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Archive for October, 2009

Late October color, 10/09

When the trees at the Falls of the Ohio reach peak color, birders keep an eye open for avian rarities.  The Uncommon Bluebill may or more likely may not appear in the park.  Usually birders have to settle for glossy pictures of this bird in fancy magazines devoted to all things…birds.  Those images are usually taken in the bluebill’s northern haunts during the breeding season when the birds are a bit more distracted as they go through their courtship gyrations.  This post is about a personal stroke of luck as I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to record the Uncommon Bluebill at the Falls of the Ohio.

the Uncommon Bluebill, 10/09

And here it is!  As advertised, this bird does possess a distinctly blue beak.  It’s a little larger than the average wood warbler and has some of the same foraging behaviors.  Other distinct features for identification purposes include a white body and pink tail.  This bird is equally at home on the ground or in the top most branches of a tree.  I do confess that I wasn’t looking for this bird for that would be an excercise in frustration.  In a way, it has to find you and you have to be prepared to receive it when it appears.  That is why I bring my camera with me whenever I’m here.

Uncommon Bluebill with Milkweed, 10/09

I recall that a few Golden-crowned Kinglets proceeded the bluebill.  I was watching the kinglets and their hovering, mid-air investigations of the undersides of leaves when from the corner of my eye I noticed a bird that was distinctly not a kinglet.  The Uncommon Bluebill moved easily from a branch to the trunk of a tree ready to pounce on the insects it discovered.  Some of my best shots of this single bird were in association with a Milkweed vine that held its attention for a while.  It was so intent in its pursuit that it did not notice me observing it from behind a large willow.

Uncommon Bluebill and Milkweed, 10/09

I held my breath and hoped the digitally- produced mechanical camera noise would not frighten it away.  The bird hung around for a minute and no longer.  After that, it was gone.  I walked silently over the dropped willow leaves and back to my car.  I had just seen a creature so rare that it was essentially a ghost.  What could possibly top that as an experience today?

Autumn willows by the river, 10/09

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Sycamore in Fall, 10/09

The American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is a large and familiar tree found primarily east of the Mississippi River.  Many people recognize it by its mottled bark revealing patches of brown and white color.  Usually sycamore trees are found close to water and that is the case at the Falls of the Ohio.  I have a favorite stand of these trees, but they are remarkable for reasons other than their size. 

Sycamores with open roots, 10/09

Sycamore trees, Falls of the Ohio, 10/09

I can remember when I first came across these trees, I had the feeling that they were trying to uproot themselves and walk away.  The exposed root systems in these specimens are elaborate.  I wonder if the riverbank was more extensive at some earlier point in the development of these trees and eroded away due to flooding?  Sycamores can be fast growing trees, but these examples don’t appear to be that old.

Sycamore roots, 10/09

Their roots snake across the riverbank nearly touching the water and are very picturesque.  I have used this location as a backdrop to photograph some of my sculptures.  I did this most recently for a work entitled “Audubon’s Apotheosis”.  Within the aggregate that makes up a sycamore’s seed ball is a small sphere that I have used for eyes in some of my figures.  I also like the yellow-green color of the leaves this time of year.  Here’s one last shot of a particularly “Ent-ish” tree, its dropped leaves swirling around its amazing roots.

Walking Sycamore tree, 10/09

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Watchful Willie, top view, 10/09

As promised, the weekend at the river was gorgeous.  I spent the greater part of Sunday in the sun and being absorbed by my absurd art form.  The willow leaves that hadn’t already dropped to the ground were now more yellow than green.  Autumn is a fragile season at the Falls.  If you blink you can miss it and I wanted to place a figure in this setting before that happened.  I moved to my studio spot and created this guy from materials I had gathered previously and snapped these images.

