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Mid April High Water, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

It’s mid April and the television meteorologists have said it all.  If the Kentuckiana area receives one more drop of rain…we will set an all time local record for precipitation during any April since records have been kept.  With half a month to go and more rain in the forecast for this week…that record is a goner.  As I write this…the river is still rising.  I mentally contrast this to what is happening in California with their severe drought.  I wonder if there are any billionaires out there that would like to invest in a pipeline that would send all this extra water to where it’s needed most?  After all, isn’t water a much more precious commodity than crude oil?  We don’t send exploratory satellites and space craft into the vast distances of the universe looking for petroleum.  It’s water we seek because in a fundamental way we realize that water is the key to life.

The high Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

The following adventure happened last weekend which was warm and beautiful, but with an ever-rising river.  The large driftwood mound under the railroad bridge I documented in my last post has broken apart and floated away along with my absurd March Madness figure.  Perhaps when the river returns to its usual water levels, I may run into him once again?  For now, I am exploring a section of the Ohio River Greenway which is near the Interpretive Center’s entrance and has a nice view of Louisville’s skyline.  The riverbank does not lack for junk and before long I’ve photographed and collected a full bag of possibilities for future use.  It was while I was absorbed in my own head space that I bumped into a most unusual character that was engaged in what looked to be some type of ritual at the water’s edge.

Shoe Shaman of the Big Blue Nation, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

What I first thought was singing turned out to be chanting and it was coming from this exotic guy.  I’m sure I must have had the strangest expression on my face!  Despite my presence, this blue-helmeted figure with some kind of mandala on his chest was practically knee-deep in muddy water and lining up found flip-flops on a beached log.  A perfectly normal activity don’t you agree?  I’m assuming he gathered these sandals from all the other flotsam and jetsam that has washed into here?  That part I can understand because I have an ongoing collection of the same footwear that I hope to make into something grand and profound some day.

Detail of the Shoe Shaman, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Shoe Shaman of the Big Blue Nation and altar, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

I remained quiet, stayed observant, and took these photographs.  I saw the blue helmeted man face west and chant.  He later did the same thing looking towards all the cardinal directions.  On occasion, he would carefully pick up a sandal and whisper to it before placing it back upon the water-logged trunk of a limb-less tree.  For emphasis, he would also do this little hop dance step in the muddy water.  I waited for him to finish before interrupting him with a few questions of my own.

Head of the Shoe Shaman, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Shoe Shaman with his altar, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Finally, I had my chance to speak and the mysterious figure looked my way.  I was surprised that I could understand what he was saying.  First, he thanked me for respecting his custom by not interrupting his ceremony.  He also said that it is very important that the flow of energy continue unabated if the ritual was to take hold.  Filled with questions, I asked his name and what was he doing?  Patiently, he explained that he was the Shoe Shaman of the Big Blue Nation, a holy man and offered as proof the ill-fitting helmet on his head which was the official crest of his high office.  I didn’t say anything, but thought the Shoe Shaman’s head-gear bore an uncanny resemblance to a Smurf’s head.  I wondered if that was in fact the Big Blue Nation he was referring to?  If that indeed was the case…well, it did make some sense in a surreal sort of way.  There are many cultures that have legends about “little people”.  I asked what he was doing with the sandals and he said that working with footwear was his specialty.  Each shoe, in this case, each lost sandal…has a direct connection to the soul of its former owner and is holy to them.  The weight of each person is impressed into the sole’s foam and is as individual as a fingerprint.  In his culture, they have a saying that you can’t fully understand someone until you stand in their shoes.  I said we had a similar saying.  The Shoe Shaman said that his goal is to affect the river’s empathy and not to further enrage it for taking the water and environment for granted. My new friend was attempting to appease the flood waters by asking the river to forgive our carelessness and to accept the sacrifice that had been prepared for it on this altar of wood.  The shaman assured me that only in this way would the river agree to return to its normal banks and not seek out our kind that had been hurtful towards it.

