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Archive for February, 2012

On an absolutely beautiful day I recorded these images of my latest found materials sculpture made at the Falls of the Ohio.  The morning started briskly, but warmed up enough that I felt comfortable taking my jacket off!  Around here, we were wondering if winter would ever arrive and now that it’s late February…we are beginning to have our doubts.  Without question, this has been the warmest winter I can recall around here.  At first, I had the park to myself and I began my day scrounging the river bank for materials.  After a couple of hours, I had enough river polished polystyrene assembled at one area that my latest outdoor studio was born.  As long as the river doesn’t swamp this spot anytime soon…I should have enough materials to keep me busy for a while.  Here is my first image of my latest Falls of the Ohio atelier.

It’s mostly Styrofoam chunks in various sizes, but you can see other stuff as well.  I found an interesting sign written in black marker that looks to be quoting the price of various scrap metals.  The sign is so crudely made that I wondered if some backyard entrepreneur was collecting aluminum and copper for later resale to a salvage yard?  That makes it a true sign of the times as metal of all varieties becomes increasingly valuable.  I also have a section of fire hose I salvaged.  It’s canvas-covered rubber and it’s just the right kind of thing that one of my stone carving friends could use.  When a particularly heavy piece of stone is moved, pieces of fire hose are used to protect both the stone and the ropes from abrasion as the stone is lifted by crane.  I found an especially long length of fire hose after the big driftwood fire of the early summer.  That fire must have caught the fire fighters by surprise because I can’t imagine why such a large length of perfectly good hose would be cut and abandoned?  I also found a Styrofoam life ring and various odds and ends I may use when I make my own brand of sculpture.  The following are images that show the progression of this day’s figure as it came into being.  First, I started with a large section of lightweight material that I heard one old-timer call fiberglass?  I’m not sure that it’s made of that, but it definitely is not polystyrene.  I hammered some legs into it with a board and set it upright.  I’ll let a few of the photos speak for themselves as the figure comes together.

The head is made of various found plastic fragments.  The head crest is composed of a half of a frisbee and the hard bristles of a large push broom.  The ears are the bottoms of aluminum cans which suggest ear spools.  Here is a detail of the head.

He’s a handsome guy in a Mayan sort of way isn’t he?  After assembly, I reposed the figure at different places near my studio and ran into some new friends.  This is Annie and James who were at the Falls enjoying a little photography of their own.  They had seen my work out here before and now they have a name and face to go with the artist.

After a nice visit with the couple, I reposed my piece to face the river and took these parting images while soaking up all the fresh air and light.

I’ll be curious to see how this figure survives until my next visit.  Should he disappear…I’m not too worried.  I have more materials at my outdoor studio and more arriving daily including a couple of huge Styrofoam chunks too heavy to move! Here’s one photo of what must have been a section of a boat dock.  See you next time around from the Falls of the Ohio.

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On a warm Saturday morning in mid February, I was exploring the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  At first glance, I had the place to myself and I began my systematic sweep of the shoreline looking for whatever the river had temporarily marooned here.  Usually, I will walk down to the water’s edge first and then I comb the bank walking back and forth until I hit the treeline.  This typically takes an hour or so and my collecting bag quickly fills up with all kinds of river treasures both natural and artificial.  This morning was to prove to be a memorable one when I came across a creature new to me and I believe science as well?

Years of bird watching had trained me to key on the slightest movement that might betray a creature’s location.  Such was the case when I came across this extraordinary insect that was exploring the same territory as me!  I saw a little motion from the corner of my eye while scanning the riverbank that proved to be this very large ant’s wiggling legs.  This is not my first encounter with a large insect at the Falls of the Ohio.  Previously, I had discovered five other giants of different species all belonging to a genus I had dubbed “Polystyrenus”… because their exoskeletons look like they are made from weathered Styrofoam.  The following is my report complete with photographs and observations made in the field.

I would estimate that this insect’s body, (which looks to be an  “ant”), to be about a foot in length.  Of course, the articulated legs make it seem bigger.  Its eyes appeared to be simple and its mouth parts seemed feeble.  I surmised that whatever it fed upon didn’t require the shearing power of larger mandibles.  I could be more certain of this, but I refused to “collect” or kill this creature in the name of science just to complete a more thorough morphological examination . The thought crossed my mind that this could be the young of the Giant Blue Ant I had seen here a couple of years a go?  I also noticed that many of its legs were different from one another and each appendage might be a different tool like blades in a Swiss Army knife?

