Archive for July, 2010

When I asked my youngest son Adam if he wanted to go to the Falls with me he said yes for the first time in a while.  Everyone has their busy schedules these days, but somehow our calendars intersected on this day.  We went after supper when there was still a couple of hours of good light left.

Adam asked me if I had a fort out here like last year?  You know, the one with all the Styrofoam in it and if so, are we going there?  Barely were the words out of his mouth when he walked into my studio site.  Everything was as I left it except for the big helmeted figure which had fallen over.  In a way, this piece has become the figurehead of my driftwood boat for this season and as my unofficial mascot I respectfully stood it back up.

Adam wanted to go exploring around my area and while he did that I made this quick figure.  Two pieces of found polystyrene, coal eyes, plastic pen cap nose, wooden ears, plastic mouth, a plastic neck collar, and five sharpened sticks along with a foam letter “A” comprise the materials used to make this guy.  By the time Adam got back from circling around the site it was time to go…but first we could make a few photos along the way.

Of the pictures I took of the “Mister A” figure, this was my favorite.  The wrecked cooler adds a lot of formal interest.  Adam was getting hot and thirsty and so it was time to move on home.  I thanked him for coming along and promised him a cold sports drink at the next convenient store down the street.  Maybe it won’t be so hot the next time we explore together and we can stay longer?  Here’s one more shot before closing.

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Continuing my last walk…I came to the area that would be my base for the day.  There is a favorite tree with exposed roots that you can sit under and remain cool and out of the sun.  Previous visitors decorated this spot with many vertical sticks that give a fence-like impression.  Here’s two views, first the base of this tree as seen from the outside:

…and a view from the inside.  Over the years, I have left many small sculptures in this area.  They never seem to last very long in here.

Last week was my birthday, and so on this outing I have new tools.  Earlier in the year, I lost my handy two-bladed Swiss Army knife which was a previous gift from a friend.  It had a nice, easy to sharpen blade and a toothy saw that could cut wood.  Replacing that knife are these two objects.  My family gave me the updated Swiss Army knife complete with tweezers and toothpick.  My friend Jeff gave me the bigger saw.  Its blade folds out and has the advantage of locking.  I definitely can chew through a nicely sized limb with this baby! 

On this particular trip, the heat and humidity put a damper on doing anything ambitious.  I hung around this area for a couple of hours and made this guy who was checking out the butterflies in the purple loosestrife.

I found a little bit of Styrofoam to work with and this red plastic object that looks like a pipe.  I used tiny plastic fishing bobbers for eyes and the ears are clam shells.  Later because the shells kept falling off, I substituted a flat rock and sand-polished glass for the ears.  It’s subtle and you might not notice this change at first.  As for the place I was working at…last year the Purple Loosestrife was getting a foothold and now it is firmly entrenched.  This is a hard to get rid of invasive plant that plays havoc in small wetlands like this one.  The butterflies, however, love this weed. 

Among the many species feeding from the purple flowers is this Tiger Swallowtail, Pterourus glaucus.  This is a boldly patterned and large butterfly of summer.  I have seen some beat up looking butterflies of different species and am assuming they are from an earlier brood that perhaps over-wintered here?  The tiger swallowtail also has a common melanistic form and I also saw one of those out here today.

You can see the “tiger stripes” showing on his hind wing.  Also working these flowers were the large bumble bees we saw earlier on the morning glories.  I also observed several large, blue-black wasps that I associate with being spider hunters.  They are so intent on gathering nectar that they pay no attention to me.  All through the loosestrife insects were working the flowers.  Clearly, this plant has no shortage of pollinators.

Mr. Red Pipe was enjoying himself in all this purple haze and humidity.  There was something reassuring about watching all this insect life packed into a relatively small area.  Another favorite butterfly is hanging on a loosestrife blossom not too far away and if we move deliberately…we might not spook it away.

