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Archive for November, 2011

I was taken a bit off guard on this visit to the Falls of the Ohio by a rising Ohio River.  While we have not received much precipitation recently, the same can’t be said for the parts of the Ohio River Valley north of here.  When I showed up on this visit much of the accessible riverbank was already underwater.  Here at the Falls the river level is regulated by a system of tainter gates and dams that helps ensure a steady water level for commercial barge traffic at the McAlpin Locks.  It is a curious notion to think how much of this environment is managed for the benefit of man.  Water is also released under these gates to help manage flooding along the length of the river and the land it passes through.

While walking the receding shoreline, I came across the remains of the larger recent figure I had set up in the tall grass.  The river had already captured and changed it.  I did find some new materials to make something with and this is the figure that resulted.  I have no doubt that it too is now gone.  I may find parts of it again once the river recedes.

He’s not the most attractive figure to say the least, but he’s what I had to work with on this day.  At first, I positioned him by some other objects that had washed into here during the spring floods.  As is my habit, I also moved him around to other locations that increasingly were being encroached upon by the rising river which was sending wave after wave crashing against the sandy beach.  Here are a few images of where I eventually left this figure to its fate.

The sky had this interesting quality to it.  Although it was still warm, the light conditions evoked a colder landscape.  I nearly expected to see a flock of Sandhill Cranes to pass by high above me in their characteristic “V-shaped flight pattern.  Since the day was proving to be less promising than anticipated…I decided to cut my day here short and move on to other concerns.  I left my latest figure on the log where it waved its good byes to the city on the opposite bank of the river.

All and all it was a rather melancholy day.  There are times I think I’m going to  be able to do more than I actually accomplish, but on this day the river was calling the tune.  I wonder how high the river will eventually get?

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Last Saturday was a fun adventure for me and involved a few more people than usual too!  First, the morning light was fantastic and I met photographer Ross Gordon down at the Falls who is working on a photo project of his own.  We walked to my outdoor studio to see how things were weathering.  Everything looked relatively undisturbed.

On our way back to the parking lot, I was able to locate the Pied Woodpecker that had taken up temporary residency in the park.  My friend saw this as a great opportunity for a one of a kind photograph. Here’s Ross in action while the bird looks on with puzzled expression.

After that early adventure I had an appointment at the Interpretive Center I didn’t want to miss. I had received a nice invitation to hang out with Girl Scout Troop # 1008 while they pitched in to help clean up the park.

My friend Laura who works at Gallery Hertz has a daughter in scouting.  Since Troop #1008 had already scheduled a clean up at the river…she wondered if I could join them to talk about what I do in the park?  I began by showing the troop the bottle piece I had just finished and photographed before catching up with them this morning.  After the show and tell, the gloves were put on and the litter bags were distributed as the young women started cleaning up around the Interpretive Center.  They did a really good job too as shown by this large sheet of plastic they pulled out of the underbrush.

I followed around collecting trash with the scouts and made this figure from the junk I found.  I left him standing near a path along the Woodland Trail.

The figure included bits of hickory nuts, wood, and plastic.  The small purple ball was a good find and helped make this piece more interesting. The nose is part of an old corn cob.

My composite figure had to give a little shout out to the troop for their hard work.  In what seemed a short amount of time, an impressive pile of trash bags appeared by the park’s dumpster.  In a great mood…the clean up team assembled for this celebratory photograph.

After the troop left, I hung out at the river for another hour or so.  There was still a little color left in the trees that soon would be gone.

The little dark dot near the center of the above image is a fisherman I had been watching.  He has hip waders on which has helped him get out to a channel where the fish were biting. While working with the girl scouts, the fisherman passed by on his way home.  He was nice enough to show me his impressive stringer of fish.

He had some nice saugers (dark and mottled) and a few hybrid stripped bass.  I’m always pleasantly surprised by some of the fish I see being caught out here.  Well, that’s all the time I have today.  Have a great week and see you later!