Watchful Willie's head, 10/09

Here’s Willie’s head in my hand.  I started with an odd-shaped hunk of weathered Styrofoam and fished out some bobbers from my bag to use for eyes.  As you can see, they don’t exactly match, but they work with the form and make it more expressive.  The mouth is a piece of red plastic and I’m not sure what the nose was in a previous life.  Maybe you do?

gray squirrel, 10/09

While I worked on my figure, I wasn’t completely alone.  This handsome gray squirrel decided that I posed no threat and sat on the opposite end of the same log I was sitting on!  None of my movements seemed to concern it and so I kept doing what I was doing and it did the same.  I have had the feeling on more than one occasion that animals reveal their presence to me.  Connecting with life in those moments is a truly magical and intimate experience.  If that happened to more people regularly, there would be no question about falling in love with nature or the need to preserve it.

Watchful Willie, 10/09

The chunk of Styrofoam I selected for the body was really flawed and split easily.  I was barely able to get the legs in before the whole piece started falling apart.  I picked a spot that had all these other “elements” to it and gingerly stuck the sculpture into the wet sand.  When I categorize my work as being “absurd”, it is meant to refer to more than just the figures.  Coming across a stretch of the Ohio River that has several tires, plastic barrels, and rusted-out water heaters along it is equally ridiculous.  The figures I make help create focal points at particular sites and remind people that this kind of callous treatment of a precious resource is something no other animal would think of doing.

Watchful Willie in the landscape, 10/09

I left this figure standing next to the debris and returned to my studio under the willows.  I have long come to the realization that try as I might, I just can’t take all this trash with me.  I have enough river-turned Styrofoam at home to continue this project for a couple of years.  By leaving a work every once in a while I hope that visitors will get the idea that some measure of creativity is required to address the pollution dilemma and that this creativity potentially resides in everyone.  And since I consider the river to be a co-creator in this artwork, there’s probably some karmic significance to letting the water have the last word every now and then.

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Great Blue Heron in flight, 10/09

After last week’s excitement in the form of an exhibition and talk, life is returning to a slower pace.  Autumn is in full swing now.  When the sun is shining there are still enough leaves with great color left on the trees to make things seem magical.  On the other hand, after days of rain and overhanging clouds…it’s easy to get a case of the grays.  Following are a few images from last weekend.  I did come across an unexpected bird that is new to my Falls of the Ohio checklist.  I was able to watch a pair of Prothonotary Warblers for a few minutes and managed a couple of really  blurry images with my camera.  The park’s official checklist lists them as being only occasional for the spring season.  So, I’m feeling lucky to have seen them unexpectedly.

young groundhog, 10/09

The park’s woodchuck’s are busy putting on weight for the hibernation to come.  It seems this has been a decent year for them.  I’ve seen many and stepped into more than one unseen burrow entrance. It’s been a good year watching animals in general.  The mink sighting earlier in the year was a highlight.  It’s only a matter of time before I surprise a deer in the park.  Signs of them are starting to show up everywhere.

plastic model car, 10/09

I’m still finding unusual plastic stuff all the time.  Despite walking familiar routes through the park, I keep coming across items deposited here by past floods.  Here’s a plastic model Mustang car.  It was lying snug next to a log.  I have other images of shoes and plastic gasoline containers as well that I’ll use to eventually update those image collections on this blog.  With many of the willow trees losing their leaves, my secret studio spot is easier to find than ever.  Here’s what it looks like currently.  Prince Madoc is keeping a good watch over things!  According to the extended forecast, tomorrow is supposed to be the one sunny day of the week.  I’ve promised myself an extended outing at the Falls.  Whatever I make or document will be my posts for the upcoming week.

Studio in mid October, 10/09

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Trick or Treater at Galerie Hertz, 10/09

After the Bluegrass Bioneers talk, I had works open in a group show at Galerie Hertz in Louisville.  The exhibit dates are October 18 through November 14.  Many of the fifteen sculptures on display were featured first in this blog.  It’s a night and day difference seeing them in a gallery context as opposed to their original settings at the Falls of the Ohio.

