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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

 

Ice Blossom Ornaments

river frosted bottle glass, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I hope all of you out in blogland are having a great holiday season.  My own family has enjoyed having the additional time to connect with folks we don’t see often enough.  Today is the last day of the year.  With no pressing commitments scheduled for today, I thought I would squeeze in one final post before the ball drops later tonight.  You may be wondering what an image of a hand holding river polished and frosted bottle glass has to do with anything?  Well, that’s the subject of this craftier than usual post.  Every year I enjoy sending out original holiday cards and other “stuff” I make and gift from river junk.  This year in addition to the cards (which featured the Christmas Bird of previous post fame), I created more of my “Ice Blossom Ornaments”.  Friends who were the recipients of these “river treasures” assured me they were blog worthy.  We shall see about that.

Styrofoam fishing floats and old Styrofoam Christmas ornament, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

To make an “Ice Blossom Ornament” you need a bit more than broken glass found at the river or beach…you also need a body or form to attach the shards to.  In this case, I like using the Styrofoam fishing floats I find and ironically polystyrene balls that are the remains of former Christmas tree ornaments that have washed into the park.  I have seen a few of these original ornaments in various states of decomposition and they are usually covered with a shiny fabric that is glued to the ball.  I prefer the balls that have lost their covering. When placement of the glass pieces has been decided, you cut into the ball form using a sharp Exacto knife.  The hole I create is traced around the glass shape that I will embed into the ball  A drop of glue holds the glass in place.   I love using this river-collected glass because all the sharp edges have been worn away and I like the “frosted” surface created from abrasion with the sand and water.  The same natural processes that tumble the Styrofoam and coal I use, also works its magic on glass.  Even with something as trifling as these ornaments, I like that nature had a “collaborative role” in their making.  The ornaments are finished off with the addition of found wire or waste fishing line and the occasional found piece of hardware.  Here are some finished examples.

Two Ice Blossom Ornaments , Dec. 2014

2014 Ice Blossom Ornaments made with Falls of the Ohio found materials

The next two pieces are a little larger and utilize bigger glass fragments.  Some of these larger ornaments reference seed pods and marine forms like urchins.

Ice Blossom Ornament with copper wire, Dec. 2014

This year I added polished coal to the list of materials used.  Coal is after all, stored energy from the sun and suits the “star” image.  Also, at the heart of every living star is a potential black hole and this ornament has that going for it as well.

Ice Blossom Star with Coal, Dec. 2014

The original ideas behind the “Ice Blossoms” comes from the 2009/10 holiday season.  It was an important element in a story I wrote about the very rare migration of the Arctic Hummingbird (Styrotrochildae polystyrenus).  When the conditions are just right, the very unusual Arctic Hummingbird times its appearance with the emergence of the Ice Blossom flower.  The hummers seek out the concentrated energy found in the Ice Blossom’s nectar.  I just happened to be lucky enough to be at the Falls of the Ohio when the Ice Blossoms were in bloom.  Here’s an image I captured showing the relationship between the bird and flower.

Arctic Hummingbird feeding, 1/2010

Later I created another series of ornaments that I used to decorate the trees and vines at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Some of these images were later incorporated into my Christmas cards.

Ice Blossom ornaments and briar vines

I liked the idea of ornaments in nature and still feel some of the trees in the park are just as worthy of decoration as the trees we set up for the holidays.  Regardless, the next time you find yourself around beach glass and Styrofoam…here’s an idea you can try to reuse both materials.  Happy New Year everybody…see you in 2015.

Ornaments in Nature, 12/09

The Christmas Bird

Christmas Bird at the Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

In the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park I came across a remarkable bird.  As far as I know, this is the first documented sighting of the so-called Christmas Bird (Xmasii noelensis) in our area.  The bird’s red crest, green collar, and azure-colored wings are diagnostic as is the bicolor beak.  I was down at the river on a rather foggy morning when I noticed the bird flashing its wings in mockingbird fashion which is a distant relative of this species.

