By Amanda Honigfort
A winding silver metallic representation of the navigable Missouri River – all 735 miles from the confluence in St. Louis, to the end of the navigable portion of the river – opened at the Gateway Arch National Park Sept. 22 and will remain through Dec. 21.
This piece is the winner of a competition from Critical Mass for the Visual Arts that asked artists to envision a public art display for Luther Ely Smith Square at the base of the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse or Kiener Plaza.
“We started working with the Critical Mass Arts project about a year ago,” said Tara Rath, the Urban Fellow at the Gateway Arch National Park. “We worked with them to include the significance of the park, and they landed on Margaret Keller’s piece – Riverbend.”
When Margaret Keller heard of the contests, she immediately envisioned a work of art that both evoked and reflected the Arch. She said she wanted to draw attention to the Missouri river’s role in westward expansion and connect the gateway to the west with the settlers route to the west.
“It goes to the end of the navigable Missouri, but the Missouri River is actually the longest river in North America, so if I were to do the whole thing, it would likely go all the way to Union Station,” Keller said.
Constructing the work wasn’t without its challenges.
“I had a terrible time getting ahold of the material because it’s such a new invention – just in 2018,” Keller said.
After speaking with the manufacturer and several distributors, she finally found someone who would sell her the needed amount. Then there was prepping it – printing out all 140 of the Civil Corps of Engineers river maps, scaling it down, drawing and cutting it out – followed by an 8-hour installation in the blazing sun.
“What excited me about the process was looking at the map charts for the river because they were so beautiful and they had every little detail,” said Keller. “And what I started to notice was the riverbend names. Every curve and every riverbend has a name, and the names were just so poetic and historic.”
Rath and the Gateway Arch National Park staff hope that the public art piece helps bring locals back down to reconnect with their national park.