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Archive for January, 2016

Trash intermixed into the driftwood, Jan. 14, 2016

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend I was able to make it out to the Falls of the Ohio State Park on a couple of occasions.  It helped that this was a three-day weekend.  I was curious to see what was lying around the riverbank after our first dusting of snow had blown away.  As I was expecting, I found a lot of plastic bottles and containers, Styrofoam, and plenty of driftwood.  I first inspect an area for the larger pattern left by the river.  The stuff that floats most readily often defines the high water mark on the riverbank.

Junk on the driftwood pile, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 14, 2016

This is a typical detail of stuff that builds up on a driftwood mound.  There are many automotive and boating references particularly plastic bottles that held various petroleum products.  There is also a wealth of plastic beverage bottles to illustrate the carelessness of some folks recreating on the river.  I have a mental image of this stuff eventually flowing downriver, into the Mississippi River, and out into the wider world through the Gulf of Mexico.  What I see at the Falls of the Ohio is only what I see.  I know there is a glacier of plastic and junk that by passes me and will show up somewhere downstream.  With each succeeding flood, I keep thinking that all the stuff that had been accumulating upriver has already been washed into the watershed.  That, however, doesn’t seem to be the case and the amount of “fresh trash” that shows up in the park seems not to have a limit.

Found yellow and green plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2016

Both days that I worked at the river were very cold ones.  The piece I made using found yellow and green plastic was the coldest with temps hovering around 10 degrees and it was colder than that with the wind.  After picking up what caught my eye, I retreated to my little studio area near the U.F.O. (Unidentified Floating Object) that is this welded and painted steel platform that washed into this area over five years ago.

Massed yellow and green plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2016

I saw a possibility in the space under the UFO that was formed when the river shifted the driftwood mound.  I cleared the space a little bit and found a plank and stump in which to set up what I would eventually call “Arrangement in Yellow and Green Plastic”.  All the bottles and other colorful plastic items were picked up in the immediate area.  The wind was really biting and so I sought shelter by the treeline.  It took a little patience to make this piece because the wind kept blowing away the lighter items.  Eventually, I fit everything together and held it in place by strategically using found bottles that still had weight to them because mud or sand had become their new contents.

"Arrangement in Yellow and Green Plastic", Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2016

My photos of this piece vary from one another because elements kept blowing off.  I was struck that I could make a colorful gradation using primarily yellow and green plastic found just in the willow habitat.  I favor doing these color pieces because they also reference the electromagnetic spectrum and without light, those ancient plants that lived and succeeded millions of years ago would not eventually become the crude substance from which these bottles were fabricated.  It’s interesting to me to think that much of the energy we derive from fossil fuels is captured starlight from an ancient time.  We owe it to the plants to be able to stabilize this energy through photosynthesis and fix it into their very tissues.

Arrangement in Yellow and Green Plastic by the old railroad bridge., Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2016

Studio view, Arrangement in Yellow and Green Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2016

Eventually, the cold started to get to me and I was fast losing what little light was present on this day.  I might have moved the blue plastic drum out of the bottom picture, but it was frozen into the ground and full of sand and mud and would have been a challenge to lift.  After awhile, I began to like it for the additional color it lent this scene.  One thing concentrating so much color in one area does is call into attention the brown drabness that subsumes everything else.

Random, found plastic in red, purple, and blue, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 18, 2016

I returned to the river two days later.  It was still very cold, however, a big improvement over the previous day.  The sun was shining and the wind was absent.  Having completed and photographed one colorful plastic arrangement, I set about creating a new one in a different palette of colors.  Searching the area I decided to work at…I could see plenty of red and blue plastic items spread out among the driftwood.  It took me an hour or so to pull these bottles and objects together.  I wished that I might have come across a few more violet or purple items, but I guess these are colors that are used less than straight up red or blue?  I know that in terms of lightfastness, red and purple plastic fades away quicker than many other colors.