The Christmas Bird, Louisville in the background, Dec. 2014

I was looking for interesting pieces of driftwood and odd items washed up by the Ohio River when I came across this bird.  This is a long distance migrant and one that hails from as far north as the Arctic Circle.  The Christmas Bird earns its name in a couple of ways.  Of course, its complimentary plumage is rather seasonably inspired and it does seem to migrate to the lower 48 states around the time of the holidays.  Where the bird will appear is rather unpredictable, however, it is a welcome sight in most any location.  Here I have photographed the bird “flashing” its wings against its body while perched upon a driftwood log.  The park is in Southern Indiana and the skyline of Louisville, Kentucky can be seen across the Ohio River.  After taking this shot, the bird flew off.

Display of the Christmas Bird, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I said to myself…”Well, that’s that”.  I fully did not expect to see this rare bird again, but I received a “gift” of a rather unexpected nature.  Underneath the old iron railroad bridge, not too far away from my initial sighting, I came across this “decorated” nest and recognized its significance.  This is a display from the Christmas Bird.  Using an abandoned mud-lined nest of an American Robin, (Turdus migratorius), the Christmas Bird has created an assemblage involving red berries and the remains of a string of old Christmas lights that washed into the park with the other river-bourn detritus.  From this evidence, I suspected the bird had “claimed” this area.  If I in turn displayed patience…I might get another opportunity to photograph this unusual species.

Christmas Bird with its display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I waited about an hour and the Christmas Bird did appear to my great joy!  It arrived at the nest with a red berry in its beak which it added to its growing collection.  It is believed that this bird is attracted to the color red.  Usually, berries from the holly tree are used, but in this instance I recognized them as the fruit of the Nandina plant.  The bird probably discovered them growing in a private garden in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana.  It is suspected by ornithologists that the southerly migration of the Christmas Bird, which brings it to warmer climates, may trigger this unusual nest-like and courting behavior.  The Christmas Bird is known for its ability to tolerate extreme cold and it takes a great drop in temperature to stimulate it to migrate.

Close up of the Christmas Bird with red berry, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Christmas Bird with display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I was able to observe this bird making about ten trips back and forth between the nest and its berry source.  If the bird was aware of my presence…it did not appear to be overly alarmed.  Once in a while, the bird with crest erected, would cock its head back and forth trying to differentiate my form among the willow branches.  I held my breath and tried to remain still and as unthreatening as possible.

The Christmas Bird with its seanonable display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The weather grew damp and cold and the sun looked like it was not going to appear from beneath its blanket of clouds.  I made the decision that I had enough images and it was time to leave this bird in peace and go home.  On the ride home, I felt I had been given this great gift, the gift of nature which remains priceless and timeless!  For me, nothing packaged in a box and wrapped with a bow can equal this living blessing.  To all who have followed my adventures by the river this year…I offer my sincerest good wishes during this season of holidays!  I hope that at least once in your lifetimes, you will be visited by the Christmas Bird bringing red berries for your nest.

Christmas Bird with red berry, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd

piled up driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The following is my latest adventure from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s official now, the month of November was among our top ten coldest Novembers ever recorded.  This continues a see-saw trend where one month might set a record for heat (like October did) only to bounce back down to the other extreme.  It’s too early to tell about December, but on this recent visit it was cool and overcast.  We have since had several days of rain causing the river to swell.  Today’s story begins at the westernmost point on the Woodland Loop Trail.  This path is bordered by what folks around here refer to as a “creek”, but in actuality is a channel cut into the riverbank by storm water overflow released from the town of Clarksville.  I wish it were a creek and perhaps long ago, may have been one.  During periods of flooding and high water, driftwood and logs back up into this area and are stranded once the water level recedes.  The picture above is a recent illustration of this.