Rain Deer, 10/09

This space on South Preston Street is the latest incarnation of Galerie Hertz.  Billy Hertz and his partner Tom Schnepf are rightly credited for their work in revitalizing and rehabilitating old buildings and distressed neighborhoods.  Much of what exists as an art scene in Louisville, especially on Market Street, owes this unique pair a debt of thanks.  Whether lightning can be bottled yet again remains to be seen.  In addition to serving as a gallery, this large, high-ceilinged space is also home to the couple and serves as Billy’s painting studio as well.  Tom is a marvelous gardener and it has been fun to watch black top and concrete being transformed into a living space for plants.

Galerie Hertz, 10/09

Paintings by M. Van Pelt and W. Goodman line the gallery’s walls.  The opening was relaxed and informal and it was nice visiting with old friends.

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Bioneer sign, 10/09

The live satellite feed from California of the national Bioneers conference was projected onto the domed ceiling of the University of Louisville’s Rauch Planetarium.  A nice cheer and applause followed the mention of the City of Louisville as being one of the participating cities in the 20th anniversary of this event.  Bioneers are people who are social and scientific innovators engaged in the tough challenges that affect us as a result of our rough treatment of the very Earth that sustains us.  I was honored to be asked to participate in the Bluegrass Bioneers which was a three day connection to the national event.

Rauch Planetarium, 10/09

The Bluegrass Bioneers are people who are truly trying to make a difference globally by acting locally.  Several of the Kentucky sessions revolved around the issues of coal and the consequences that result to people and planet from relying on this fossil fuel.  Sustainability and wise land use were frequent themes among the dozens of presentations that were given by experts in their fields.  There was a creative mix of round table discussions, films and documentaries, lectures, music and more that kept things lively and interesting.  Despite the daunting environmental challenges that face all of us, there was an upbeat and optimistic attitude around this event as people networked and strategize on what to do next.

My art at Bioneers event, 10/09

Partly as a result of this blog, I was asked to show a few of my artworks and give a talk about my Falls of the Ohio Project.  Here’s an image of my absurd works in the planetarium that were temporarily relieved of their duty of insulating my basement.  I gave a PowerPoint presentation showing my art in its river context and was really surprised when 25 people showed up on a beautiful Sunday morning to check it out. According to my son Michael,  I probably had a few slides I could have done without, but each time I give this show it will get a little better as a presentation.  With hope, maybe a few people sitting in the audience might think to engage the world using their own innate creativity.  Of the sessions I watched, the plenary talk given by artist Lily Yeh was the most inspiring.  Her projects in Philadelphia and Rwanda demonstrate in the most positive way the transformative power of art.

Bioneer sign, 10/09

I would like to thank Ben Evans for inviting me, “Crow Holister” for the recommendation, and the University of Louisville, Rauch Planetarium, and the University of Louisville Center for Environmental Education for helping to organize and host this event.  I enjoyed the opportunity to share what I do and to make new friends!

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blue-headed vireo

October and the Fall migration is underway.  One bird I look forward to seeing is the Blue-headed Vireo.  I have spotted them the same week in October for two consecutive years now.  I watched a pair working their way around the willow trees and observed one eating a fat, dark moth it caught.  These vireos are less wary and found lower in the trees than the other vireo species recorded here.  The official Falls of the Ohio checklist counts six vireo species.  I’m still looking for the Yellow-throated Vireo, which like the Blue-headed is considered uncommon for the park.  I like the bright white spectacles around this bird’s eyes.  Here’s a different view of this bird.

Blue-headed Vireo, 10/09

A couple weeks back I made another bird from Styrofoam and just didn’t get the chance to post it till now.  I think it turned out well and I call it a “White Jay”.  It’s about the same size as a Blue Jay.  Materials used to create this sculpture include:  polystyrene foam, sticks, lead (one eye), bark (for the wings) and plastic.  I later attached it to a branch, as in early ornithological prints, and is in the present Galerie Hertz exhibit.  Again, here are a  couple different views of this piece.

White Jay, 10/09

White Jay, 10/09

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