The Portage Landing at the St. Joseph River

Kay Westhues (American, b. 1961), The Portage Landing at the St. Joseph River (Now Pinhook Lagoon), 2015, Pigment prints on paper. Purchased with funds provided by the Humana Foundation Endowment for American Art, Raclin Murphy Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, 2015.049.a


Who made it?

Kay Westhues is a photographer and folklorist based in South Bend, Indiana, who is interested in documenting the ways in which rural tradition and history are interpreted and transformed in the present day. Through her work, she aims to describe the vitality and complexity of places and people whose lives are often overlooked and unexamined.   In 2015, Kay was commissioned by the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art to produce a portfolio of 12 photographs called The Portage Path: Returning to Our History in honor of the city of South Bend’s 150th anniversary. The images explore the St. Joseph-Kankakee River portage, a walking trail between the St. Joseph River and the Kankakee River/Grand Kankakee Marsh first established by Native Americans and then used by the French explorers and traders traveling from Detroit to New Orleans. This trail was the only overland segment of an ancient water route between the Great Lakes region and the Gulf of Mexico and was one of the reasons why a city grew near this bend of the St. Joseph River. The trail no longer exists. 

About this body of work she says, “I want these photographs to remind us that the history of South Bend did not begin in 1865; people were living in this region for hundreds of years previously and their knowledge and use of the land were directly responsible for the locations of the city.

What’s going on in this work?

The Portage Landing at the St. Joseph River (Now Pinhook Lagoon) is part of a series that focuses on the former Portage Path and retraces it as it looks today. This image captures how the path looks as it could have appeared at any moment in its history.

Focusing on the stillness of the reflection in the water of the trees on the bank and the cloudy skies above, Westhues is providing a calm window into a once-bustling part of our region’s history.  

Take a closer look.

Click on the full image of The Portage Landing above to see a larger version of the work. Look closely at the photograph and use these questions to guide your looking. Share your thoughts with your family at home, with a friend through a virtual conversation, or with us in a response to this email.  

  • What’s going on in this photograph? What does it remind you of? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • How would you describe the mood of this photograph? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • Take a look at last week’s artwork by Georgia O’Keeffe. Both artworks are landscapes. What things are similar? What are different? How would you choose to represent your own landscape?

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About the Article:

Engage with the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art by exploring their collection through background information and reflection questions. For more information on the collections, please visit the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art website.

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March 23, 2020

Art and HistoryArtArt HistoryBringing the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art to YouDigest184PhotographyRaclin Murphy Museum of ArtSouth BendUniversity of Notre Dame

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