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As promised, here are a few images from my completed bottle project.  For the last several months I have been finding empty liquor bottles and filling them with the coal that washed into the park after last spring’s flood.  A recent invitation to participate in a coal-themed art exhibition gave me a new reason to work with familiar materials.

It’s my assumption that the coal is in the Ohio River because it washed or fell off barges destined for power plants in the valley?  In places under the railroad bridge there were deposits several inches thick on the beach.  Not all of it was coal gravel, but included pebbles and larger pieces as well.  My “favorite” rocks were the ones that the river tumbled smooth into egg-shapes.  The white flecks in the black gravel are fragments of mussel shells.

In my mind I made a link between the empty booze bottles and the coal.  Both are products that require extraction to bring into being before being consumed in ever addictive quantities.  Putting the coal back into the bottles was a way to put random carbon back into storage and also feel some sense of doing something positive and purposeful by at least removing these materials from the Falls of the Ohio.  In Kentucky, we are consuming our mountains for their coal a sip here and shot there and the social and environmental challenges are adding up to a bigger headache in the wider world.

Since I started this piece here I also wanted a photo of it in the environment in which it was created one found and filled bottle at a time.  Between trips to the Falls I would store the bottles in my basement until I got enough of them to make something with.  When I finally decided I had more than enough I dragged it all back down to the river and set it up on a pretty autumn day.  I also recalled the badly twisted ankle I had over the summer that took weeks to heal.  I was doing this very activity when I rolled my ankle over in the sand.  I think the finished piece has about sixty bottles on it. Most of them are made of glass, but the smallest ones are plastic. All the wood table/altar pieces were also originally found at the Falls of the Ohio.  I used a small folding hand saw and cut the wood to length before bringing it home.  Here’s a few views of the completed sculpture set up by the river.

I had trouble coming up with a title for this work, but finally thought “Mountaintop Minibar” was working for me as much as anything else.  Who knows…I may think of something else in time.

I prefer seeing my work out here by the river.  All the other information in the  pictures just adds to the moment.  I did take a few images of my minibar against a black cloth at the church studio.  Here’s what it looks like by itself and with a detail of the bottles.  So far, it looks like this work will be exhibited in an exhibition in October 2012 and perhaps other opportunities will come up before then.  And now, for the last two images.  Thanks for checking in!

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We have had a warm and mostly dry autumn thus far at the Falls of the Ohio.  I’m taking advantage of another lovely weekend to go exploring along my favorite spots on the riverbank.  I usually begin by going down to the water’s edge to see if anything new has washed up.  Here are a few of the objects I came across and added to my ever burgeoning collecting bag.  Some of my finds I will use in my sculptures while the more interesting objects will enter one of the various river collections I have been assembling.   As usual, I find some doll or doll element along the river’s edge .  Aside from plastic balls…dolls are the toy that I find the most which has always struck me as being odd. First, I came across this tiny doll with purple hair.  If you look closely you can see burrs that are snagged in her hair-do.  Later, I found this larger doll that was buried in the sand.  I flipped her over and took her “portrait” and then walked away.  It’s very possible that I will find her again in a different context. My most interesting find of the day was this plastic ax-head.  I’m always on the look out for any real artifacts from the Indigenous people who lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived, but I have never found even the slightest fragment of pottery or the flakes left over from chipping projectile points.  I think the river here is just too dynamic for those kind of discoveries.  Nevertheless, this plastic ax-head says a lot about the time in which it was made.  First, it is made of hollow plastic which is of course not nearly as durable as flint.  Second, it clearly says where it was made which in this case is Hong Kong.  Lastly, it promotes an inaccurate characterization of who are native people are.  Here are the images that are on this souvenir tomahawk.

After scoping out the river’s edge…I move up the riverbank with the larger pieces of Styrofoam I have found and submit to my own urge to make something.  Here is this day’s figure starting with the head in progress.  You can gauge its size from my feet which are intruding in the bottom edge of the frame.  As I walk along, I’m also looking for expressive sticks to use for arms and legs.  The only tool I’m using here is my pocket knife.