beaver tracks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I was exploring this water-cut channel and noticed that there were lots of beaver signs present.  In addition to their tracks left in the mud, I found plenty of chewed willow branches.  I added some of the nicer sticks to my collecting bag.  It made me think about how much the appearance of the black willow trees around here are shaped by the beaver’s “pruning” methods.  I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before…perhaps it was just too obvious.  Actually, I think it has something to do with the beaver population rebounding over the last few years.  In certain local places, they have become “pests”.  Their damning of local drainage canals has necessitated their capture and removal to other more remote areas.

found deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Exploring a bend on the Woodland Loop Trail, I found this deer skull laying upside down on the fallen leaves.  It was kind of hard to see, but something in the old brain said to look more closely and I did.  After taking a few photographs, I laid it upon the trunk of a large fallen tree for others to discover.  Like the beaver, it appears the deer are becoming more numerous as well.  After years of finding just their tracks and the occasional bone, this season I was able to spot a doe and her fawn in the park during broad daylight.

storm sewer overflow peninsula, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I walked to the top of the riverbank to get a better look at the peninsula that has been created at the mouth of the “creek” from the storm sewer’s overflow.  Over the years, I have witnessed stringers of sauger and catfish being caught here by the local fishermen.  I like how the rising and falling of the river has terraced the mud into a series of graduated steps.  I was relaxed and zoning out on the view when I noticed something white that had surfaced and was entering the “creek”.  I quickly took a photo and here it is.

white dorsal fin in the Ohio River, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I scrambled down the riverbank to get a better view and got my clothes severely muddy in the process.  In my head I’m telling myself that for all the world this looks like a shark’s dorsal fin…but is this possible?  I remember hearing that there are a few shark species (notably bull sharks) that are capable of swimming up rivers and able to tolerate being in fresh water for extended periods of time.  Still, we are a long way from the ocean which also includes navigating a large section of the Mississippi River before entering into the Ohio River… just to reach this spot.  I observed the fin submerging as it disappeared from view.  Hustling, I reached the general location where I thought the fin was heading and was “blown away” by this sight!

The Shark Shepard emerges from the river, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Emerging from the muddy water was this white figure sporting an improbable headdress or mask?  The figure was carrying a staff and appeared to have fins on its body similar to a shark.  I let this fellow come fully out of the water before my curiosity overwhelmed me and I went in for a closer look.

Shark Shepard, side view, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

This strange being did not seem to be afraid of me and regarded me through his dark eyes.  His face was framed by what looked like the jaws, teeth, and the head of a shark.  My attention kept returning to the fearsome mask it was wearing which I surmised might be a part of some breathing apparatus?  A yellow light on its chest would occasionally blink signaling some other unfamiliar technology was present.  The staff the figure was holding was terminated by a hand pointing a finger which reinforced the stranger’s mysterious presence.

The Shark Shepard on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Using its staff, I watched as the figure drew the outlines of several sharks in the soft mud and then pointed to one of his eyes.  He followed this by making a sweeping movement with his arm that seemed to encompass the river and its surrounding landscape.  It took me a moment, but I think it asked me if I had seen any sharks in the area?  Reflexively, I replied by shaking my head “no” which the figure seemed to understand by dropping his head and shoulders in a disconsolate manner?  That’s when I had this mental flash that this guy was a shepherd, a shark shepherd and he was looking for his lost flock?  From here on out, I will refer to him as the Shark Shepherd.  He next stuck his staff into the mud and walked away from it.  I decided to tag along to see if I could learn anything else about my new silent friend.

Shark Shepard by improvised tent, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd seemed to have a curiosity about our world.  I observed as he approached an improvised tent that someone had set up among the trees.  It’s owner(s), however, were not around, but it didn’t seem abandoned in my eyes.  Probably made by fishermen and there seemed to be several trying their luck along the riverbank on this windy day.  I too have a curiosity about the world and after my encounter with the Shark Shepherd ended…I rushed home to try to figure out what he was doing here so far from the sea?  Using the miracle of the internet, I learned a few alarming facts about shark disappearances worldwide.