Shoe Shaman of the Big Blue Nation with the skyline of Louisville across the river, April 2015

At the water's edge, the Shoe Shaman, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

I’ll admit that the idea of a revenge seeking river stunned me some, however, history is full of epic floods.  In our arrogance, we forget how at Nature’s mercies we really are.  My curiosity sated…it was time to move on.  I left the shaman at that interstitial zone between water and land.  Slogging through the mud, I paused briefly sitting on a dry log and thought about what I had witnessed as I also picked the mud off the bottom of my shoes.  I am hoping that he was successful in intervening on our behalf and only time will tell.  For my part, I will never forget the scene and will pledge to do my part to be respectful towards creation by celebrating it and in doing so…hope to save myself and those dearest to me.  I don’t ever want one of our soles to go missing and find itself on a log floating somewhere along the Ohio River.  Until the river retreats…

The Sandal, Wood Altar, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Driftwood and debris in flood aftermath, Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

A view from last weekend when the water level was dropping and the sun was shining and welcoming.  Curiosity overwhelmed me and I ventured forth over the driftwood piles and muddy riverbanks.  Looks like most of the driftwood at the Interpretive Center has been washed away, however, under the railroad bridge, a sizeable mound of twisted matter has accumulated.  To avoid sinking ankle-deep in mud…I gingerly walk on the backs of huge logs and pick my way through the debris field.

Junk under the bridge at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

Plastic and polystyrene debris, Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

This most recent bit of flooding has deposited a large number of plastic drinking bottles onto this landscape.  I am assuming that the river isn’t through rising for the moment because two days ago…we received about six inches of new rain overnight.  Statistically, that was the most rain ever recorded on an April day in Kentucky’s history and the fourth biggest rainfall total for a day during any month in our state’s experience. We had a lot of localized flooding from that storm and coupled with the immense fire at the General Electric Appliance Park, put the national spotlight on Louisville…twice in one day.  The GE fire and subsequent thick, nasty smoke with its fumes and particulate matter from incinerated plastic rose into the clouds and was a nearly apocalyptic vision.  Many people mistook the immense column of smoke for a tornado and the weather services were peppered with false alarms.  All this goes into saying that environmentally, it’s been a rough few weeks around here.  Spring while lovely with the returning sunshine and greenery, also has this dark side which it is not afraid to show from time to time.

Three Stooges ball found at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

I can be sure to find novelties among all this brown materiality.  Can’t say I have ever come across a Three Stooges ball before and there they were, Larry, Curley, and Moe looking up at me!  There were other treasures as well.  Here’s a snapshot of a toy I found that I dropped into the old collecting bag.

old plastic toy, Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

Discovered resting upon the wood and bark chips was this plastic fragment from a vintage toy.  It is missing it’s backside.  I have found similar old toys before and now suspect the river has cut into a landfill and liberated these older toys from the ground.

dead Asian carp, Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

Came across this large carp which was one of three dead animals I found.  Also located the remains of a Black Vulture and a Canvasback Duck that looked to be what was left from a bird of prey’s meal.  Every now and then, you discern a sickly sweet smell emanating from the driftwood and you know some other unfortunate life form is buried under the debris.

My "Unidentified Floating Platform" and former studio area, March 2015

This is the centerpiece of my former outdoor studio area where I had cached many of the materials I found in the park.  All the Styrofoam pieces I had salvaged for artworks have washed away, but there is a fresh batch for the picking.  This large, painted, metal disc is what I’ve been calling the “UFO” which is short for Unknown Floating Object.  It washed into the park several years a go and subsequent floods have yet to move it out.  It is now tilted and has all this driftwood around it.  Formerly, it was laying flat on the ground and made a nice surface to work on.  My time is limited today and I want to make something from all this “abundance” out here.  I select a few large chunks of Styrofoam and begin constructing a figure.

Large, Styrofoam head in progress, March 2015

Some of the large pieces of Styrofoam I want to work with are water-logged and too heavy to move.  I will wait a few weeks and see if the sun dries them out more?  I select two pieces for what will be a large, absurd figure and get to work.  I pick up junk around my feet and created this large head.  I move a really large polystyrene block into place atop the driftwood pile next to a river buoy that says “Idle Zone” on it.  For the next couple of hours, I will be anything but idle.

March Madness at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

Head of "March Madness", Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

While I was constructing this figure, I decided to call it “March Madness”.  According to the Walls Street Journal and ESPN, the Louisville area is the epicenter of interest in the college basketball game and its season ending national championship tournament.  Our region usually has several teams competing for top honors.  On the day I made this figure, the University of Louisville Cardinals were knocked out of contention.  I attached an old basketball to the end of a very long arm.  The slight breeze blowing at the time caused the figure’s arms and head to sway and vibrate in place.

"March Madness", Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

Back of "March Madness" facing the City of Louisville, March 2015

I look forward to spending a bit more time out here…weather permitting.  If everything remains in place, there is a chance to make several large figures this season.  I will be curious to see if this figure is still standing or whether park visitors or the elements have toppled it?  I just received a notification from WordPress that I have just reached my sixth anniversary of blogging with them!  For today, I will end with a picture of a tree that recently was completely underwater.  You can tell how high the water rose from the junk caught among the branches.  Happy Easter everybody!