After putting all the pieces together…I move back down to the river and try to capture another portrait in the context of this day.  Usually, I take several images and a few of these capture how active the river was.

The sunlight was bright on this day and cast strong shadows which I like.  One difficulty of photographing polystyrene is that it is so relentlessly white that it reflects the light so strongly often washing out my images.  Sometime’s it is if the light is emanating from the figure itself.  I’m sure photographing some of my sculptures with infrared film would yield interesting results.

The last picture I snapped is where I left the figure before heading home.  I came to call him “Wedgehead” because of the shape of his noggin.  He was last seen standing in what looks to be tall grass, but is in fact young willow trees that sprouted since the last flooding.

Soon, all the leaves will be down and the bare bones of the Falls of the Ohio will show itself.  The sense of space will also greatly change creating another stage for the drama that is the Falls of the Ohio.  Have a great week everybody!

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I met my friend the “Professor” by the old cottonwood tree that has been turned into a hang-out of sorts for the local teenagers.  I don’t get to see him as often as I would like to…so the time we spend together is meaningful for me.  Usually, we pick a topic to converse about and see where it goes from there.  This time, since it was the end of October we decided that a Halloween-theme was in order.  By now it shouldn’t surprise the regular readers of this blog that all kinds of holiday related stuff also washes into the park along with all the regular junk that unfortunately is in the Ohio River.

The Professor and I have been friends for a few years now.  I first met him here by the river.  We are both beachcombers and it has been fun to recount our various discoveries.  It is interesting how people like to collect different things and the Professor keeps his own cabinet of curiosities which is composed of his river finds.  When I caught up with him this morning, he had already been prowling the river’s beaches and he was anxious to show me his treasures.  This is what he decided to keep to add to his growing river collection.

It’s not everyday that you encounter a lobster at the Falls of the Ohio.  On occasion, you do come across the small crayfish or “crawdads” that the herons and raccoons like to eat.  The Professor seemed especially happy to have found it.  His next exhibit was a bit peculiar and a tad distasteful.

Yes, it’s an old intact jar of pickles that reminded the Professor of the preserved specimens you might find in a medical museum.  While these “albino” pickles are indeed scary…they are not overtly Halloween decorations.  There was something inside the tree house that the Professor said did fit the bill and here is a snapshot of it.

Now here indeed was a true Halloween decoration that has been augmented with an improvised eye-patch and the worm dangling from its bony mouth is a plastic worm used for fishing.  This find was hanging up inside the tree house and my guess is that it is being used now to impart some pirate atmosphere.

With his beady little eyes shining, the Professor was anxious to see what I had brought.  Reaching into my collecting bag I pulled out an envelope of photographs.  One difference between the Professor and me is that I no longer feel compelled to pick up and carry home every little thing I find.  Sometimes a photographic image of it is enough for me and this set off a conversation about how nothing replaces being able to handle the real thing and how computers and on-line shopping are weirdly vicarious experiences.  I let the Professor rant a bit and of course…he’s right.  Regardless, I did show him my images and I’m glad to also share them with you.  Most of them are Jack-o-lantern candy containers for holding the actual trick or treat loot.  So, here are the pictures which span about a year and a half worth of finds.

Here’s a few smaller novelties that probably were part of the candy’s packaging.

I once found a skeletal reference of my own and I think it was used as a stopper for some kind of candy container?

And now for a couple of found disguises.

This full-face mask looks like a hockey goalie’s mask, but I think it recalls one of those scary Halloween movies which I’m not fond of.  The next one is more my style!

I thought it was humorous to encounter this plastic nose mask!  Okay, one last image before total boredom sets in.  Here’s another jack-o-lantern pumpkin I came across after last spring’s flooding.  It’s meant as a house decoration and was as large as a good-sized pumpkin.  It was so muddy where it rested that I just took this picture and went on my way.  Here’s hoping you all had more treats than tricks during the last Halloween.

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