were in individuals’private possession. Some were eventually donated to museums and many were sold to otherindividuals, but the artifacts were clearly lost to indigenous groups associated with the mounds(Chaatsmith, 2011; Wilford, 1950).3Curriculum Content and ActivitiesThe “F” Words (and Related Vocabulary)I made a practice of repeating some words daily: focus and frame were the two targetedvocabulary words that related to taking photographs and making collages about the Indian effigymound formations. Many of the students had never used a camera, therefore we spent time on theconcept of focusing on a particular image and framing it through a viewfinder, in anticipation of1010

Henderson: A River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper Mississippilooking through the camera lens. To support curriculum understanding and for viewing practice,the first art activity we did was to select images from magazines, including people, objects andnature, then framing them on paper (Figure 7).Figure 7. Focus and Frame exercise. (Student work, photo by author, 2011).Once the students had gotten used to selecting images and framing them, we advanced todeveloping students’ recognition of shapes using the Indian mounds (half-circles), and to creatingperspective using shape, change of scale and overlap. Students took images of people andobjects from magazines and incorporated them into a collage with varying sizes of moundshapes; these mound shapes also changed color and value as they receded into the distance(Figure 8). In this way students would have some recognition of these formal art concepts as theyphotographed outdoors (Figure 9).Figure 8. Shape, value, scale and overlap exercise.(Student work with magazine cutouts, photo by author, 2011.)1111

Journal for Learning through the Arts, 11(1) (2015)Figure 9. Student photographing the mounds. (Photo by author, 2011.)Essential class reading was about two groups who settled in Minnesota (a word from theDakota translating as “sky-tinted-water”, Peacock & Day, 2000, p. 137). The Dakotas arebelieved to have arrived very early, sometime after the glaciers receded. The Anishinabe arrivedmuch more recently, in the early 1700’s (Whispering Wind, 2000; Boszhardt, 1998). Until theFederal government imposed assimilation policies beginning in 1887 (Peacock & Day, 2000),these groups lived in communities of between 300-400 members. Both groups “reliedextensively on the forests, rivers and lakes for food, materials for clothing, tools, housing andtransportation.” (p.149). Community members harvested grains, trapped, hunted and fished allthrough the year. The Dakotas and Anishinabe generally got along with each other. In their earlydays, “[these] American Indians did not pursue technological advances, or the domination ofthe land, choosing instead to live a spiritual existence in harmony with nature” (p. 150).1212

Henderson: A River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper MississippiFigure 10. Exploring the bluffs. (Photo by author, 2011.)Figure 11. Examining a floor map of the Mississippi River at the science museum. (Photo by author, 2011.)Field Trips, Photography and People in ActionPrior to going on our field trips I provided students with a brief list of items tophotograph, including the mounds, the bluffs, rocks, trees, flowers, and the river, and a few at theScience Museum (Figures 10 and 11). They were instructed to include both distance and close-1313

Journal for Learning through the Arts, 11(1) (2015)up images. Our group also spent time searching online for photos and information on the animalspecies that occupy the water, the land and the skies of this area. As a quick method to learnabout this aspect of the environment, students printed the images, cut them out and arrangedthem on a piece of mural paper with animal names, to be included in our display (Figure 12).Figure 12. River-related animal and insect cutouts. (Photo by author, 2011.)After visiting the museums, bluffs, mounds and river-banks, I gathered all of the studentcameras, developed the film and put the images on CDs for digital access. Students then spenttime on the computer with a digital photo program modifying their photos, cropping andadjusting light and color, and sharpening images. We then printed the images on photo paper forthe highest resolution and color. The final stage of the project was the 3D mixed-media versionof the area, for which we used as visual references student photos, online information, and thetwo illustrated books by Kalman (2001, 2002). We used a large piece of cardboard (from a box,approximately 6’ x 10’) that was bent into three sections over a tabletop and onto the floor: ontop were the six mounds, the long front was the bluff with caves, trees and rocks, and the bottomwas the river and river banks. We used masking tape, paper mache, twigs and sticks, sandstonerocks, tissue paper, construction paper and paint (see Figure 13). People in action were depictedin activities such as making food, hunting, and fishing. Representative artifacts included canoes1414

