River Harvest Project Collection, 1987

Summary Information

Collection Summary

Title: River Harvest Project Collection
Dates: 1987

  • Highland Community College (Freeport, Ill.)
  • Dubuque County Historical Society (Dubuque, Iowa)
Unique Identifier: CSUMC00017-CG

Contents: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium: 71 documents, 13 audiocassettes, 322 slides, 297 negatives, 16 contact sheets

Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures
432 East Campus Mall, Room 332
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
Web site: http://csumc.wisc.edu

Archival Location:
National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium (Map)

The River Harvest Project surveyed mainly Upper Mississippi River commercial fishing, clamming, and duck hunting traditions in 1987, including custom wooden and aluminum flatboat building, wooden duckboat building and duck decoy carving, net-fishing, hoop-net knitting as well as fish pickling and smoking. Folklorist Janet C. Gilmore formally interviewed over half of the c. 30 commercial fishermen, fish marketers, and boat builders that she visited on both sides of the river in northeastern Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin, and northwestern Illinois. The survey led to presentations in Iowa and Illinois, photo exhibits at Highland Community College and the Dubuque County Historical Society Museum, as well as commercial fishing demonstrations at the Dubuque County museum in concert with other programming.

Language: The records are in English.

URL to cite for this finding aid: http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/wiarchives.uw-csumc-csumc0017cg
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Collection Concordance by Format
Quantity Physical Description Location
Manuscript Materials
71 documents National Mississippi River Museum
Sound Recordings
13 audiiocassettes National Mississippi River Museum
Graphic Materials
322 color slides National Mississippi River Museum
297 black-and-white negatives National Mississippi River Museum
16 contact sheets National Mississippi River Museum


Illinois Arts Council Ethnic and Folk Arts Program Director Egle Zygas orchestrated an initiative in 1987 to canvass folk arts around the state through several short-term survey grants. Jerry Enzler, Director of the Dubuque County Historical Society and what has become the Mississippi River Museum, and Daryl Watson through Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois (who later became Director of the Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Museum, now known as Galena History Museum) offered match for the project and secured one of the grants. Folklorist Janet C. Gilmore conducted the survey from April 22 to June 5, 1987. Curator Roger Osborne coordinated the photo-text exhibit that drew from the project materials and appeared at Highland Community College and the Dubuque County Historical Society.

Project History

One of several simultaneous Illinois folk arts projects, the River Harvest Project aimed to document Mississippi River folk cultural traditions north and south of Dubuque, Iowa, on both sides of the river, roughly from the Iowa-Minnesota border to the Quad Cities area of Moline, East Moline, and Rock Island, Illinois, and Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa. Folklorist Janet C. Gilmore focused primarily on commercial fishermen, flatboat builders, and fish market owners in northwestern Illinois, northeastern Iowa, and southwestern Wisconsin, but also looked into clamming (musseling), duckboat building, and duck decoy carving. She encountered a range of storytelling and magical practices, along with local paintings reflecting river scenes, activities, fish, and fish foodways on area businesses and other public spots. She contacted over 30 people, formally interviewed 17, and tape-recorded 12, investigating such topics as hoop-net knitting, basket-trap building, custom wooden or aluminum flatboat building, ice fishing gear and boats, and a range of fish foodways traditions including pickling, smoking, frying, ethnic fish preferences, and marketing distribution.

Gilmore presented her findings through public presentations, 1987-1989, at the Inland Waters Maritime Preservation Seminar in Dubuque, the Galena-Jo Daviess County History Museum, the Heritage League of Northwest Illinois in Stockton, Illinois, the LaSalle County Historical Museum in Utica, Illinois, as well as on WDBQ radio and at several professional folklore gatherings. At the Dubuque County Historical Society, she co-presented with Dubuque commercial fisherman John “Ducky” Duccini, who had been engaged by the organization for summer commercial fishing demonstrations and interpretation.

Scope and Content Note

Records include recorded interviews with mostly commercial fishermen, slides and photographs, field reports, and slide and photo logs.

The manuscript materials are unfoldered but field reports and logs are grouped by type. A documentation index provides an accounting of all people documented, the dates, and what kinds of documentation exist -- field reports, sound recordings and logs, and black-and-white and color slide photography and logs. Gilmore's 13-page report provides helpful project background as well as a ranked list of artists interviewed and skills documented. Field reports are a rich source of detail regarding the interviews and conversations not always caught on tape.

Slide logs provide image-level access to the color slides while contact sheets and logs reveal the contents of the black-and-white negatives. Slides are housed in 12 small slide boxes and are labeled, in most cases, according to log numbers. A box labeled “Dubuque County Historical Society” contains slides that were pulled from the set for subsequent use. Contact sheets and the corresponding negatives are housed in separate packets.

Included are 12 recorded interviews on 13 recordings, summarized in detailed tape logs.

Related Materials

Iowa Arts Council Folk Arts Program Records. (CSUMC0032-CG)

Jo Daviess County Folk Arts in Education Project Collection. (CSUMC0009-CG)

Smithsonian Institution, Iowa Sesquicentennial Commission, and Iowa Arts Council. Iowa Folklife: Our People, Communities, and Traditions; A Learning Guide for Teachers, Students, and Senior Citizens. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. 1997. (Video portrait of commercial fisherman John Duccini)

Illinois State Museum. “Harvesting the River: Life and Work on the Illinois River” Exhibit Project. Springfield, Illinois 1985-1989.

Janet C. Gilmore. c. 2007. “Flatboats.” In The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia, Folklore Section. Eds. Richard Sisson, Christian Zacher, and Andrew Cayton. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. c2007. Pp.414-415.