Willow tree, formerly underwater, with debris stuck in its branches, Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

 

 

City of Louisville, KY as seen across flooded Ohio River, March 2015

The Ohio River remained higher than expected and was bolstered by a few days of rain.  I visited the Falls of the Ohio last weekend during a moment when the water level had dropped just enough to reveal a muddy shoreline with its accompanying line of stranded debris.  The places in the park I like to work and visit were still underwater.

Louisville as seen from the muddy Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

I put on my “Falls shoes” which were already muddy and that I keep outside on the front porch of my house and headed for the river.  As usual, I brought a collecting bag and camera with me and ventured forth to see what there was to see.  In places, you could tell that the river with its water-born logs had acted as a battering ram and pretty much leveled the vegetation nearest to the water.

"river shivers", Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

The silt and clay are both very fine and sticky when wet.  I gingerly step on wood and other debris to keep from sinking ankle-deep in this quagmire.  I enjoy looking at the rippling wave patterns that the water creates.  I call this “river shivers” and imagine if the riverbank could display “goose-flesh” that it would look something like this.  And speaking of geese…

tracks made by geese, Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

domestic goose at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

…the flock of Canada geese I photographed the previous week, left their footprints everywhere in the mud.  Their friend, the ex-patriot domestic goose, was still hanging out with them.

High water trash at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

Of course, nearly every place you looked, you could see man-made trash and driftwood.  Much of this material has originated far from here.  When things finally dry out enough for a more thorough exploration, I’m expecting to find all kinds of examples of our material culture washed into the park.

flood born trash at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

Interspersed with the bottles are lots of other plastic items and various foam-based garbage including Styrofoam…my primary sculptural material.  This is just a detail of one small area.  Already I’m seeing hundreds of plastic drinking bottles.  I’ve been asked on more than one occasion if I’m ever afraid that I might poison myself or get an infection from something that I’ve found out here by the river.  My short answer is yes.  One needs to be concerned, however, I don’t press my luck with anything that looks at all questionable.  I guess I do place a lot of trust that the billions of gallons that constitutes the Ohio River does in effect “wash” the stuff that I use.  So far, knock on wood, I’ve never had an adverse reaction after working out here for more than a decade.  The Falls of the Ohio State Park is a public space and what I encounter is also what the public encounters.

trunk load of river junk, March 2015

Here’s the trunk of my car after this brief foray to the river.  This may be hard for some of you to believe, but I’m actually very selective now. These days, I only carry back to my home work space, the “cream of the crop”.  I prefer to make my artworks at the river, but will also take materials home to “hedge my bets” and for workshop purposes.  The larder I had created at my “UFO” (Unknown Floating Object) outdoor studio is now long gone and I wonder if that circular metal platform is still around…or has it finally floated away too?

Galerie Hertz exhibition announcement, March 2015

While temporally stymied by water and mud, I have the opportunity to interact with the local art world in a more usual way.  Galerie Hertz which represents my art in Louisville opened a collage and assemblage group show.  Billy and his partner Tom have been important players in our city’s cultural life.  They have been rightly credited for creating an arts district on Market Street through the activities of their renovated galleries.  Each new space the pair opened was an upgrade of a building that needed some help.  This gentrification has attracted other galleries and dealers, bars, restaurants, and several home décor stores along Market Street.  In typical Galerie Hertz fashion, Billy and Tom have moved on to a different location and their current gallery where I’m showing my works is now on South Preston Street.  How often is it the case that creative folks move into formerly neglected areas and bring them to back to life?

"Moon Star", found objects from the Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

Among the works I have in this group show is this piece entitled “Moon Star”.  I made this piece at the river, but felt is could use a bit more embellishment.  I added many found bicycle tire reflectors and some river-polished glass around the head.  When the light hits it just right, the reflectors just glow.

"Polar Beaver", found materials from the Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

"Polar Beaver", facing left, found materials from the Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

Through the miracle of “Styro-dermy”, I saved the Polar Beaver I encountered recently.  To get this piece to sit the way I want it to…I have embedded three, large, lead fishing weights into the tail to counterbalance the body.

