We found an exquisite poster of the St. Francis River

Stream Team #95, the Missouri Whitewater Association, has totally smoked all other hand-drawn maps. But who’s really surprised? The rivers they run boast the most dynamic drops in the state–definitely worth an action-packed illustration.

After finding this poster in VWQM archives (those red spots are water quality monitoring sites), we tracked down the artist to tell us his story.

St Francis River crop
A few copies of the poster are still available to order from the Missouri Whitewater Association website. Click on the image for an enlargement.

 
In 1983, when the poster was drawn, running the rapids on the St. Francis River was a mystery to many boaters. The Missouri Whitewater Association wanted to make safe and accurate information available to all who paddled it, and a poster was the perfect medium.

Jonathan melded his art skills with his love of whitewater canoeing to create the St. Francis River poster.
Jonathan melded his art skills with his love of whitewater canoeing to create the St. Francis River poster.

Jonathan Lehmann, now of Cambium Creative, was in his twenties when the poster’s art was commissioned.  “It was partly a labor of love,” he says. Thirty years later, a framed copy still hangs in his office. With lots of whitewater boating  experience and an art degree from Washington University, he was uniquely qualified for the assignment. “It helped to paddle the river a few zillion times to know it,” he says.

Jonathan wanted to photograph the river from a plane, but that year, the water was too low to yield useful images. A fluke thunderstorm in August made it possible. “I thought, ‘This is my chance. When is this river ever running in the middle of summer?'” he says. He enlisted his canoe partner and best friend who bankrolled the project, Stan Stoy, to help.  “I called Stan’s roommate to convince him to get out of bed early, pass on doing something with his girlfriend that day, and take me in the air,” Jonathan says. He hung over the wing of a two-seater airplane, snapping more than 200 pictures with a 35mm camera.

Zoom in to compare the satellite image with Jonathan’s drawing. You might be surprised at how accurate he gets.

“That was the way to do it–back then, Google Earth didn’t exist,” he says. “Maps from satellite images didn’t get anywhere close to detail we needed.”

Some of his photos are included with the poster to show, in detail, how to tackle certain rapids.

As helpful  as the photos and text are, it’s the drawing that really makes this special. Inspired by the whitewater art of cartoonist William Nealy, the illustration is both precise and full of life. After returning from the plane trip, Jonathan put 35mm slides in a projector, and from those images, drew the river in perspective. By then, the instructive text was already written. The project took about nine or ten months from inception to completion, he says. Thirty years later, the work still endures.

This detail from the "Rickety Rack" run shows how to work your boat to the center.
This detail from the “Rickety Rack” run shows how to work your boat to the center.

Jonathan and MWA have talked about updating and reissuing the map. While the run descriptions are still accurate, some other information could use a refresher. Until then, you can order one of the last few maps from MWA’s website or track them down at REI and other St. Louis-area outfitters.

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