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History will dance on an old ‘snagboat’ in Anacortes   

This Sunday afternoon in Anacortes, a company of dancers, with some help from anyone who wants to join in, will perform an interpretive dance aboard the old “snagboat” W.T. PRESTON that kept Puget Sound waters clear of obstacles for much of the 20th century.

Snagboats have been operated around here by the US Army Corps of Engineers for more than 130 years. Nowadays, a more modern vessel called the PUGET travels up and down Puget Sound pulling snags — which are floating logs —and other floating obstacles out of the waterways to prevent them from interfering with commercial and recreational boaters.

Before the PUGET, the boat that served here for decades was a sternwheeler called the W.T. PRESTON. It was a common sight along the 520 bridge back in the 1970s, and it was retired in 1981. It’s been on display for almost 40 years up in Anacortes, where it’s been permanently beached to make it easier to preserve.

Kate Clark is the Education and Media Curator of the Anacortes Museum, which owns and maintains the W.T. PRESTON. She says the PRESTON was made from elements of even earlier vessels, and it’s really more like three historic boats in one.

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“The PRESTON is actually kind of a ‘Frankenstein boat’ of a lineage of other snagboats that worked the riverways,” Clark said. “It started in 1882 with the SKAGIT, which the Congress earmarked $20,000 to build a snagboat that could clear the riverways . . . and in 1929, the SKAGIT became the SWINOMISH. It was updated, and again, materials from the SWINOMISH became the PRESTON.”

The PRESTON is open to visitors every summer and a fair number of tourists stop by and get the standard experience of being aboard a historic specialized vessel.

But Kate Clark, who grew up in Anacortes and is also an artist, saw an opportunity to do a little more. She set out to do a little something different to create more meaningful engagement for visitors to the PRESTON.

Earlier this year, the Anacortes Museum put out the call for artists to propose artistic projects to interpret the history of the vessel in unexpected ways.

Clark says that a Seattle-based choreographer named Alice Gosti made an impression on the Anacortes Museum selection committee.

“We were impressed by Alice’s proposal to have the dance company MALACARNE come because it was clear they had spent some time understanding the history of the boat and wanting to do work that was in direct response to it,” Clark said. “We had also seen documentation of a past work they did called Bodies of Water for the Seattle waterfront, and it was easy to imagine something like that occurring at the PRESTON.”

The result is that on Sunday, July 21 at 5 p.m., choreographer Alice Gosti and her dance company MALACARNE will be at the WT PRESTON to perform an hour-long interpretive dance.

The best part is, anyone can participate – all ages and abilities – and admission is free.

Alice Gosti says her group’s work will interpret the long history of the PRESTON and the people who served aboard it.

“The main idea is to create this long line of people that enters and exits all the different doors of the W.T. PRESTON,” Gosti said. “And then, we’re filming it with a drone from outside, so basically it looks like there is an infinite line of people that is going in and out of the boat.”

Kate Clark says that if you can stand or if you can sit, then you are qualified to participate – there is no previous dance experience required. To help with the visual portion of the performance, participants are asked to wear clothing in the color palette of blues, greens, and greys.

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A program like this at a history museum or historic vessel is somewhat unusual. It’s easy to imagine a typical visit to a similar place consisting only of a friendly volunteer helpfully handing out brochures and visitors then wandering quietly around taking in the sights. It’s clear that what’s going on in Anacortes this weekend is a more active, more engaged — and more engaging – approach to connecting people and history.

“I definitely believe that museums are living organisms, and in order for them to stay alive they need to be in conversation with the community and their visitors,” Clark said. “And I really don’t see a hard line between art and creative production and the telling of history. In fact, I think they’re one in the same. It’s really just about the methods that are maybe sometime different. What I think these artists are doing is really just another form of interpretation and that’s what historians are doing as well.”

And if participating (or just watching) an interpretive dance performance aboard an old snagboat weren’t enough, Clark says that this weekend is also Shipwreck Fest, a giant annual summertime community swapmeet and flea market held in downtown Anacortes just a few blocks from the W.T. PRESTON.

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If you go:

Anacortes Museum Maritime Heritage Center and Snagboat W.T. PRESTON
703 R Avenue, Anacortes

Wear clothing in the color palette of blues, greens, and greys.

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