The Shark Shepherd by fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

On average, between 20 million to 73 million sharks a year are taken out of marine ecosystems across the planet.  Most of the statistics mentioned the higher number…regardless, that’s too many sharks.  Sharks are “harvested” for their fins, cartilage, and teeth.  The boom in popularity for shark fin soup has led to an insidious practice where millions of sharks are harvested and often indiscriminately by using thousands of hooks set on miles of trailing “longlines”.  Sharks are a valuable bycatch.  The captured sharks (which are often caught alive) have their fins cut off and are frequently thrown back into the seas to die in agony.  It’s a lucrative business because this was once a delicacy and status symbol reserved for the wealthy back in the day when sharks were harder and more challenging to catch. Now it is within the reach of more people.  Through industrialized commercial fishing, millions of mostly Asian consumers can have a bowl of shark fin soup on special occasions.  Interestingly, the soup itself needs to be flavored with beef or chicken stock because the fins themselves are a textural element and contribute no flavor of their own.  Of course, a bowl of soup is not the only challenge sharks face.  Commercial sports fishing, pollution, reef destruction, and overfishing of the shark’s prey base play their part as well.

The Shark Shepherd at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Dec. 2014

In the United States, large sharks have disappeared from the Gulf of Mexico.  I think this is the reason the Shark Shepherd was this far inland.  Along our Atlantic Coast, it has been reported that eleven of the largest shark species have essentially vanished.  This has important repercussions for the overall marine environment.  You can’t remove this many apex predators from an ecosystem and expect it to function normally.  There are cascading effects.  A recent study attributes the decline in our East Coast scallop industry is due to the loss of sharks that normally would keep cownosed rays and sting rays who eat scallops in check.

Shark Shepherd by the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Dec. 2014

I followed the Shark Shepherd as he explored the area around the newly closed Interpretive Center.  There were people around and they did exhibit interest in my friend, but were generally respectful for what was going on.  A few folks asked if they could take pictures of the Shark Shepherd and he obliged them.  During my internet research, I did find it fascinating that there are places like American Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, and the island nation of Palau where sharks are protected.  Interestingly, these are all places in the Pacific Ocean where people regard the shark as a culturally and spiritually significant animal.  These Polynesian cultures understand that their very identities are connected with sharks.  The same, however, can’t be said for the rest of the world who regard sharks as nuisances and or threats.  Better to view something with reverence than through fear.

The Shark Shepherd surveys the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd climbed the staircase to gain a better vantage point overlooking the river.  I watched him scan the waters, but only an occasional fishing boat presented itself.  If he was looking for sharks, well, there probably hasn’t been any here for about 400 million years when this area was a Devonian Age coral reef.  I could feel the poignancy of the Shark Shepherd’s search as it failed to bear fruit.  After a short while, we reversed our course and retraced our steps.  The Shark Shepherd gathered his staff and walked back into the creek where after acknowledging me with one last look back…disappeared into the Ohio River.  Although I realized that I would not see him again, I couldn’t help but hope that he and his sharks wouldn’t disappear forever from the oceans of the world.

The Shark Shepherd, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Closed for Renovations

Falls of the Ohio State Park Interpretive Center

On November 24 the Falls of the Ohio’s Interpretive Center closed for renovations.  This is the first large-scale overhaul of the permanent exhibits since the center opened in 1994.  Since that time, the state of the art in terms of exhibit display has progressed by leaps and bounds.  According to an article appearing in the Courier-Journal, the Falls of the Ohio Foundation has raised six million dollars to pay for the new updates which are expected to be completed sometime in the fall of 2015.  Louisville’s respected museum design company, Solid Light Inc. will handle the redesign and installation.  The Interpretive Center will be employing the latest interactive technologies and refining its focus to better educate visitors about the significance of the Falls of the Ohio area.  Four new themed exhibits will take the place of the old static displays and are named “The Devonian Sea”, “A Changing Land”, “Converging Cultures” and “The Falls Today”.

