A bottle cast afloat with a message inside, to be found by an unknown person on an unknown shore, is a staple of stories and legends. Sometimes these bottles are real. This summer, the Figge will present Chad Pregracke’s collection of 40 such bottles, collected on his annual cleanup campaigns along the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio and other rivers. The bottles will be shown intact, in specially crafted boxes, alongside images of the message for each bottle. The messages vary in nature, from silliness to seriousness, reflecting our own varying thoughts about the meaning of the river as an emotional touchstone. A large map shows the location where each bottle was collected.
In 1998, at the age of 23, Pregracke founded Living Lands & Waters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to removing trash and debris from the banks and waters of the Mississippi River. Since then, Pregracke has led a dedicated crew and more than 90,000 volunteers in removing millions of pounds of trash from the nation’s waterways and planting hundreds of thousands of native trees to stabilize and reforest riverbanks. His efforts have earned him national acclaim, including the Jefferson Award and the CNN Hero of the Year award.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, From the Bottom Up: One Man's Crusade to Clean America's Rivers tells the story of Pregracke's personal triumph as an advocate for America's rivers. Chad measures success in tons of garbage removed and thousands of people with a new stake in—and a new understanding of—the river environment. But the book is much more as well: a first-person chronicle of Chad's own life along the Mississippi featuring colorful characters, a near-death experience, a haunted swamp, and other flourishes worthy of a modern Mark Twain; and a fascinating portrait of the river itself which explores everything from the natural history of mussels and catfish to Indian lore to the key role of the Mississippi in our country's history.
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