Arrangement in Red and Blue Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 18, 2016

Using a bit of the geometry I was feeling from the willow trees and the way the sunlight was hitting their trunks…I decided to site “Arrangement in Red and Blue Plastic” on the sand.  There’s a distant view of the Ohio River through this informal avenue of trees.  Watching how the shadows of the tree trunks were being cast upon the sand was an important element in the overall composition of this piece.

Arrangement in Red and Blue Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 16, 2016

detail of Arrangement in Red and Blue Plastic, Jan. 18, 2016

Among the items comprising this work are a blue plastic child’s putter golf club, the cap to a plastic cane that held Christmas candy and several flip-flops of the right color.  When I finished this piece, I left it in place as I did the other arrangement.  Perhaps the next time I return to this area, I may combine the two groups of plastic?  I could create another grand rainbow with the addition of finding more orange in particular.  I probably would throw in some black and white plastic items since they are here in quantity as well.  I felt relatively good about this weekend’s projects and some of the images that resulted.  When I am occupied with a project, I really don’t feel the elements in the same way.  I suppose there is a bit of mind over matter happening too.  When I do feel the cold, however, is when I decide to turn for home and come across a frozen sight like these containers locked in ice!  Stay warm and safe everybody…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Plastic containers frozen in ice, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 18, 2016

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First snow at the park, Jan. 12, 2016

The new year is off to an auspicious start.  First we had a bit of minor flooding that rearranged the park and the new and improved Interpretive Center has successfully opened.  I was curious to see what the river had left behind and make my first foray upon the riverbank and fossil beds.  On the day I had prepared to venture forth, well, it snowed the night before and covered many areas with a light dusting of what looks like confectioner’s sugar upon the landscape.

Artist at Exit 0 in winter gear, Jan. 12, 2016, Falls of the Ohio

I come prepared…mostly.  Even covered up, I could feel the wind and the cold which was blowing hard enough that it made my eyes water.  Reaching into my trusty Dutch field jacket, I pull out my vintage “Wind-Dodger” goggles and put them on.  I came across these goggles still new in their 1950’s box at a favorite junk store that is now gone.  They were manufactured by the Kono Manufacturing Co., of Woodside, N.Y.  I think the graphics on the side of the box sold me as to their value.  Printed in red ink it read:

“The scientific construction of the Wind-Dodger fits the natural contours of the features-providing maximum exclusion of wind and rain and all foreign particles in the air.  The elastic tape holds the Wind-Dodger firmly in place under every condition of work and play in all kinds of weather.”  I am a big believer in the value of science.

Further more, printed on the side of the box, was added they were suitable “For Work” and “For Play” and would be useful to railroad men, farmers, mechanics, construction workers, as they engage in sailing, hunting, fishing, flying, skiing, and driving.  It was a natural leap for me to assume that they would also be perfect for a river junk artist like yours truly.  One thing that the Kono Manufacturing Co. forgot to say is that they also steam up inside the goggles and require frequent drying.  Still, they prove to be better than nothing.

The scarf I’m wearing is the oldest piece of clothing I own.  It was given to me by a friend and artistic mentor back in the mid 1970’s and somehow I have held on to it over the years.  I realize that with a lot of the clothing I own…I can be ridiculously sentimental.

Snow on driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

The biting wind and cold are a concern, but so is the footing.  The snow covers up a multitude of sins that cannot be seen.  It is still slippery out here and in places the mud hasn’t completely frozen.  Much of what I think I can find out here will remain hidden until warmer weather returns.  But, I’m out here anyway and so I make a quick walk around some familiar places and record what I can with my camera phone.

Bent over willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

I discover that a favorite willow tree is now almost completely bent over and resting on the ground.  A huge log that the river deposited on top of this tree has shattered one of its main branches.  I suspect that it is not long for the world.  Spring flooding will repeat this battering process and I assume the tree’s prognosis is not good.  Of course, there are other things that present themselves in this frigid landscape that rode in with the high waters.

Purple plastic rocking toy, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

My eye is immediately drawn to this purple plastic “dragon” rocking toy.  I find another giant reptile reference on the rocks nearest the river and here it is.