Grand Hall of the Interpretive Center, 3/2010

I am looking forward to checking out the new exhibits once they open.  But if I may for a moment, pause and reflect upon the demise of the original beloved centerpiece that was once on display in the Interpretive Center’s main hall.  In style, it does harken back to a tradition when collections of natural history specimens and objects that provoked wonder were kept in Wunderkammers and cabinets of curiosity.  This eclectic display has never failed to fire up my imagination.  Yes, it is a mishmash of objects (both real and artificial) and it jumps all over the timeline.  This is actually one of the reasons I find this display so appealing.  My experience of the Falls is one where all this history and information exits simultaneously in the present and I felt that from this art-like installation.

old display at the Falls of the Ohio, birds above the mammoth skeleton

old fish display at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center

 

I love the scale of the mammoth skeleton and the taxidermed fish and birds lifting to and flowing from the ceiling.  With this display it was easy to adjust for scale and you received a truer sense for just how big the Devonian sharks were and how truly huge an Ice Age elephant was.  I’m not sure that a projection or video could convey this as much as something you could make a true physical comparison with that is sharing the same space with you?  A walk around the centerpiece revealed beautifully fabricated and delicate Devonian Age sea creatures inhabiting a coral reef.  The displays under glass contained specimens and relics that were a tip of the hat to many of the great 19th century naturalists that helped put the Falls of the Ohio on the map.  In essence, a lot of the information you needed to know about the Falls was contained in this single display.

Prince Madoc figure in the old display at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center

Of all the elements in this centerpiece, perhaps the most controversial was the inclusion of a life-size figure of Prince Madoc.  He was one of three figures presented which also included a representation of a Native American and a pioneer figure that might have also been a portrait of John James Audubon?  In case you have never heard of Prince Madoc…he potentially was a 12th century Welsh explorer and he and a band of his people may have been early European visitors to North America.  There is a persistent legend about a group of blonde hair blue-eyed Indians that may be descendants of Prince Madoc.  An old Native American story has this band being routed in battle near the Falls of the Ohio and is the connection to our area.  When President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark west to explore the continent…he asked that they keep an eye out for evidence of this story.  I have a good friend who couldn’t bear to look at the Prince Madoc figure and not because it wasn’t done well.  To him, it was a travesty to include this in a tableau that included factual elements.  To date, there is no convincing evidence, no archeological proof that Prince Madoc ever came to this continent.  I guess the veracity of the story never bothered me and I just liked the tale because of its association with the Falls.  To me, this is what history is about…some parts fact and some parts myth.  The Prince Madoc figure was there to add an extra dimension of imagination I could appreciate.

underneath the mammoth's ribcage

Prince Madoc may have been banished from future displays, but the mammoth skeleton was kept.  It was taken down and repositioned so that you have to pass between its legs and under its ribcage to enter into an auditorium.  I’m sure the new displays will be incredible, but I do hope they will also inspire visitors to use their own imaginations to some degree.

My collection of found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Having touched base with the Interpretive Center, I decided to connect with my own peculiar low-tech universe.  On this day it was sunny and windy and I made my way under the willow trees which provided some shelter from the breezes.  My larder of river-polished polystyrene chunks as white as the recent snowfall was there waiting for me.  I got an idea to make a particular figure from other items I found that day, but the piece I started crumbled to pieces.  A rare but not unheard of temporary setback.  I will return to it when I find the right form for this figure’s body.  On to improvised plan #2.  I looked around my pile and selected two new pieces and joined them together as head and body.  The addition of beaver-chewed willow stick limbs and some stones for eyes and plastic for the mouth and you have the basics of a figure.

Benchmark figure in the Falls landscape, Nov. 2014

This is the second piece I made and he is decidedly less complex than the sculpture that fell apart.  I kind of like this guy as an abstracted representation of a figure out in the landscape.  I walked him through the land and stopping here and there for different photo opportunities.  Here are a few more pics from this day.

