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St. Louis painter premieres exhibition that views America from a different perspective: its rivers

Daven Anderson's "Last Light" captures life on a boat hauling 15 barges on the Ohio River at twilight.
Daven Anderson
Daven Anderson's "Last Light" captures life on a boat hauling 15 barges on the Ohio River at twilight.

Riddle me this: What surrounds us as Americans that most of us have never directly experienced?

If you guessed “our nation’s waterways,” you would be correct. Rivers and lakes are everywhere you turn in this country. This is perhaps no more so true than in St. Louis, which is cradled by the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and their many tributaries.

So it makes sense that St. Louis-based painter Dave Anderson would turn his most recent gallery exhibition into a tribute to America’s aquatic arteries.

The exhibition, titled "THE RIVERS: A Celebration of Life and Work on America's Waterways,” is on display now through March 27 at the St. Louis Mercantile Library. On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Anderson joined St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter to discuss his work documenting the rivers.

“In the 19th century, the average American knew the importance of the river because that’s how travel was: that’s how they moved all goods and commerce,” Anderson said. “Today, the average American has no clue about how important they are.”

Anderson himself has extensive experience on the water. He was a U.S. Naval submariner during  the Cold War and worked in shipping by barge for many years after that. He’s bareboated in the Caribbean and Lake Superior. He now makes it his business to get up close and personal to many types of waterway life.

His current exhibition, which includes some 25 paintings in oil and watercolor, captures marine scenes — but they aren’t abstract views of the sunset over the water. Anderson captures precise, detailed views of commerce on the waterways at all different times of day.

In one image, titled “Last Light,” Anderson captures life on a boat hauling 15 barges on the Ohio River at twilight. Anderson spent several days on that boat, observing life and taking photos to refer to later during the painting process.

Most of Anderson’s work is big, but the two largest paintings are 30 x 40 inches in oil.

He says he chooses to paint representationally because his deal with the people operating the boats is that he will give them a print of whatever he paints from the trip.

“When they see their equipment, they want to know it is their equipment,” Anderson said. “They don’t want impressionistic, they want detail.”

I tell people all the time: I don't have blood in my veins, it is river water.- Daven Anderson

Anderson said most people don’t understand how challenging, and dangerous, the barge business is. He recently rode an ARTCO barge down the upper Mississippi. As opposed to the lower Mississippi which has no locks to travel through, the upper Mississippi has 27 locks for barge conductors to traverse during the day — and the night.

“Going up the Mississippi at midnight: It is very eerie but having been on the water as much as I have, I love it,” Anderson said. “My problem when I get on the line boats, I want to be up with the pilot or down in the boats all the time, so I basically get no sleep for two days.”

Anderson said the commonality between all the people and processes depicted in his paintings is that they all can’t get away from the water. That just happens to be why he’s drawn to painting life on the rivers too. As he put it:

“I tell people all the time: I don’t have blood in my veins, it is river water.”

Related Events

What: St. Louis Mercantile Library Presents "The Rivers: A Celebration of Life and Work on Americas Waterways"
When: February 4, 2017-March 27, 2017
Where: St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri-St. Louis
More information.

What: Daven Anderson Gallery Talks
When: Sunday, February 19 and Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 1 p.m.
Where: St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri-St. Louis
More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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