"The Harbinger of Spring", found materials, Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

This diminutive figure is called “The Harbinger of Spring” and I created him last year at this time.  I also wrote an accompanying story that helped explain how winter transitions to spring.  Although I like to think that many of my Styrofoam-bodied sculptures can hold their own as freestanding objects…they are also relics and artifacts of a site specific performance that happens out at the river and is additionally documented through photographs and stories.  At the moment, the sun is shining, but it is also cold at the river.  Tomorrow is another day, another day for the river to recede and the mud to dry.  I think I will get up early and give it a go.  I will let you know what I discover at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Railroad bridge at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

 

High Water High

City of Louisville skyline as seen from flooded bank of Ohio River in Clarksville, IN, March 9, 2015

Following is a portfolio of images I made the first week of March during a bout of minor flooding that at the time of this writing has not yet subsided.  After a late season rain and record-breaking snow storm, the Ohio River predictably has swelled its banks.  During the past week, we received several more days of rain that kept the water level high.  This is seasonal and normal flooding that we usually experience almost every year.  I heard the other day that the river hasn’t been at this level since 2011.  I published some images of this series on my newly minted Facebook page and will try to avoid duplicating those images here.

Skyline of Louisville as seen from the flooded Falls of the Ohio, March 9, 2015

Many of these images are of the skyline of Louisville as seen from a soggy Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Currently, in Louisville, low-lying sections of our roadways are underwater and a major downtown exit has been closed.  River Road is truly in the river.  The city is expecting an influx of visitors to arrive by Thursday for the start of the NCAA basketball tournament.  Louisville is one of the host sites and our basketball arena is right on the river.  As long as there isn’t anymore significant precipitation along the Ohio River Valley, the river should drop fairly quickly.

Dark tower with Louisville in the background, March 9, 2015

Light levels were dropping fast near day’s end and I used my camera phone to record these images.  There was no wind and the only motion was created by a fast flowing river.  I like the way the inundated trees along with their reflections create this frieze that was fun to use in framing a composition.

Train crossing over the railroad bridge during flooding at the Falls of the Ohio, March 9, 2015

The Army Corps of Engineer Tainter Gates are under water.  Usually, they hold the muddy Ohio River at bay exposing the world-famous fossil beds for exploration.  This image captures a long train crossing over the old iron bridge.  My outdoor studio where I stash my materials has long since floated away.  I will need to start from scratch again, but I have done this many times before.  Once the river subsides, I will be able to find new art materials to work with.  Frankly, I like it when the park floods a bit.  The Ohio River is so dynamic and along with the changing of the seasons provides a novel landscape every time I visit.

Garbage in a flooded river, Falls of the Ohio, March 9, 2015

Now there is also a downside to all this activity.  All the pent-up junk along both banks of the river is free once more to continue its journey to the Gulf of Mexico.  In this image, there’s lots of plastic bottles for drinking and oil products plus the usual Styrofoam and driftwood all mixed together.  The brightly colored plastic contrasts with the natural tones of the river.

Danger sign at the flooded Falls of the Ohio, March 9, 2015

This sign is up all year round, but frankly it makes the most sense to me during moments like this.  Floating junk forms a line about where the dam’s wall would be.

Flock of geese at the Falls of the Ohio, March 9, 2015

Even though the river was high…there was also lots of signs of life.  Soon it will be time for the Spring migration of birds moving north which is one of my favorite times of the year in the park.  I took several images of this flock of geese.  Most are Canada Geese, but the one guarding the rear is a domestic escapee.  I have watched this bird with this particular flock of geese for several years now.  Usually, the Canada Geese are very territorial especially towards others of their own kind.  Perhaps that is the key to the domestic goose’s acceptance…he really isn’t one of them and so he’s tolerated.

Geese by the old railroad bridge, March 9, 2015

Except for some selective cropping of a few images…I have done nothing else to them.  In this image, I have made the geese more prominent by eliminating the water in the foreground that makes up most of the photograph.  The other nice bird sighting of the day was seeing a juvenile Bald Eagle doing a fly over.  Eagles are becoming more common sights along the Ohio River and several pairs have built nests fairly close to the city.

Flooded trees at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, March 9, 2015

You can get a better sense for this “gentle flood” by showing a few inundated trees.  Here larger pieces of driftwood have been blown or directed by currents to the Indiana side of the Ohio River.  You can also see plastic junk interspersed among the wood.

View of Louisville as seen from under the railroad bridge at the Falls of the Ohio, March 9, 2015

The City of Louisville’s downtown section as seen from under the railroad bridge at the Falls of the Ohio.  The pink rectangular building with the bluish-green highlights (second tallest building on the right) is the Humana Building.  It’s architect, Michael Graves, passed away a few days a go.  The Humana Building is considered one of Graves’ Post Modern masterpieces and one of the nicest buildings in our city.  I remember when Humana’s founder, Wendell Cherry kept some of his art collection on view in the building that the public could tour on occasion.  You might come across Roman statuary in one room and a tall Giacometti bronze in another.  The art holdings were amazing.  Cherry was mostly secretive about his purchases and once paid the world record for a painting at auction when he bought an early Blue period Picasso self-portrait entitled “Yo Picasso”.  I believe the disclosed purchase price was just under 7 million dollars which seems like a bargain now that the record has been pushed recently to over 300 million dollars for a Gauguin painting.  I could go on about that, but that is a topic for another time.