Benchmark figure posed near river trash, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

To me, this figure has a sort of benchmark quality to it.  Here it’s posed next to some typical river trash.  There are places out here that “bleed” red from some oxides that originate beneath the sand.  I did keep the plastic wheel I found and added it to my ever-growing collection of toy wheels.  I have several hundred of them now and hope to create a grand piece with them.

Figure in a hole on the fossil cliffs, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Up on the fossil cliffs that overlook the river, I found a nice hole for my figure to stand in.  I tried to set the figure up by positioning the legs in a naturally occurring crack in the stone, but the wind was just too strong to allow this to happen.  A single fisherman shares the scene with my latest creation.

Styro-figure posed next to a nice piece of driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

For this image, I simply liked the piece of driftwood my Styro-figure is posed next to because of its worn and polished sculptural qualities.

Styro-figure posed next to anonymous improvised driftwood shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Here, I’ve set up the figure under an anonymous driftwood construction.  I liked the way the propped up driftwood defined and framed a space for my figure to exist in.  On this particular day, there wasn’t a made up story that came to mind.  For most of my Falls forays…this is the typical way the day goes.  It’s about being outside and reacting to the elements and conditions I come into contact with on the river’s edge.  This is how I interpret what is happening at the Falls of the Ohio.  I am already looking forward to my next visit and sharing it with you.

The Interpretive Center as seen from the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Long Walk West

Falls of the Ohio article, Courier-Journal Magazine cover, Feb. 13, 1966

On the occasion of my 400th riverblog post I thought I would try something a little different.  I’m thinking that reaching a personal blogging milestone is worthy of some observance .  It took me a little more than five years, 399 posts of original content, over 4000 published images, nearly 2500 comments, and deleting more than 30,000 blocked spam requests, etc… before I filled all the free space on my original WordPress blog.  I finally had to lay down some coin in order to purchase additional storage space to continue.  For me, this has been more than a great bargain.  When I originally began posting about my trips to the Falls of the Ohio, I had no idea of how much it would shape me as an artist, but without a doubt, it has.  I now view this blog as being more than just a vehicle for publishing the things I’ve made and experienced and has become a medium in its own right.  To everybody who has participated either at the river or by visiting and commenting…the Artist at Exit 0 thanks you!!  And now, from the intersection of nature and culture…on with the show.

Aerial view of the Falls of the Ohio, Courier-Journal magazine article 1966

One of my best friends gifted me this extensive article about the Falls of the Ohio dating back to 1966 that originally appeared in The Courier-Journal’s Sunday Magazine.  The C-J is published in Louisville and for a time was one of the best newspapers in the country winning many Pulitzer Prizes for its original reporting.  Like many fine newspapers across the land it is no longer locally owned and is a shadow of its former self.  Still, it survives and dutifully arrives at the doorstep of its subscribers seven days a week minus the Sunday magazine feature.  I was really fascinated by this article because it predates the Falls of the Ohio as an Indiana state park by many years.  I was surprised to see an area on the lower right of the aerial view labeled “Fossil Trees”.  This was the first reference to this I had come across.  Supposedly, this area is composed of slate containing the fossilized remains of Carboniferous trees.  It occurred to me that there was a lot about the northern bank I did not know about and decided to go exploring outside my usual confines.

Improvised shelter at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

I walked past the Woodland Loop Trail and heading west by hugging the riverbank.  Along the way, I came across this  makeshift and abandoned shelter created from found plastic and a quilted mover’s blanket.  The remains of a small campfire marked where someone sought temporary refuge here.  On more than one occasion I have come across folks in the park that are down on their luck and camp out here during the better weather months.

