River as Wasteland by Chelsey Chapman

What does the Ohio River bring to mind?

Is it a biome? A threat? A provider of livelihoods?

For students participating in “36 Miles: Revealing the Ohio,” a collaborative, creative research project, the river is all of these things and more.

Gresham, Smith and Partners’ Urban Design and Landscape Architecture Studio hosted “36 Miles” in partnership with UofL’s Hite Art Institute and the University of Kentucky Department Of Landscape Architecture.  

The purpose of the project is to bridge art and design education, increase environmental awareness and connect people with Louisville’s hallmark waterway.

“The goal is to reconnect the general public with the history and culture of the river by telling its story in an approachable, highly visual way,” said Louis R. Johnson, project manager with Gresham, Smith and Partners. “The team will reveal important moments in Louisville’s River History and special places unknown to many residents.”

The project resulted in an exhibition at the newly opened Louisville Visual Arts, 1538 Lytle St., through May 13. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Nine students from Hite’s advanced photography class, taught by associate professor Mary Carothers, participated in the project and have pieces on display.

River as Spine by Kelsi Wermuth
River as Spine by Kelsi Wermuth

“My artwork examines the river as the backbone of Louisville,” said Hite student Kelsi Wermuth. “Its vital existence is the reason human beings settled in the area. Just as the spine is the main neurological delivery system in our bodies, more cargo is delivered through the Ohio River than any other water system in our nation. This photographic sculpture references the life this geographical feature gives humanity.”River as Spine- kelsi Wermuth 1

Two Hite students have fathers who are both river boat captains, which inspired their pieces.

Chelsea Wolfe used texts and pictures of her father’s location on his boat’s route with coordinates to compile a large-scale photo map of his trip.

Kathryn Harrington worked with her father to choose their favorite images from his trips to create an archive of what the river means to him as a captain: a livelihood, way of life and home away from home.

River as Livelihood by Kathryn Harrington
River as Livelihood by Kathryn Harrington

Carothers, who has also created art tied to the river, said she was impressed with what the students accomplished through the project, and hopes to continue the work in the future.

“I’d love to design a class around it,” she said.

Infrastructure, created in collaboration by Jeff Embree (UK Landscape Architecture) and Kelsi Wermuth (UofL Hite Art Institute).
Infrastructure by Jeff Embree (UK Landscape Architecture) and Kelsi Wermuth (UofL Hite Art Institute).
Niki King
Niki King Jones is positive she has the best job at the University of Louisville, serving the communication needs of the departments of fine arts and theatre, the School of Music, University Libraries and Alumni – all the fun, creative stuff. Before coming to UofL in 2015, Niki held communication positions in both private and nonprofit sectors in Louisville, Ky., including at Heaven Hill Distilleries and the Jewish Community of Louisville. For 10 years prior, she was a reporter at various newspapers across the country, most recently The Courier-Journal. Niki graduated from the University of Memphis with a BA in journalism and has a masters degree in community and leadership development from the University of Kentucky.