Henderson: A River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper Mississippimade of paper, clothing, bows and arrows, and other related items.4 The completed 3D artwork,animal printouts and photographs were organized by myself and some of the students, in a largeglass case inside the school, on display for the entire fall, spring and summer semesters of 20112012 (Figures 14 & 15).Figure 13. (Left) cardboard structure for bluffs. (Right), detail of completed bluffwith rocks, sticks, tissue paper, paint & paper mache. (Photos by author, 2011.)Figure 14. (Left) completed display case with student photos, animal mural and sculpture of mounds and bluff.(Right) detail of river at bottom of the bluff with figures tending canoes and fishing. (Photos by author, 2011.)1515

Journal for Learning through the Arts, 11(1) (2015)Figure 15. (Left) display case with student work: photos, animal printouts, mounds, figures and related artifacts.(Right) detail of figures drying meat on a rack and cooking next to a fire. (Photos by author, 2011.)Reflections: StudentsStudents were asked to write about their experiences and summarize what they learnedduring this project. The following are excerpts from student reflections. (Note that students’skills in writing varied. To facilitate reading here, in all excerpts below - excluding Student 2 wording was not changed but spelling and some punctuation has been modified by the author):Student 1:“When I went to the field trip I went to the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. I saw a bald eagle and sandstones,and I saw a frog in the streams. I’m glad that in the Twin City there is a place where animals live safe.”Student 2 (student typed and italicized):“I learned the word frame and how to frame a picture so the image is clearer. I also learned how to focus apicture so I can take a really nice photo. I also learned that you could have people and objects in a landscape soit makes the photo more interesting, and that the closer the objects are the bigger the images are. An interestingword I learned was bluff, it means a rock wall usually created by moving water like the Mississippi river. I alsolearned that the natives buried people to create a mound. The mound grew bigger because they put more peopleand more dirt every year. I learned words that I knew but didn’t know how to use them.”Student 3:“Focus is paying close attention to something .A new word that we have is bluff, this word means big wallmade of rocks. The Mississippi is surrounded by bluff .In conclusion I like this class.”Student 4:“Last week when I went to a field trip I saw many things: hobo, trees, Carvers cave, Bald eagle which Indiansused to think was sacred, stream, sandstone, frog, trains, bluffs After two places travelling we went to1616

Henderson: A River Runs Through It: Art, Geology and Life on the Upper Mississippimuseum which was very good to see things of Mississippi river. I saw tugboat, and it looks cool inside .Inconclusion, the field trip was amazing and cool what I learn[ed].”Reflections: TeachersIn general, the participating teachers thought there were numerous benefits to this type ofapproach to curriculum. The following are excerpts from the questionnaires completed byparticipating teachers after the project was over.” perceiving images through the eyes of an artist---looking at perspective, focus, focal points, details---creating images from knowledge gained in the subject area was so relevant and a way for the students to clarifytheir ideas on the subject matter.”- Teacher I, ESL“[making] social studies a literal hands-on activity using cross curricular materials and content [allows] formultiple levels of learning. This in turn helps students live up to their full potential as learners.”– Teacher II, media instructor“The small group setting with focused theme and sequencing of lessons that culminated in a large public artdisplay really helped the students do more than just learn content and language. They also built ties with theircommunity, experienced working with an expert artist, and received public recognition of their work.”– Teacher III, middle school.In addition to the above, there was a desire expressed by Teacher III for more time spent instudent writing, and more time for art, by the art instructor (author). In the conclusi

(1989) and PhD in Art Education/Curriculum and Instruction (2006). Research interests include interdisciplinary, multi-and cross-cultural topics and issues in art and education. Dr. Henderson is also a working artist (painter) and regularly participates in exhibitions. Keywords: Art Education, Art