It’s an Orange Sulphur, Colias eurytheme.  We have several other members of the Sulphur family out here along with Viceroys, Red Admirals, and a couple different Skipper species.  I love the yellow-green eyes on this butterfly which seem to have a glow to them.

All my water is gone and so the idea of returning to my car sets in.  I have another bottle waiting for me there.  Tomorrow is supposed to be another high temperature day in the 90’s.  After our June being a record setter, it seems July is out for bragging rights too.  Before leaving, I snap one more picture of the Purple Loosestrife in its prime with the railroad bridge visible in the far distance. 

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Today is supposed to be the hottest day of the year.  Walking out my front door this morning I’m surprised by how warm and humid it is already.  When I reached the Falls, I decided to take cover from the direct sun by walking along the Woodland Trail.  All the combined vegetation produces a spicy fragrance.  Vines are in their glory and in areas of good sunlight they have grown over some of the trees.  Birds are hunting for insects among the leaves.  They listen for the locations of singing cicadas.

And, once in a while they catch a cicada as this male Northern cardinal has done.  He’s not the only bird moving through the canopy. 

Grackles are stalking along the tree limbs.  They always seem to be just out of reach of my camera.  I had a bit of better luck coming across two Downy Woodpeckers chasing each other in the interest of courtship. So, they didn’t focus on me.  The male held still long enough for me to capture this image.  He’s waiting for the female to make a counter move and then it will be his turn again.  They flew between tree trunks for several minutes.

I’m heading out to the western section of the park.  As suspected there are fewer people in this area.  After crossing the creek, I was looking for the trail leading to the river when I came across this unexpected floral surprise.  I do remember seeing escaped hibiscus blooming among the driftwood collected along the eastern dam.  Perhaps these are the same plants that were transplanted here during the last flooding incident?

I will admit to not knowing my plants as well as I do the animals.  And so, if I’m wrong on the identification of this plant, please let me know.  In the interim, I will keep looking at my guides for other possibilities.  What made this encounter even more interesting…another blossum was less than ten feet away.  I wonder if this plant came from the same source up river?

These large blooms along with the heat and sticky humidity added an extra jungle-like quality to the walk thus far.  Although it’s hot, I’m grateful I have my long pants on instead the cooler shorts.  There are stinging nettles, poison ivy, and sharp-edge grasses around to irritate your skin.  It’s a big relief today to walk out from under the trees and into the light.

I haven’t yet reached today’s destination, but I’m back at the water’s edge.  I accidently frightened away a pair of Great Blue Herons from the rocks they were hunting from.  I’m going to continue this adventure in my next post.  I have many more nice pictures and I eventually made a piece.  On this day, however, it was mostly about the walk.  Before closing, here’s another bird picture.  It’s a Black-crowned Night -Heron fishing in the shallow, but swift moving river.  He would hold his left foot off to the side while in the water.  I wondered if he did this so that fish bumping into the leg would alert him?  Maybe this helps in water with poor visibility?  That’s it for now…I look forward to sharing this outing the next time around.

Postscript:  My friend Don Lawler turned me in the right direction by suggesting the hibiscus I saw and photographed are in the mallow family.  The white flowers have been identified as being examples of the Crimson-Eyed Rose-Mallow.  The pink flower is from the Swamp Rose-Mallow.  Interestingly, both flowers are considered to be conspecific, meaning they are the same species!  That would explain their proximity to one another at this location.  Their scientific name is Hibiscus palustris.  You learn something everyday!

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The last several weeks at the Falls have yielded many favorite images that don’t always make it into my posts. Until now.  Here’s a collection of found objects photographed in situ at the moment of discovery.  Most of the items are lost toys that have travelled with the Ohio River to be washed up here and mixed with wood chips and fragments of our material culture.  An example of this is the so-called “Sand Lion” I discovered on the riverbank.  It’s rubbery and sticky and the sand clings to it easily.  It’s meant to be inflated by blowing through the mouth piece located at the tail.  Reminds me of a horned toad the way it lays in the sand.  I also came across this variant of a sand lion with its punkish hair style.