------. 1996. Portrait of Commercial Fisherman John Duccini in “Between the Rivers: An Iowa Photo Album, The Mississippi River,” in Festival of American Folklife 1996 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution), p.27; and in Festival of Iowa Folklife: A Sesquicentennial Celebration! (Des Moines: Iowa Sesquicentennial Commission, Inc.), p.30.

------. 1990. “Fisherman Stereotypes: Sources and Symbols.” Canadian Folklore Canadien. 12:2: 17-38.


Productions resulting from the described fieldwork were:

“Harvesting the River” exhibit.

Key Subjects

  • Bellevue (Iowa)
  • Boardman's Bright Spot (De Soto, Wis.)
  • Camanche (Iowa)
  • Dubuque (Iowa)
  • Ferryville (Wis.)
  • Fisherman's Bend (Savanna, Ill.)
  • Fulton (Ill.)
  • Galena (Ill.)
  • Genoa (Wis.)
  • Hampton (Ill.)
  • Lansing (Iowa)
  • Morrison (Ill.)
  • Morrison Machine Shop (Morrison, Ill.)
  • Potosi (Wis.)
  • Prairie du Chien (Wis.)
  • Sabula (Iowa)
  • Savanna (Ill.)
  • Smiley's Fish Market (Savanna, Ill.)
  • Thomson (Ill.)


  • Airboats
  • Basket (slat) fishing traps
  • Boatbuilding
  • Buffalo fishing
  • Bullhead fishing
  • Carp fishing
  • Catfish fishing
  • Clamming
  • Commercial fishing industry
  • Custom-made aluminum flatboats
  • Duck decoys
  • Duckboat
  • Fish frying
  • Fish pickling
  • Fish smoking
  • Fisheries
  • Fishing baits
  • Flatboats
  • Gillnetting
  • Hoop-net knitting
  • Ice fishing
  • Johnboats
  • Mesh (“mash”) blocks
  • Musseling
  • Seine fishing
  • Sheepshead fishing (drum, “silver perch”)
  • Skeeter
  • Snapping turtle fishing
  • Trammel netting
  • Trot lines (Fishery equipment)
  • Welding
  • Wood-carving

Traditional Practitioners

  • Bartels, Susan
  • Benson, John, Sr.
  • Blask, George
  • Blask, Jack
  • Blum, Ralph
  • Brown, Steve
  • Brown, V. F. “Spider”
  • Clark, Karl
  • Dickau, Ron
  • Diehl, John F.
  • Duccini, John
  • Duccini, Mike
  • Galema, Karen Verdon
  • Greene, Ralph
  • Hartman, C. W. “Ducky”
  • Hogan, Theodore “Teddy”
  • Ingersoll, Carol
  • Kress, Ed
  • Kress, Wayne
  • Kuster, Kathryn
  • Lessard, Don
  • Maahs, Judy
  • Mensinger, Russell
  • Mottet, Tom
  • Putman, David E.
  • Schafer, Mike
  • Shanafelt, Geri
  • Shanafelt, Terry
  • Smiley, Paul
  • Verdon, Harold
  • Weissmann, James

Gilmore deposited her collection with the Dubuque County Historical Society upon completion of the fieldwork. In 2003, the Historical Society opened the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium and transferred its archives collections to the Museum's Capt. William Bowell River Library.


Contact Curator Cristin Waterbury for access information.

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
Capt. William Bowell River Library
350 E. 3rd St.
Dubuque, IA 52001
Email: info@rivermuseum.com
Phone: (563) 557-9545
Web site: http://rivermuseum.com

Consult Curator Cristin Waterbury for information on use restrictions.

Preferred Citation

Contact the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Capt. William Bowell River Library for guidelines. We suggest the following citation form when using direct quotes from a person documented: [Name of person documented]. [Date]. [Tape/video/other]-recorded interview by [Fieldworker name]. [Place interviewed]. [Name of collection/project]. [Repository, city, state]. When using a specific image: [Identify subject matter/people in caption]. Photo/image by [Photographer/fieldworker name]. [Date]. Courtesy of [repository]. To quote fieldworker, follow bibliographical style.

Collection Inventory and Description
25 field reports
11 sound recording logs
8 photograph logs
17 color slide logs
8 trip logs
1 documentation index
1 project expenses summary
Cassette   1
John F. Diehl, commercial fisherman, Ferryville, Wisconsin, 1987 April 23
Cassette   2
Ralph Blum, Mississippi River commercial fisherman, Potosi, Wisconsin, 1987 April 29
Cassette   3
Harold Verdon, Mississippi River commercial fisherman, Lansing, Iowa, 1987 April 30
Cassette   4
C.W. “Ducky” Hartman, Mississippi River commercial fisherman, Lansing, Iowa, 1987 April 30
Cassette   5
Theodore “Teddy” Hogan, Mississippi River commercial fisherman, Lansing, Iowa, 1987 April 30
Cassette   6
V.F. “Spider” Brown, duck-boat builder and decoy-carver, Camanche, Iowa, 1987 May 21
Cassette   7
Paul Smiley, commercial fisherman and fish marketer, Savanna, Illinois, 1987 May 29
Cassette   8
David E. Putman, commercial fisherman and boat builder, Bellevue, Iowa, 1987 May 30
Cassette   9-10
John Duccini, commercial fisherman, Dubuque, Iowa, 1987 June 3
Cassette   11
Mike Duccini, Dubuque, Iowa (Side 1), 1987 June 3
Cassette   12
Ron Dickau, commercial fisherman, Thomson, Illinois, 1987 June 4
Cassette   13
John Benson Sr., Morrison Machine Shop, Morrison, Illinois, 1987 June 4
322 color slides
297 black-and-white negatives
16 contact sheets