Plastic dinosaur, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

This plastic sauropod arrived in a fresh water wave.  I believe this species was formerly called “Brontosaurus”, but has been renamed “Apatosaurus” since it was discovered that an earlier scientific find gave the new name priority over the older, more familiar name.  I briefly allow myself to soak in the irony of finding an object made from ancient petroleum that washed up on these even older fossil beds that references this prehistoric animal.  Heady stuff indeed!  Nearby, was my next find that continued this line of thinking.

Plastic, Shoveler duck decoy, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

And, what happened to some of the dinosaurs?  It is believed that they evolved into birds.  Right on cue, I find this plastic duck decoy!  It represents the male Northern Shoveler, (Anas clypeata).  I have found many other plastic duck decoys out here, but this is the first for this pretty species.  The winter river at the Falls of the Ohio is a good place to see different duck species.  In fact, winter may be the only time of year to see many of them.  The river is steaming because the actual water temperature is warmer that the surrounding air, but the wind is a little fiercer too.  I decide to keep walking and soon come across an old project I did from last year.

Site specific, green plastic bottle assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

Site specific, green plastic bottle project, Jan. 12, 2016

snow-covered, green plastic bottles, Jan. 12, 2016

I created this site specific piece using green plastic bottles after last year’s flooding.  It was sited high upon a big mound of driftwood that was too big for this recent minor flooding to affect much.  Originally, I had filled the underside of what I think is the remains of a boat dock with the green bottles.  Time has shifted the bottles to the bottom of the wood form.

snow-covered vines, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

While the snow is beautiful and transforming as these snow-covered vines can attest to….it is also getting ridiculously cold!  The fingers on my right hand hurt and sting from the cold because I have to take my glove off to operate my camera.  Soon images of a hot cup of coffee began to intrude upon my winter reverie.  It’s time to go home, but there was yet one more very pleasant surprise waiting in store for me.

Styro-Snowman in snow, Falls of the Ohio, jan. 2016

Styro-Snowman, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

As I was heading back to the parking lot…I came across an old friend whom I was happy to see!  We first met at the Falls on an absurdly warm day in December when the temperatures were in the low 70 degree range!  I had photographed him as he was decorating river trees in advance of the holiday season.  My old Styro-Snowman buddy was just beaming!  At last, he was in his element and I’m so happy that his patience was rewarded.  Not wanting to intrude too much in his special moment, I bid farewell and took this parting shot as I left the river.  Stay warm everybody…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Styro-Snowman in his element, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

 

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Ribbon cutting ceremony, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 8, 2016

On January 8 of this new year, the exhibits at the renovated  Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center opened to the public with a grand ribbon cutting ceremony.  The interior of the Interpretive Center had been closed for 13 months.  About 6 million dollars had to be raised to upgrade the 22-year-old permanent educational displays.  After a national search, Louisville-based exhibit design company, Solid Light, Inc. won this high-profile contract and solidified their growing reputation within the exhibit design field.  Judging from the enthusiastic response of the people attending the reopening it was worth the wait.  I played a very small part with a commission to create an assemblage from objects I found in the park and I was eager to see how Solid Light used it.

From "An Ancient Sea", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

video projection of the Devonian Sea, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2015

The displays are divided into four themes or sections beginning with “An Ancient Sea” that highlights early marine life during the Devonian Period.  The extensive fossil beds in the park date roughly to 400 million years ago and are the remains of an early coral reef ecosystem populated with many species of coral, brachiopods, and early fish which make their first appearance during the Devonian Period.  I was glad to see some of the older models that made up the original display were re-purposed into the new display.  The exhibit is interactive and there are hands on elements that children will enjoy.  Large, wall-sized videos help set the scene through many of the sections and in “An Ancient Sea” an animation depicting a shallow marine environment includes fish swimming through sun-dappled waters as trilobites search for food among the corals.

