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Photography Exhibit Aboard Replica 1920s Steamboat Docks in West Palm Beach

Madeline Fox
A replica 1920s steamboat houses an exhibit of her photographs of life in the Glades. The exhibit opens Nov. 30 and runs through February 2020.

In the background of their morning television program, observant CBS and NBC viewers might have glimpsed a wooden replica 1920s steamboat. 

It's docked in the Stubs Canal River Basin, near the Kravis Center in downtown West Palm Beach — and, by chance, across the water from where TV crews had set up to film reporters talking about President Donald Trump's Thanksgiving visit to South Florida.

The boat, modeled after the Roseada steamboat that used to ferry goods between West Palm and Belle Glade, houses dozens of photographs by artist Sofia Valiente. 

Valiente picked the Roseada out of Lawrence E. Will's book "Okeechobee Boats and Skippers" to house selections from her five years photographing communities in the Glades.

"I basically flipped through the book, and I saw the Roseada, and I just said: 'That one,'" Valiente said.

"It wasn't the prettiest of the boats. It wasn't the boat that was carrying the tourists that were trying to visit Florida," she said. "But it was the real boat. It was a freight boat, and it was one that, through the decades, survived."

It's a fitting home for Valiente's exhibit, which mixes her own photographs with archival documents and pictures to depict the Glades' rich history. 

Credit Madeline Fox / WLRN
Sofia Valiente, posing here with her exhibit, has lived in Belle Glade for five years and has been photographing life in Glades communities during that time.

She has portraits of Belle Glade's oldest families, descendants of the pioneers who first started cultivating crops in the muck. She has captured the town's modern celebrations, from a Martin Luther King Day parade to dancing and drinking at downtown "juke joints."

And she has portrayed slices of everyday life in both the oldest families and the newer ones: the immigrants who moved to the Glades to help with harvests and then put down roots. 

The boat and her exhibition share a name: Foreverglades. She's hoping to link the history to of the western part of the county to its eastern communities, in the same way that the old canals and steamboats linked the Glades' crops to consumers in the Palm Beaches.  

"Canals were basically the highways of Florida," she said. 

Credit Madeline Fox / WLRN
The replica 1920s steamboat, Foreverglades, docked in West Palm Beach.

The replica steamboat was built in just under four months by Mike Chapman, a Pembroke Pines-based retired project manager who used to help rebuild ships around the world. 

In terms of boat-building, this wasn't Chapman's first rodeo, "but it was my first riverboat," he quipped. 

Construction of the three fiberglass pontoons, the platform and then the wooden boat itself started at a facility in Opa-Locka. 

Though it's looking shipshape even after its transportation by crane up to the Stubs Canal River Basin, Chapman said there are still a few more details around the walkway and other parts of the boat to attend to before the exhibit opens Saturday.  

In addition to Valiente's photographs, the boat has a cargo of a half-dozen empty orange crates built by students at South Miami High School and modeled after the cargo the Roseada and similar boats would have carried in their heyday. 

Nov. 30 is opening day for Valiente's exhibit, which is free to the public and will feature food and music. The exhibit runs through February 2020.

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