Man by the railroad bridge, flooded Falls of the Ohio, March 2015

Like this guy in the foreground, I’m waiting for the river to recede before seeing what changes have been made.  Many of my favorite willow trees are completely underwater.  I know they get buffeted and damaged by the currents which carry lots of debris in their wake.  Perhaps by this weekend it will be all right to venture out among the muddy driftwood piles?  I will bring an empty collecting bag because I’m sure to find “stuff” to use for my creations.  On March 22, I will be participating in a group assemblage and collage show at Galerie Hertz.  I will have six different sculptures on view.  I will give you a sneak peek in my next post.  For now, keep your feet dry…Spring is on the way!

Flooded trees below the Interpretive Center, Falls of the Ohio, March 9, 2015

Winter view at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Feb. 2015

And just when we thought we were winter-proof…the cold descended.  Literally, one day it was near 60 degrees and a few days later came the snow, ice, and record-breaking cold.  Although it has been a mostly mild winter in the Kentuckiana area…it has also seemed like a longer than necessary season.  Everyone I know is winter weary.  Cabin fever has me out venturing among the frozen willow trees at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  From winter’s past, I know that when conditions are just right, I can expect to see some interesting ice formations near the river.

The Artist at Exit 0 in winter time, Feb. 2015

The right conditions are also cold conditions and you need to dress appropriately.  I find I’m in good shape wearing my vintage pair of Wind-Dodger goggles to keep my eyes from getting all watery.  An old treasured scarf across my face and an all wool, German, military surplus, submariner sweater add to the many layers I have on.  I bring along my trusty walking stick which I use frequently to test the thickness of the ice over frigid water-filled puddles.  Outfitted in my best polar garb I feel confident as I venture forth over a hibernating landscape covered in snow and ice.

Ice formations on the dam's wall, Feb. 2015

In the eastern section of the park, ice has formed on the dam’s wall.  This wall is all that separates the full force of the Ohio River from impacting the lower levels of the park that I am familiar with.  The true height of the river is many feet above my head.  The more swiftly flowing water keeps from freezing.  Debris of all description and the trunks of washed away trees build up on the upriver side of the dam.  More than likely, all the pent-up driftwood will find release when the spring floods come and even the walls of this dam can’t keep the river from rearranging this area once more.  It is a dynamic environment ruled by the river.  If I were to contrast the scene before me with the way this spot will look like in six month’s time…you would think you were on a different planet altogether.  I try to appreciate the variety before me which also has a way of keeping out the cold.

geese tracks in the snow, Feb. 2015

I find there is a surprising amount of life out here.  Although I’m the only person around, I have already spotted several species of birds that don’t seem to mind these conditions.  Geese have left there meandering tracks in the snow.  In the air, I watched both a Peregrine falcon and a nice flock of Ring-billed gulls engage in aerobatics over the river.  I come across other tracks in the cold mud that has me momentarily frozen in place.  I sort of recognize them, but there is also something not quite right here that I can’t put my finger on?

beaver tracks in the mud

To my eye, they appear to be beaver tracks, but they are too small.  I run all the possible candidates through my mind’s mammal filter, but I’m drawing a blank.  I chalk it up to my inexperience.  Try as you might, you can’t learn everything from books and there’s no substitute for doing the fieldwork.  I left the tracks and headed towards the spot on the river where I’ve seen good ice formations before.  Along the way, I find many chewed up willow branches and cuttings near a stand of willow trees.  Something has been dining fairly regularly in this area and with luck I may find other evidence identifying my mystery animal.  As you may have already guessed…luck was with me!

The Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

If it hadn’t moved, I doubt that I would have seen it and I would have missed the first recorded occurrence of the Polar Beaver (Castor arcticus) at the Falls of the Ohio State Park!  In size, this remarkable rodent is about the size of the common house cat.  I stood transfixed as this all-white animal concentrated its intentions on the ice-covered willow trees near the river’s edge.

Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

I wondered if the Polar Beaver could appreciate the varieties of shapes and forms that frozen water can take?  In the background, the Ohio River seemingly “smoked” as the surrounding air is much colder than the water.  This vapor or steam gradually coats the structures nearest the river.  As the condensation freezes it creates the many shapes that I like to describe as ribbons, sausages, and candles in this beautiful wonderland.  During these special moments, one can appreciate water as it exists in three different states of matter…gaseous vapor, flowing liquid, and rock solid.

The Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

Historically speaking, the Polar Beaver is a fairly new animal to be described by science.  Although its beautiful snow-white pelt has been a valuable and prized trade item by the northern indigenous people…it was thought these rare white furs were taken from albino morphs of the common beaver.  Ironically, crypto-zoologists looking for the legendary Sasquatch, instead brought to light the existence of this very rare rodent.  DNA testing confirmed that the Polar Beaver is a truly unique species.  Some of the first observations about this animal documented that this beaver’s coat turns white as autumn transitions to winter.  This is a trait it shares with other polar animals like the Arctic hare and Stoat.

Polar Beaver with willow branch, Feb. 2015

During this time at the Falls,  I was able to observe the Polar Beaver feeding.  Deftly, the beaver chose just the right willow twig and with a quick bite, severs it from the parent tree.  Holding the stick with its front paws, the beaver than carefully chews away the surrounding bark revealing the ivory warmth of the wood.  “Tool marks” left behind by the beaver’s teeth are recorded in the wood.  Willow makes up a significant part of this animals diet, but it is now known that other tree species and plants are eaten “in season” as well.

Polar Beaver feeding in its ice shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

Polar Beaver feeding on willow branch, Feb. 2015

If the Polar Beaver noticed me at all…I couldn’t tell because it seemed so intent upon feeding.  I watched this animal carry a willow branch to a small “ice shelter” where it focused on the task on hand.  The muddy Ohio River gently lapped the shoreline.  When the beaver finished its meal, it continued to explore the immediate environs with its many ice formations.

Polar Beaver at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

I noticed the beaver sampling willow it had already chewed upon as it moved down along the river’s edge.  I stood transfixed by this nearly mythical animal.  I finally lost sight of the beaver when it went behind an ice formation and unseen by me…slipped back into the water and disappeared.  I searched around for a couple of hours hoping to have another glimpse of this Polar Beaver or any others that might have been around, but ultimately was unsuccessful.  I returned during the next two days, but this beaver apparently moved on for good.  I was lucky to have seen it, but can you blame me for being greedy and wanting more time with this magical animal?  Wouldn’t you wish for the same if you were me?  When my reverie lifted, I realized that I could no longer feel my toes and my digital camera was also feeling the cold and not operating properly.  It was time to go home and I will leave you with one final image from this trip.  Here is a view of a favorite old willow tree as it appears during the heart of winter.  Spring will soon be around the corner and I will see you again at the Falls of the Ohio.

Old willow tree in winter, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

For the Dogs

Our dog Cory, Feb. 2015

Many thanks to all who have wished me well in my new position at the Carnegie Center for Art and History.  The people I work with are wonderful and the “old dog” that is me is enjoying learning new things.  I noticed on the internet, Facebook in particular, how much people love posting about their pets.  I’ve decided to take a page from the animal lovers of the world and try to post something both dog and Falls of the Ohio related and here goes!  I start with a picture of our family’s dog.  This is Cory and she will soon be eight years old.  She is named after the town of Corydon, Indiana where she is from.  Her mom was a pedigreed beagle and her father was…a one-eyed, black and white spotted Chihuahua/farm dog who took advantage of an opportunity that presented itself.  Such is life!  Regardless, the puppies were beautiful and Cory seems to have inherited the good qualities of both breeds.  My youngest son, Adam, did the choosing and I recall she was the only female in the litter.  In appearance, she looks like a miniature beagle and I love her coloring which is black and tan with little white feet.  Cory has warm, brown eyes.  She is smart, alert, playful, and devoted to our family to the point of being rather possessive.  When I come home from work or the river, she is by far, the most excited to see me!  Over the years her greeting me at the front door continues to be something I look forward to with deep fondness.

Dog-inspired, found character collection, Jan. 2015

I decided one cold winter’s day to sort through some of the items I’ve found at the Falls of the Ohio over the years and classify them into more coherent collections.  Out of my large and ever-growing toy collection, I determined that I had enough dog-related pieces to form a stand alone collection.  I gathered the items up and here they are reassembled on the riverbank for this “class photo” of dog characters.  This is just the stuff I decided to pick up and put into the collecting bag and does not count all the pet bowls, balls, and chew toys I’ve encountered.  I might have picked up all these other items as well, but there is a certain threshold of plastic fatigue that is reached that is hard to move past.  There is just so much needless stuff in the world and a lot of it seems to find its way into the Ohio River.  The sheer over-abundance of our material culture has certainly shaped my personal direction as an artist.