Reconstructed Native American house, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Signage about the Shawnee language, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

The second theme is entitled “A Changing Land” and covers all the geologic changes from the Ice Age to the appearance of the first Americans.  For me, the highlight of this area is the inclusion of the Shawnee language which can be heard spoken inside a reconstructed shelter.  It’s wonderful that the contemporary descendants of these ancient people were involved in the design of this display and acknowledges their presence at the Falls of the Ohio.

Archaic tool display, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Prehistoric tools on display, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan 8, 2016

Previously, the remains of prehistoric man’s material culture (primarily represented through flint tools) were a focal point in the old center’s displays.  For those worried that examples of the “real thing” would be replaced with virtual images and copies will be pleased that you can still explore original material through some inspired casework.  Be sure to peek inside many of the drawers in the different themed areas to see fine examples of specimens and artifacts.

From " Converging Cultures", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Frontier-themed video image, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Blacksmith video image, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 8, 2016

The third theme “Converging Cultures” recounts the history of the Falls area with the arrival of the Europeans.  The Lewis and Clark Expedition is a key moment not only in the history of the United States, but of the Falls of the Ohio as well.  Many of the men that comprised the “Corps of Discovery” were originally from Kentucky and Southern Indiana.  Wall-sized videos in the Lewis and Clark Theater recount the biographies of many of the men who made this epic transcontinental journey.  The story of John James Audubon is also noted and forms a transition into the last themed area of the new displays.

Display within the "The Falls Today", Jan. 8, 2016

Virtual aquarium image from the "The Falls Today", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

This last section is called “The Falls Today” and focuses upon the Falls of the Ohio as a rich contemporary ecosystem.  Some of the old taxidermy mounts have been reused to highlight some of the many species that live within the park.  Another large video display, this time a virtual aquarium, speaks to the richness of life in the river, particularly the species of game fish that are of interest to fisherman.  There is also a call to responsible and sustainable living and the need to keep pollution at bay.  This is where I come in.  I was commissioned by Solid Light to create an assemblage of found objects that is representative of what can be found in the Ohio River.  Here is the finished result that was placed within its own case with graphic elements added.

River Object Assemblage by Al Gorman, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2018

The panel within the case is 8 feet by 4 feet large.  I posted about the panel as I was creating it and showed many details of the more than 100 different objects that comprise it.  Of course, everything I’ve attached here was found within the context of the park.  The early reaction is that children in particular love looking at all the odd elements especially the found toys.  My panel is among the last things you see as you leave the exhibits area to exit the building.  I’m glad that there has been a greater emphasis in this new interpretation to include the current state of the world.  One could argue that as interesting as the past is…it is the present that is of the greatest concern. Further reinforcing this idea are the results of the minor flooding we experienced the previous week.  As the river has subsided, another massive new inventory of junk has washed into the park.  As I was leaving the ribbon cutting ceremony and walking to my vehicle, I could clearly see how much more work needs to be done.  Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Detritus on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio State Park, Jan. 8, 2016

 

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City of Louisville as seen from the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2016

Happy New Year to everyone out in the blogosphere!  Before closing the book on 2015, I want to thank everybody who checked out the old riverblog over the course of the year.  According to the WordPress stats wizards, I had people living in 107 different countries stop by to see what I was up to!  For an artist whose activities are as localized as mine are…publishing what I do on the world-wide web through this blog is an important part of my artistic activities.  It’s been great connecting with other creative minds and people trying to make a difference in their home locations.

The Ohio River elevated at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2016

As far as 2015 went…I haven’t heard the final statistics on this yet, but we either had our third or fourth wettest year on record.  We ended the year with the river at flood stage due to the great volume of rain that went through the Ohio Valley (although thankfully, we aren’t experiencing what’s going on at the moment on the Mississippi River).  We have also had an anomalous month of December that had several record-breaking temperatures with highs in the 70 degree range!  So much for a White Christmas.  These images were made on the first day of the new year and reflect the river actually going down after cresting on December 31.  We had two significant bouts of high water early in 2015 and we ended the year at the Falls of the Ohio underwater.  The four wettest years on record for our area have all happened since 1996.