While the ant explored its world I discreetly followed along.  My camera is equipped with a telephoto lens nearly as big as the bug.  Still, I found this particular specimen to be amazingly tolerant of my presence.  I watched it while it moved to the river’s edge, but I could not gauge its purpose here.

Interestingly, I did observe it checking out a couple of frayed barge cables that were snagged and unraveling among the willow branches.  It seemed very intent with the fiber strands and used its six legs to gather up the strings into a ball.

Here’s the ant on a different branch.  I wonder if it is responsible for the cuts on this cable?  You can see an intact length of this heavy rope on the sand below.  Could this be some form of play?  This is a question to be answered later.  I never saw the ant do anything else with these two cables .  Does anyone out there have a hypothesis?  Moving on, I did get some very interesting images of the ant either feeding or drinking that show how unusual this ant is from its smaller kin.

On several occasions I was able to observe our remarkable ant taking “sustenance” from iridescent water which flowed in rivulets from the sand below.  What is this stuff?  Is it petroleum pollution or the oils and minerals leaching from other biodegradable materials breaking down below the sand?  As it fed, the ant was at its least cautious.  Perhaps it was drunk?  I walked up to it and was able to take this aerial view.  The rainbow-effect on the sand contrasted nicely against the whiteness of the insect. You can easily see the basic insect body plan with its head, thorax, and abdomen.  Of course, all true insects have six legs.

Here’s another image that comes as a revelation and shows clearly how it feeds.

Like a butterfly, the ant unveiled a long proboscis or feeding tube and lowered into the sheen.  Its abdomen pulsed while it sucked.  I kept thinking about what this stuff is that bubbles to the surface and could it be responsible for the appearance here of these large insects?  Is this some local version of the “Godzilla-effect” where pollution mutates the endemic creatures into giants?  Well, at least I think Clarksville, Indiana will be safe from this ant for the time being.  Now if millions of these ants were to show up at the same time…then this story could change.

After imbibing this strange brew, I observed the Giant White Ant exploring the park.  A previous visitor had found an orange life-preserver and placed it over the branch of a tree.  Here the ant gets on its “hind” legs to investigate the ring.  This ant displays a lot of curiosity about its world.  For a short-time, I lost track of the ant which is able to walk across the driftwood more quickly than I, but I was able to relocate it when I came across this shattered plastic barrel.  It kind of looked at home here and so I left it be and moved on.

That’s it…I have more pictures, but they don’t reveal anymore about the Giant White Ant’s behavior.  Of course, I hope to see it again provided it manages to evade its enemies and stay alive.  What will the “Godzilla-effect”  produce here next?  I wonder if E.O. Wilson has encountered anything like this before in all his researches?  I’ll close now with a final image of my ant.

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I think today’s post will be shorter than usual, but will need to type it out to be sure.  On this visit to the Ohio River I found it rising which surprised me because we haven’t had much in the way of either rain or snow this year.  When I arrived on the scene, many of the familiar places I visit to make my art were already underwater.  I had to keep moving west in the park to access the shrinking riverbank.

I came across this picnic table near the Interpretive Center.  The river is now enjoying what is normally a cozy place to share a few sandwiches.  I wonder if this table eventually floated off?  I kept walking along the retreating shoreline being mindful not to step into the ever creeping waters.

I have my collecting bag with me, but there’s not much to find today.  It will probably be different after the river retreats. The trash left behind will mark how far the waves pushed the debris onto the land. I came across this nice-sized chunk of eroded polystyrene and decided to use it in today’s project.  A short distance from this find was an even larger hunk of Styrofoam and I was in business for the day.

This second piece of foam was nearly as large as me.  It took a bit of struggling to get it positioned where I wanted it near the rising river.  In this section of the park much of the driftwood I was finding seemed dried out and brittle.  I never did come across the right sticks, but had to make do with what today presented.  I did like the happy-go-lucky expression on this figure’s face.

Here’s a full shot of the figure at the place where I left it.  It’s gone now and the few ducks who were around were probably the only witnesses?

A slightly different view this time.  This figure’s eyes are large fishing bobbers I already had in my bag, however, the nose is some rolled piece of foam that I found out here.  I’m glad the sun came out and made the day a bit more cheerful.  That white object in the distance is another hunk of Styrofoam riding the waves…perhaps my next sculpture?

The river was rising and the light was beginning to fade and once the wind started to pick up…I decided to call it an early day.  One last look back at my saluting figure and this final image of it.  I’ll return once the river recedes and let you know what I found.

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