Photo from 1966 Courier-Journal article

As the magazine article from 1966 shows…people have been camping out and utilizing the abundant driftwood resources for a long time.  I have to admit, in all my years of coming out here, I haven’t seen anyone enjoying a fish fry like this.  That was 48 years a go, but seems more remote to me than that.  Among the many changes here, it is recommended that you limit your consumption of the local fish.

meandering length of driftwood, Nov. 2014Such a beautiful sun-shiny day and unseasonably warm too.  As I write this our first snowfall of the year lies on the ground.  Another article in last week’s paper caught my attention.  Apparently, this past October was the warmest October in the last fifty years and the fourth warmest ever recorded.  As I meander back and forth along the riverbank, it’s odd bits of trivia that come to mind.  I remember that I was living in Ft. Knox in 1966 and having a great time in Mrs. Songster’s third grade class at Van Vorris Elementary School.  Back then, my nature experiences were shaped by stalking the woods and creeks on this extensive military reservation.

Falls of the Ohio, Louisville in the distance, Nov 2014

As I kept walking westward, I would come across sections of the riverbank enlivened by the bright yellow fruit from the horse nettle plant.  These cherry tomato sized marbles look tempting, but they are highly poisonous.  I came across places on my hike where there were thousands of these fruits ripening.  I have always liked this view with the skyline of Louisville hanging on the horizon.  The city with its tall buildings looks diminutive and fragile balancing on the edge between the sky and water.

Falls of the Ohio, Tainter Gates in the background, Nov. 2014

The blackened root mass from a downed willow tree has an almost menacing presence on the riverbank.  A few turtles slide off logs into the water.  Goose Island and the Lower Tainter Gates are across the way.  I realize that this is the furthest west I have ever walked on this side of the river.  Previously, I have always limited my activities to the park proper.  Although I don’t see any signage demarcating boundaries, I am assuming that I’m now on private property?

Large house on the Indiana side of the Ohio River, Nov. 2014

I come across some wonderful homes that must command spectacular views of the river.   A couple of these dwellings sport their own boat ramps.  I stay nearest to the water and respectively move my way through.  Nobody challenges me and I keep moving forward.  I know there is an area up ahead that is administered by the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  After all these many years, it feels good to have other places associated with this special place to explore.

boat ramp near George Rogers Clark cabin site, Nov. 2014

After a leisurely walk lasting several hours I reach the boat launch area by the George Rogers Clark home site.  The famous hero of the Revolutionary War and founder of Louisville and Clarksville, retired to a small cabin that overlooked the river.  This boat ramp is right across the river from the Lower Tainter Gates and Hydroelectric Plant and gets lots of traffic from fishermen.  I decide that the areas I want to explore are still a long walk away and I modify my plans.  If I want to reach the spot where the fossilized tree remains are found, I probably should park my car near the ramp and walk westward from here.  For the time being I feel satisfied and retrace my steps back to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

riverbank view by the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Nov. 2014

The walk back is gorgeous.  On the return trip I collect lots of beaver-chewed willow sticks and a nice length of barge cable.  I will use these materials to make something.  Happily, I can report that I did not find nearly as much trash along this walk.  I did, however, make one small project from found materials and here it is.

clear bottle glass assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

detail, clear bottle glass assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

I found all this clear bottle glass lying in close proximity and created this small assemblage on the mud.  I made this to enjoy the play of light through the glass as well as appreciate the highlights on the water.  This piece consisted mostly of bottlenecks and bottle bottoms which are the strongest parts of a glass bottle.  I wondered what if some archeologist in the future found this assemblage…would they think it had any aesthetic reason for being or could this be part of some unknown ritual?  This area along the Ohio River has been in constant habitation for thousands of years and the bottle pieces are now a part of that record.  My concept of art has greatly expanded since my student days.  On the back page of this 1966 magazine I find an amusing advertisement that reminds me of how far I’ve traveled from the traditional practice!  I guess being your own art teacher involves nude women?  If only my art education had cost a mere $6.00 dollars a month.  For better or for worse, who knows where I would be now?

Back page ad, Courier-Journal Magazine, Feb. 13, 1966

 

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