Louisville as seen from the riverbank in Southern Indiana, Jan. 1, 2015

With holiday and work obligations temporarily out-of-the-way, I went out to the river on the first day of this new year.  The weather was seasonable, meaning it was actually chilly and I needed my gloves, hat, and heavy coat to stay warm.  The river level had dropped a little and side stepping the muddy areas I went to see if anything of interest had been stranded at the high water mark.  Most all of the areas at the Falls of the Ohio where I usually cache materials and make my art were underwater.  Here are a few of the things that I found.

Today's finds include three plastic ball pit balls, Jan.1, 2016, Falls of the Ohio

In addition to the usual Styrofoam and plastic containers…I found these three colorful plastic balls.  I found them at different places on the riverbank.  All three are hollow plastic balls that bear the ENOR stamp.  Looking up this company, they are a large toy manufacturer based on the East Coast that specializes in blown plastic toys.  In particular, they make the balls for ball pits.  Wal-Mart is a big distributor of their toys.  Ultimately, I don’t know what I’ll do with them?  I suppose they will enter the bags of other found balls that I’m currently storing in my basement awaiting inspiration.  The other really interesting item I encountered on this day is 100% natural and here are some images of this find.

Box turtle by a discarded tire, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2015

Near the Interpretive Center I came across other junk that had washed up with the river.  In the shadow of a discarded tire I spotted the distinctive pattern on the shell of an Eastern Box Turtle.  I assumed that this turtle was dead and washed into this area with the other river-born stuff and I picked it up to get a better look.

Found Eastern Box Turtle, Jan. 1, 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Side view, Eastern Box Turtle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2015

Because of the cold, I was not certain whether or not this turtle was either dead or in a winter torpor?  It’s possible that the river washed it here, but then I would assume it would have drowned?  Another explanation I thought possible was that this turtle was still active due to the unseasonable warmth we had experienced and when the cold suddenly appeared and being cold-blooded it became trapped in this spot?  Normally, box turtles will dig and bury themselves under dirt and leaf debris to overwinter.  This guy probably didn’t get the chance to do this when the cold hit.  Regardless, I could not decide if this old turtle was still with us?  As a precaution, I brought it to the Interpretive Center and presented it to the park’s naturalist who said he would look after it.

Eastern Box Turtle carapace, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 1, 2015

Eastern Box Turtle plastron, Jan. 1, 2016, Falls of the Ohio

I have heard that counting the growth rings on the turtle’s shell is a good gauge of determining its age.  This turtle’s shell is worn in places and the rings were difficult to count.  One estimate I came up with had it being about 35 years old or so.  You can fairly and reliably determine the turtle sex by looking at the plastron which is the shell that protects its belly.  If there is a concave area like this turtle has…it’s more than likely a male.  The simple explanation here is that to make mating easier…the concave area conforms to the female’s carapace and keeps the male from falling off.  Several years ago during another period of flooding, I came across eight different individual box turtles and photographed them.  Looking through my old images, I wondered if this was a turtle I had seen before and it was not.  I hope that this turtle is indeed alive and can be returned to the park.  I would think this would be a great sign for the new year.

As for what else I plan to do this year…well, much depends upon what the river gives me.  When the water subsides I will come out and take a look.  On January 8, the newly revamped Interpretive Center will open and I will get my first look at the installed 8 foot by 4 foot panel of assembled river found items I was commissioned to create.  I hope it all looks great and we shall see.  I also have two other opportunities to show my work in the new year and I will give you more details about those shows as they develop.  I haven’t ever been aggressive about seeking exhibition opportunities, but rarely turn down an invitation once it presents itself.  In closing, I was reminded of this plaque that is fixed to one of the outdoor walls at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center.  In so many words, it gives as good an explanation as to why I use this place to site my art.  Here’s hoping we all have a memorable and wonderful 2016.  See you next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Plaque at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 1, 2016

 

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