This sand lion is hardly fearsome with its child friendly smile.  I later found another animal object on the driftwood.  It’s a bear with a twist having been formed with polystyrene foam.  This was premade and I didn’t have to do anything else with it except to take its picture for my collection.

And now for a series of images of circular and spherical objects.  These are the things that catch my eye.  Of course the artificially colored plastic stands out nicely against the natural tones found at the river.

One final image before eye fatigue overwhelms you!  More flower images, but this time its decorations on the side of a plastic Barbie cup found on the riverbank’s mud and offered as “Cheers!” to you.  I’m looking forward to this weekend to see what is different at the Falls since my last adventure.  The forecast, however, is calling for temperatures around 100 degrees fahrenheit.  I don’t expect much will be moving quickly on this day.

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The other night after supper I had an hour or so to visit the river before the sun set.  So, I escaped to the river and my favorite park to check out the quality of the light as it slowly sets below the horizon.  During this time of year, the days are longer.  In short order, I was able to make this little figure from Styrofoam found on site.  What looks to be a green feather on this guy’s head is actually a miniature plastic skateboard missing its tiny wheels.  I used found coal for his eyes and his ears are small clam shells.  I tied some string around his waist for a belt.

Although it rained lightly a couple of days a go, things are looking a bit stagnant and dry in places.  The weatherman on the television gave some earlier hints that strong storms were a possibility for our area.  We shall wait and see.  For now, a quick stroll is in order before the rain comes or at least until the sun sets for another day.  Wandering near the river, I hear the calls of Killdeer plovers who are so good at sounding the alarm whenever danger is present…in this case, it’s me.  I managed this one quick photo of a bird hiding in an isolated patch of  grass.  The bright red eye-ring is visible making its eyes appear larger.

I noticed that whenever one of the resident vultures flew over, this bird would duck down in the grass.  Although the vultures don’t pose any danger, the Killdeer instinctively hide from what might be a bird of prey intent on eating it.  I have seen an American Kestrel make a meal of one of these large plovers before way out on the fossil beds on the Kentucky side.

There is a drying out occurring and all the small pools of water are evaporating.  In the process, they become more and more stagnant and I bet there’s a wealth of life in a single drop of this water.  I move the figure closer to the river’s edge to see what we can find.

The fishermen have had their moments.  Left on the bank are the remains of dead fish and the trash the anglers didn’t want to deal with packing back to their vehicles.  Of course, the vultures love all the fish and make short work of them.  What the birds miss…the flies find.

I do get a bit upset by the litter left behind by the fishermen.  I wouldn’t consider them sportsmen because they seem to have little regard for this resource.  I wish the people in charge of patrolling the park would come down here more often than they do.  I’m sure they would find many people out here fishing without a license.  I think some official presence visiting occasionally would be a good reminder to keep this place cleaner.

There are still isolated piles of previously collected river debris waiting for the trip to the landfill.  I hope at some point in the near future that this junk gets picked up for good.  For the moment, it represents a job half completed.  At this point in my visit, I perceive  that the quality of the light is different and a breeze is kicking up.  From the west I can see that the weatherman has a good shot of being right about his forecast.  A storm is on its way and I gather my stuff for the return trip home.  I hope the storm is a good one because this place could use a little freshening up.

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This post is actually to announce a new collection that I have added to my pages section.  It’s more of an experiment…an idea that I have had for a while and only just now put it together.  Plastic bottles are objects that I have been photographing at the Falls of the Ohio for a couple of years now.  I see so many of these that I decided to order my image collection roughly by what color the bottles are.  I remember seeing works by Tony Cragg that were made with fine gradations of colored plastic in fact our local Speed Museum used to exhibit one in their permanent collection.  So, I guess I’m counting his work among the influences for this piece along with your standard box of crayons!  Most of these bottles originally contained soap solutions (laundry detergent, shampoo, dish washing liquid) or various car care products (oil, anti-freeze, gas treatments, etc…).  Of course, since they are all made of plastic, they are also derived from petroleum.  I think the best way to view this collection is to stroll down fairly quickly.  I think I will try to add to this collection as I go along throughout my Falls of the Ohio Project and see where it goes.  Look under my Pages section and look for the Plastic Bottle Color Spectrum tag.  Thanks!

