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Archive for November, 2014

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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In the Willow Habitat, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

The Falls of the Ohio State Park has experienced its first light frost.  With the colder temperatures arriving, a maturing autumn anticipates the winter to come.  Although there are still some leaves left on the black willows and cottonwood trees…they won’t last much longer.  Already the curled up, shed leaves of the willows are gathering and forming brown islands around the parent trees and defining the spaces the willows occupy in this sandy area near the river.  As I walk through this habitat, cocklebur and various other seeds attach themselves to my jeans and shoe laces.  Picking and rubbing off the various prickly and sticky hitchhikers, it’s amuses me to think of myself as an agent of seed dispersal!

Found bird nest, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

A circular grass ball lying on the ground catches my eye.  Picking up the object I discover an intact bird nest.  Did it dislodge from some fork of a tree branch or is this from a ground nesting species?  I marvel at its construction and note its exterior is made from dried, interwoven grasses which contrasts with the well-defined interior composed of tiny twigs and rootlets that give structural strength to the bowl.  I wonder which species created it and were they successful in raising offspring?  The nest is now spent like the willow leaves and I place it on the ground to be reclaimed by nature.

mushrooms growing on driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Along my walk, I find various mushrooms and fungi growing on the decomposing driftwood.  I admire the variety of forms present.  Although the notion of decay hardly sounds optimistic…in this instance it is.  The fungi are great recyclers and return needed nutrients back into the environment.  These mushrooms are not lesser than, but rather co-equal to the many other interesting life forms that make this place their home.  I come across other signs of life along my hike.

Comma butterfly with wings folded, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

There are still a few butterflies around like this Comma.  Although nectar from flowers is absent, there are still what I call “butterfly licks” on a few of the willow trees.  These licks are sweet spots along the trunk or branches where the tree exudes a sticky sap that attracts insects.  With its wings folded upright, this Comma looks much like a dried leaf itself.  There is a good chance this butterfly will hibernate and overwinter here before “passing the torch” to the next generation of Comma butterflies in the spring.

beaver chewed willow wood, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Along the riverbank, I find lots of evidence that beaver have been in the area.  They have been feeding off the willow trees growing nearest to the water.  Beaver are very wary and are probably active at night or very early in the morning.  In all my years walking throughout the park, I have only seen them on a couple of occasions.  The photo above shows a willow branch that has been gnawed away from the tree and its bark has been nibbled off for food.  Their teeth leave “tool marks” on the creamy, ivory-colored wood.  By the end of today’s hike, I have collected a nice bundle of beaver chewed sticks to use in my art.  And speaking of art…I walked by a couple of projects I worked on in my previous post.  The rock ring in the water is still holding up, however, the “Silver Star” made from overlaying driftwood lengths in the sand is a shadow of its former self.  Here are a few before and after images.

Detail of silver driftwood star, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

remains of the "Silver Star" driftwood piece, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

It’s a big difference and doesn’t appear to be the result of natural wear and tear…unless we accept that there is a naturally destructive side to man’s nature?  Of course, this is just a pile of sticks arranged in the sand, but on a much larger, planetary level can we say that the wholesale changes we are making to the environment are natural and inevitable?  I’m in the “no” camp because another aspect of our complex natures is the ability to discern right from wrong.  Still I wonder when our instincts for self-preservation will start kicking in?  I was beginning to mull this over more when I heard what sounded like someone playing strange music from an unfamiliar instrument.  I was pretty sure my ears weren’t hearing things and so I walked around until I found its source.  You can imagine my deep surprise when I came upon this interesting character in the willow habitat.

The Giggle Master, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

He introduced himself as the “Giggle Master” and he said he heard me talking to myself about serious things and grew concerned.  His method of revealing himself was to play a tune of his own composition from this combination oboe/recorder that grew from the middle of his face!  By breathing in and out and working the finger holes on his instrument he could produce a variety of sounds some of which were quite unique and appealing.  When I had adjusted to the idea that a strange being about a foot or 20 or so centimeters tall was talking to me…I relaxed my guard and decided to see what would happen next?  The Giggle Master told me to follow him and that he had something to show me that he believed would lighten my mood up considerably.

The Giggle Master and his collection, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

I followed my new friend to his shelter under a willow tree and he introduced me to his “collection”.  Like me, the Giggle Master is a finder and collector of odd river-deposited items.  He said it gave him great joy to assemble various odd collections where the sum of the collection is greater and more interesting than the parts.  I understood this perfectly because I have many unusual collections of my own river junk.  Some of which have been presented in this blog like my Squirt Gun Collection or Collection of Fake Foods.  You can see other collections I’ve formed and appear in my Pages section..  I have to say that the collection my friend was presenting to me was indeed unusual.  I asked what he called it and would it be possible to photograph it and present it to the wider world?  He said that he had no objections and so without further ado…here is what my friend called “The Giggle Bowl”.

The Giggle Bowl, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

We moved to the fossil beds for our impromptu photo shoot.  The Giggle Master told me that he had been collecting these “smiley faces” for a few years and now had enough to fill a found plastic bowl.  He went on to say that although he recognized that this was mostly waste plastic with all the accompanying bad baggage…it was also important to be able to step back and just appreciate the absurdity of it all.  The Giggle Master told me that taking oneself too seriously has potential consequences of its own.  He also told me that maintaining a healthy sense of humor would balance out the dark moods and I began to see the wisdom in this.  The Giggle Master said that he was appearing to me now because through some sixth sense all his own he could tell my own thoughts and feelings were beginning to sink below the horizon line.  He believed every person’s well-being would benefit from having a good laugh.  I have to admit it worked on me!  Okay, let’s spill the bowl and take a closer look at this goofy collection.

Two Smiley Face balls, purpose unknown, found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park

Okay, I confess that I have no idea what or how these smiley faces were used?  In their mouths, they have what look to be squeakers, however, these balls are too hard to squeeze.  The one with the red cap has a small stone lodged in its mouth and was made in China.

Three smiley face antenna balls, found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park

I frequently am grateful when something I come across says what it is.  In this case, these are three lightweight foam “antenna balls”.  Yes, for a while, there was a fad where people decorated the ends of their cars’ radio antennas with these novelties.  I like the one sporting a jester’s cap.

Three hard plastic face balls found at the Falls of the Ohio.

I’m calling these simply “face balls” because they are obviously not the more traditional “smiley faces”.  They floated into the park via the Ohio River from parts unknown.

Two smiling face fishing floats from the Falls of the Ohio

The Giggle Master was slightly alarmed because he realized he is missing the third smiling face from this series of objects.  I recognized that these are fishing floats and the missing float is larger still.  It will turn up somewhere.

A trio of plastic smiley faces found at the Falls of the Ohio

Here’s a trio of smiling faces.  The yellow one in the center is a simple ball, but the top and bottom pieces belong to something else I don’t recognize…do you?  The top piece looks to be a tiny container and maybe once held candy or soap-bubble solution, but there is no other information about it including its country of origin.

The Giggle Master with his Giggle Bowl collection, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

After the photo session was over, we returned to the willow tree where I first met the Giggle Master.  He stored his collection in a hollow formed in the tree’s trunk.  Before departing from my new friend, I thanked him for the much-needed laugh and wished him happy hunting as he expanded his silly collection.  No doubt the river will continue to supply new items.  He replied with a few notes from his…”nose instrument’.  As I turned for home, I looked back one last time and could discern a slight smile on his tiny face.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

fallen black willow leaves, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

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