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New exhibit steams through Mississippi River’s past

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11 February, 2019 By Jennifer Nixon

It has been called "the spine of our nation," a geographical feature that splits the country almost in half. It has been the site of triumph and tragedy, a source of dreams and inspiration.

Now, the Mississippi River is the focus of a new temporary exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Center: "The Mighty Mississippi: A Mosaic of America's Growth," open through March 3.

"The exhibit really explores the river's impact on the growth of America, its impact on the environment, economy, culture, commerce, transportation, literature," explains Ben Thielemier, communications manager for the Clinton Foundation.

It explores all that through an eclectic collection of objects that Thielemier describes as "a cross-section. Just a glimpse at the incredible impact this river has had on the growth of our country."

That assemblage includes:

  • A model of the ill-fated Sultana steamboat, which burned and sank April 27, 1865, near Marion, killing roughly half of 2,400 passengers aboard. "It's a story a lot of people are not familiar with," says exhibit curator Stephanie Sims.
  • Norman Rockwell lithographs.
  • First editions of Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and "The Prince and the Pauper."
  • A 500-pound bale of hay.
  • A steamboat whistle.
  • Blues albums.
  • Handmade instruments.
  • Copies of letters from 1927 flood survivors.

The items come from a variety of sources including the Plantation Agriculture Museum in Scott, the Delta Cultural Center in Helena-West Helena, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Mo., and the Mississippi River Museum at Memphis' Mud Island.

"The diverse institutions we were able to work with are indicative of the diverse impact of the river on the growth of America," Thielemier says.

The exhibit is this year's Fusion: Arts + Humanities Arkansas exhibit. The program, which started three years ago, explores heritage, culture and human achievement through the lens of a single historical topic. Other topics have been the Quapaw tribe and the Louisiana Purchase. The Mississippi River, though, is big enough that Sims says, "We actually have to do it in two parts."

This exhibit focuses on America's growth. Next year will dig deeper into the culture of the southern Delta.


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