Detail of Dog Character Collection, Jan. 2015

While this is all just kitsch, some of this is fun and has endearing qualities that recall good moments from childhood.  It’s amazing how much a tiny piece of crap plastic can have these other associations attached to it.  I do recognize some of the characters portrayed, but not all.  It’s actually become part of the challenge to try to identify what some of this stuff refers to?  In this photo I recognize good old “Snoopy” from the “Peanuts” cartoon strip.  There looks to be a pair of “Weeble” dogs and a couple of others (including a Dalmatian with a fire hat) that are from children’s play sets.

Two "Clifford the Big Red Dog" plastic items, Jan. 2015

Here are two items from the “Clifford, the Big Red Dog” series.  There is “Clifford” in the form of a juice bottle cap with a black patina from being in the river for a long period of time.  I believe the other character is “T-bone”.  Originally, when you pulled the bone on the string it would cause the dog’s body to vibrate.

Sad-eyed puppy plastic keychain, Jan. 2015

I don’t recognize this guy?  He’s kind of cute in a bug-eyed way.  I’m sure there was a lot of time and effort that went into the myriad decisions to produce this item from beginning concept to finished product.  That also includes extracting the petroleum from the earth and other ingredients that went into this exact plastic recipe.

Bowtie dog with paw raised, Jan. 2015

This cutie seems old.  I tried looking on a few toy sites, but could not identify this specific piece.  I wonder if in fact it is made of rubber that has become rigid over time?

found, earless, plastic dog head, Jan. 2015

This earless, body-less, squashed, brown, plastic dog head was probably once part of a child’s pull-toy.  That’s my best guess here.

"Huckleberry Hound" as found on Goose Island

This photo is from a few years back and shows a plastic “Huckleberry Hound” toy as I found it on Goose Island.  I remember this character from my childhood and was shown along with “Quick Draw McGraw” cartoons.  I later used the blue dog for a story I posted.  Here’s an image from that story entitled “Lost and Found Hound”.

Huckleberry Hound as the lost dog.

I wrote this story in 2010 and was inspired by the lost and stray dogs I sometimes encounter in the park.  Sadly, plastic is not the only thing that gets disposed of out here.  I did have one adventure at the Falls where I was menaced by a feral dog, but usually, they are very wary and difficult to approach.  In my story, there is a happy ending and owner and dog are reunited.  I guess it was kind of touching or at least as much as putting Styrofoam, plastic, and sticks together can be.  I’ve never taken Cory to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  For one, dogs are supposed to be on a leash…not that everyone adheres to that.  I guess I fear I would lose her if I let her run loose.  Her nose would soon be overcome with “scent joy” and that would get the best of her.  There are so many intriguing smells out here that make up a vast language that we have forgotten about that dogs still remember.  Although she usually comes to me when I call her…out here, she could be gone in a blink of an eye and it’s not worth that.  We will just stick to our neighborhood’s park.  I have a couple other “dog” related projects I’ve made over the years.

Styro-dog playing with a Ball

Here’s an early project I created when I was less interested in stories and more interested in images and objects.  You can’t tell from this picture, but I also made an “old woman” figure to accompany the dog.  This piece is made from Styrofoam pinned together with little wooden pegs.  It also incorporates plastic, driftwood, and nuts in its fabrication.  The yellow ball is the core from a contemporary softball which gives you a hint for scale.  I think the working title I had for this piece was “A Game of Fetch”.  I enjoy the challenge of creating some sense of motion using such static materials.

Tiny dog sculpture with walnut

Despite looking large in this image…this dog is actually very small.  You can tell by the walnut I’ve added for scale.  It’s “playing” in the shed, dried leaves of a willow tree.  I think in this one, the eyes are bits of found coal.  I used this same figure for an image that became one of my Christmas cards.

Tiny dog with tracks

The dog is on the trail of a very large bird.  In this case, the tracks were made by a Great Blue Heron and partially frozen in the sand.  Well, there you have my tribute to dogs and the Falls of the Ohio.  I dedicate this post to our beloved dog Cory.  On a daily basis she teaches us that we are more fully human when we give our hearts to members of another species.  See you next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Cory, the Wonder Dog, Feb. 2015

 

Found Plastic Heart, Falls of the Ohio across from Louisville, Jan. 2015

Happy 2015 to all from the Falls of the Ohio State Park!  This is my first post of the new year which has started auspiciously for me.  I am happy to report that I found a new day job!  I am the new Coordinator of Public Programs and Engagement at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.  About this time last year I was showing my own river art at this organization.  It’s funny how things worked out…I had a feeling that my opportunities were leading me to the north bank of the Ohio River and that’s what happened.  I found this plastic heart in the mud of the Indiana riverbank about a week before I was offered the job.  I wonder if it has significance?

