Community and Regional Self-Portraits

Capturing Regional Heritage
Robert Wolf’s 20-year cross-country documentary project has resulted in a series of regional self-portraits,Heartland-PortraitCoverSMw beginning with 1997’s Heartland Portrait, a compilation of stories from Midwest farms and villages. In 2014, Free River Press released an expanded version of Heartland Portrait written by farmers, small town residents and people working the Mississippi River—a self-portrait of the Driftless region.

Free River Press initiated and conducted two multi-county sub-regional surveys. The first, The Northeast Iowa Book, captured stories and photographs from four counties plus an area SCAN. Several hundred people contributed to this book, which was funded by three area colleges. The second, The Iowa River Corridor Book, a six-county project, was funded by Grinnell College and the Iowa Valley RC&D.

Wolf’s unique method of story writing and literacy development enables anyone who can tell a story to write it. Communities who participate in this process capture their heritage in the written word, in book form, for posterity. By doing this they are describing who they are, where they have come from, where they might go. Their history and heritage is no longer defined by outside experts.

Town Portraits
Beginning in 1994, towns began hiring Free River Press to conduct three-day workshops to produce books that would document their communities past and present . Some of the published books include:

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Clermont, Iowa

village voices

Amana Colonies

independence, Iowa

Independence, Iowa










Vilage in the cityBesides these books, Free River Press created a portrait of the Franklin-Gateway community of Waterloo, Iowa.

From the Past to he Future
It is imperative that as this country undergoes unprecedented change that communities and regions reassess all aspects of their heritage. Storytelling is the most powerful way of portraying a community’s assets–past and present–and of describing its needs. Published stories reach out to the entire community and can be a first step in community redesign.

The Marshfield Project
Robert Wolf ran an innovative project in Marshfield, Wisconsin where a three-day workshop kicked off Marshfield’s Community Story Project. The project’s goal is to define Marshfield’s assets and needs through local stories. Wolf edited the stories from his workshop, which were collected into a book, Seeking Community. Wolf also conducted a one-day training session for those workshop participants who are conducting ongoiig workshops for the Community Story Project. The second book in the project series, written by high school students in workshops conducted by the trainees, has been published. Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 3.28.46 PM

This project could’ve gone awry in so many ways (as experiments often do). Your flexibility and steady hand kept us on track. It was wonderful, also, to watch a master at work at his craft. I’m in awe, actually, so much impressed with the experience and skill it takes to do a good job at running a workshop of this kind. You’ve made many friends here, so we hope that you’ll consider us a home-away-from-home whenever you’re in the neighborhood and in need of a bed or at least a watering hole.”
— Georgette Frazier, Community Stories Project, Marshfield, Wisconsin