Canoe Art in Missouri's Floating Capital
In 2011 the Steelville Arts Council created The Great Steelville Canoe Float, a community art project designed to lure tourists, raise money, and promote Steelville's claim to be the "Floating Capital of Missouri." The response was enthusiastic, 20 artworks went up around town, and the Arts Council ended 2011 satisfied that the project had been a success.
But Steelville wanted more. Wholly unexpectedly, the town rallied itself and put up a dozen more artworks in 2012. This was only possible because the Arts Council had hit upon a magic formula: free art. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars apiece to bring in fiberglass pelicans or buffalo, Steelville used canoes, donated by float outfitters, and volunteer artists who were local residents. Since the canoe art costs nothing, Steelville could in theory keep putting up new examples every year.
Many of the art canoes have themes that you'd expect: nature, Native Americans, canoeing. But there are unique examples as well, worthy of recognition. "Telecommunications Past and Present" was painted by the wife of the owner of the local telephone exchange, and features a pole-climbing lineman on the bottom and a variety of telephones and computers painted inside the hull. The wispy water wraith of "Ol' Man River" was sponsored by the town undertaker (and painted by the mother and daughter who run Steelville's soda fountain) while "St. Francis Pray for Us" was sponsored by the town veterinarian.
A double-sided bird's-eye perspective hollow tree was painted by the high school art class, while the 8th graders depicted an ocean liner sinking in a sea of sharks with a reaper in a canoe on one side, and what appears to be a bursting dam on the other.
Oddly, none of the canoes commemorate Steelville's designation as the 1990-2000 population center of the U.S., marked by a monument on the outskirts of town. Yet.