Carnegie Center for Art and History, New Albany, IN, Nov. 2012

My relationship with the Carnegie Center for Art and History goes back to the early 1990’s when as a staff member at the Louisville Visual Art Association I helped to install the Indiana version of the Children’s Free Art Classes on the Carnegie Center’s gallery walls.  Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have exhibited my own work here with the latest being the Potential in Everything show with Michael Wimmer that was up this time last year! There has to be a lot of serendipity in play here for all the stars to line up as they did and so I am feeling it was meant to be.  I will be creating new workshop opportunities and other programming to help the center with its community-minded mission.  It’s a new challenge for a new year!

plastic liquor bottle filled with quartz pebbles, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

With the new job and a recent cold spell I haven’t had the opportunity to visit the river until this three-day weekend.  I heard that 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded across the globe.  Today our temps are in the low 50’s which is quite a change from the teens we just experienced.  I grabbed my walking stick and collecting bag and made a day at the river.  I have been doing various bottle projects and here is a new one.  I found a plastic liquor bottle that still had its cap on it.  It’s interesting to note that most bottles I find with screw-top bottle caps are discarded with their caps on.  By a deposit of Ice Age gravel, I was able to fill the bottle with river-tumbled white and pale yellow quartz pebbles.  Not sure how I will use this, but will probably factor into a new artwork soon.  Being outside on such a fine day is something else I wish I could bottle for future use when the cold, damp, and gray returns.  For now I place the bottle in my collecting bag and move on.  There are other things to find and discover.

jaw bone and aluminum can top, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Next to the flattened top of an aluminum can I found this small, partial jaw bone.  I think it’s from a skunk or some other small carnivore, but will need to check the dentition more carefully.  After taking this picture, I picked the mandible up and placed it into my bag.  This find will factor into something else I put together before day’s end.

Circular platform at my outdoor studio, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

The mud and melting ice made checking out the river’s edge problematical and so I headed up the riverbank and into the willow trees.  I visited my outdoor atelier and decided to do a little “house cleaning”.  I swept the leaves and dirt off of the circular metal platform that has been here for several years.  If I could have figured out how to get this object home, I probably would have done so by now.  As it is, I like using it as a work surface and place to sit.  My other stashed materials are nearby.  To me, the platform is still a “U.F.O.”…which stands for “Unknown Floating Object”.  I think it has something to do with mooring barges, but could be wrong about that.  I also like that it adds a stage-like presence and helps define one small area at the Falls.

Louisville and Indiana railroad cars, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Huge downed log near the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Standing on the platform and facing the river, if I look to my left I see the old railroad bridge.  There were several trains that went back and forth while I was occupied.  The railroad is part of the atmosphere of the place.  A large and partially burned log occupies the space between the platform and the bridge.  I straightened out my stick and root collection and sorted them on the platform.  I then rediscovered my Styrofoam collection.  Every time I walk the river, I find new river-polished pieces and add them to this assemblage.  There is simply more here than I can use at a time and so anyone is welcome to try making something from what has been gathered.

Styrofoam larder at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Detail, Styrofoam pieces, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I grab a few rounded pieces from the collection and decide to construct a figure from what I have here and in the bag.  I decide which shapes and forms would make good heads and bodies and set them aside.  Once in a great while, some other creative souls find my larder and make something of their own from this junk.  I like it when people see the opportunity here.

Outdoor studio view, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Materials for a figure, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I usually like starting with the head first.  It’s where the most information is focused and my Styro-figures share this with archaic works and folk art.  In the case of this figure, I decided on another shape for the head.  Collected bits of plastic and potential facial elements are placed into a found plastic bowl.  I will decide the features of today’s figure from what I’ve gathered today.  Here’s a sequence showing the progression of how the head evolved including what already looks like a found face in the bowl.

Plastic bowl with potential "facial features", Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

January Styro-figure head in progress, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Finished head, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

The found mandible has a new home on this piece.  I split the bottom from an aluminum can to make the ears which does give this figure a monkey-like quality to it.  The eyes are a white, plastic bottle cap and the green, plastic bead from a child’s toy.  I found two expressive sticks for arms and set the figure up as though it were sitting down with crossed legs.  Here are images of this piece finished on site.

First Man of January, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Figure at my outdoor art site, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I had the best time today.  There is still lots of winter before us, but this weekend’s respite helped connect me to the river for the first time this year. I will be curious to see if we even have one decent snow fall this season?  Whatever happens during 2015, I will take it all in stride. The year is already off to a positive start!  I think I will leave it at that and sign off until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Skyline of Louisville from the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

 

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