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Early morning at the Falls of the Ohio is often the best time to visit the river in the summertime.  Of course, you beat the hard-core heat of the day and there is a clean quality to the light that makes this landscape seem new.  The other animals seem to understand this and birds in particular are more active and expending energy in search of food.  I watched a pair of ospreys diving on fish under the beaks of the herons and struggle to carry away their prizes to a nest that is no doubt nearby.  Along the riverbank, red-winged blackbirds stop chasing each other long enough to pursue and eat the latest batch of mayflies to crawl out of this water.

Following a meandering path I reach the latest version of my temporary studio site under the willow trees.  The big figure with the lacrosse helmet is still here, but we have had visitors.  A saw blade I sometimes use to trim larger pieces of wood is jutting out of the figure’s abdomen, but otherwise there is no damage.  I remove the saw blade and stand the figure back up and turn my attention to making something new.  I found an unusual piece of Styrofoam that looks like folded drapery and I create this small figure that makes his debut in this post.  I remember thinking while I made him that he represented some kind of kneeling holy figure in his sacred robes.  Among the earliest written descriptions of the Ohio River come from French missionaries who called it ” La Belle Riviere”…the Beautiful River.

I wouldn’t describe myself as being religious in the common use of the term.  I would, however, say that what mysticism or spirituality I have been able to perceive in the world has come from contemplating nature and by making art.  Something in the power of creating something from nothing conjures up the divine for me.  I guess that’s what I like about using these river found materials…it’s all rubbish, but what I select and how I put things together has the ability to elicit a positive reaction in others.  It’s more than recycling at that point and becomes transformative.

Walking along the wood’s edge I come across this Large Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala) and I snap its picture.  My collection of butterfly images from the Falls is growing and I follow the same rule I have for the bird photos.  Everything I include in this project has to have been seen within the environs of the park.  I have seen lots of everything everywhere else, but if it wasn’t seen in the park than it doesn’t count for this project.  I want to get to know this place as well as I can and that includes learning the names of the life forms that inhabit or visit this space from time to time.  I’m also building up a nice field guide collection along the way!

Moving my Styrofoam holy man around, I come across the results of the river sweep that occurred several weeks a go.  It’s one thing to collect this stuff, but in order for it to mean anything…some follow through needs to happen.  It won’t be long before these plastic bags rip apart and we are right back where we started from.  It might even be harder to recruit volunteers the next time around because what’s the point right?

I recall from my art school days discussions of early modernism and spiritualism.  Each seems to have informed the other.  Kandinsky in particular stands out for me because of his theoretical writings.  I confess liking his words a little more than I cared for his later paintings.  What resonated with me is the idea that there is an inner necessity for both time and space that finds expression out of the inner necessity of the artist. 

The world was in a little better physical condition a century a go when Kandinsky and the early modernists were active.  People, other artists, ask me why I’m still doing what I’m doing at the Falls because surely by now I’ve made what points I can make?  My reply is that I’m still compelled to come out here, still feel the tug of inner necessity and with each passing day feel that what I’m doing is more important than before.  What is now necessary is that we need to acknowledge and care for the physical world and the other forms of life that also call this place home. 

Artists are important in that they possess the ability to help generate the visions that will help get us through this point in our development.  This is something which seems lacking to me at the moment.  Where is the optimism we should have at this point in the new century?  Is the blatant materialism all we can connect with anymore?  Fortunately, I’m meeting more and more young people who want to become artists that are actively questioning things again and I will offer my help to them however I can.

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