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Archive for the ‘art and the environment’ Category

A late winter landscape at the Falls of the Ohio and what has to be one of our warmest February’s ever!  I can’t recall ever having an 80 degree day in winter before…not in Kentuckiana in mid February to boot.  We had just a trace of snow to speak of and while nobody missed living through the freeze and gray monotony of winter…somehow we know “pay backs will be hell”.  The cost will come in more insect and weed pests at least.  It will be interesting to see how many and how severe our spring storms will be.  Will they be full of energy violent and remembered for deluges of rain?

With a name like the Falls Pheasant, you would expect to find this bird here.  Alas, our only native pheasant started disappearing when stands of river cane became less numerous.  Once thought extinct, this colorful pheasant has started reappearing in once familiar places.  I wish I could also report that the river cane is also coming back, but it hasn’t so far.  Perhaps what’s left of these pheasants are the ones who will accept other habitat?  It’s all about being able to adapt with the changes?  Some birds pushed to the fridges of their comfort zones found new areas to live.

This is a young male of the species.  As an adult, the center tail feather becomes twice as long and the head becomes a bright shade of turquoise.  I chanced upon it during a period of high water investigating small islands of trees and driftwood where potential food would become concentrated by the rising river.  The females are so cryptically colored that you can’t see them when they sit on their nests.  The Falls Pheasant produces a small clutch of four white eggs with brown speckles on them.

From his driftwood mound vantage point, the pheasant sees noisy Canada geese he would rather avoid.  Hopping from one bleached and weathered log to another it was soon on the ground.  Reaching a stand of weed stalks, I was so surprised at how quickly the pheasant could completely disappear.  I doubt this bird decided this area was a good place to stake a claim.  The Canada Geese here are aggressive and then there are all the other predators too.  Stray cats, dogs, compete with coyotes, foxes, raccoons, minks, humans, and birds of prey from the air patrol this space.  Better to keep moving on.

Our story doesn’t end here.  Just a few weeks later and at a spot not too far away from where I saw the pheasant…I came across another great rarity.  I have always maintained that “chance favors a prepared mind”.  I think subconsciously, I am always looking around for something different or out-of-place.

It was late in the day with the sun slipping quickly to the horizon line, when I spotted this distinct red color moving through the willow trees.  Hiding behind the trunks as best I could, I was able to get close enough to snap four or five images.  I would need to wait until I got home to make the identification which was a personally exciting thing to do!  This was one bird completely unfamiliar to me and a new Kentucky and Falls of the Ohio record.  This is the Elfin Flycatcher or Sugarbill as it is better known in Northern Quebec.  This bird can truly be considered an “accidental” because it is so far away from its usual home range.  In its winter home of Cuba…it is an insectivorous bird known for its aerobatic hunting of small flying insects that live in the warmth of the tropics.  During the spring breeding season, the Elfin Flycatcher undergoes a long journey along the Atlantic coastline until it crosses over into the coldest reaches of Quebec.  It arrives before the northern insects have hatched and to supplement its diet, it drills into hardwood trees (similar to our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker) to collect the nutritious sweet tree sap that pools in the drill holes.  It feeds on sap until clouds of mosquitoes and midges arise from the waters of the north to change this bird’s diet.

The bright yellow tail and the purple crest mark this as an adult male of the species.  The brown wings were continuously flicking like some nervous tic this bird was experiencing.  How this bird got so far off track is a mystery.  Sometimes large storm events along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast will cause birds to travel great distances to get out-of-the-way.  There is another concern, less with this bird, but more so with other migratory species.  As climate change scrambles the natural clocks, timing is crucial to migrating birds.  Routes have developed over time to source food when it appears and if it doesn’t…what happens to these long distance migrants?

 

This is what has so many biologists concerned.  What happens to all those species that find the changes too challenging and can’t readily adapt?  For now, I will keep making my anecdotal observations from the Falls of the Ohio State Park and work my best to try not to get too depressed about it all.  Drawing a deep breath of fresh air, I picked up my collecting bag and that day’s trophy river finds and turned for home.

 

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The Falls of the Ohio offers a variety of fishing opportunities throughout the year.  Whether you prefer light tackle action in the shallows or the pull from a fifty pound catfish while sitting on a boat…you can find that on the Ohio River flowing by Louisville.  I always check out what’s happening on the riverbank when I come out here.  I am especially interested in seeing what species are being caught and what’s being used to catch them.  On this warm December day the action was happening in the shallows.  Fisherman were using soft-bodied jigs to catch Sauger (a smaller relative of the Walleye) and this nice White Bass.

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The White Bass, (Roccus chrysops) was first described by the eccentric naturalist Constantine Rafinesque who was familiar with the fish life at the Falls of the Ohio.  The White Bass is a big river fish that is also found in impoundments.  This fish can get to be 15 to 18 inches long and a maximum of around five pounds.  We also have a smaller relative, the Yellow Bass that is also found in the Ohio River.  Both species are related to marine sea basses and scatter their eggs without further care of their young.

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Since there is a lot of fishing activity on the river, I also find a lot of lost fishing gear. Broken poles, snagged line, and lots of plastic fishing lures like this recent example. It’s very easy to snag and lose a lure in the rocky bottom out here. Usually, when I find a lure, it is minus its hooks which either have broken off or have dissolved away.  I also pick up lost fishing floats and have been amazed by how much design variety that fishing tackle can encompass.  On the negative side, I also have a fairly full sandwich bag of lead fishing weights that I have accumulated over the years.  When the river is down during the height of summer, I will check out the dried holes in the rocky bottom that catch and tumble lead and other metals.

If nothing else, 2016 will be remembered by me for the quality of the fishing.  I was able to catch three species new to me to add to a growing list of species I have documented at the Falls of the Ohio.  Check out the next couple of images of a rare Ohio River Bowfin (Amia ohioensis) I angled from under the railroad bridge.

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The Ohio River Bowfin is only marginally related to the better known Bowfin, (Amia calva).  The Ohio River Bowfin has adapted its life to living in shallow rocky streams where it ambushes other fish, frogs, crayfish, and other river invertebrates.  Uniquely, its anal and caudal fins have fused into one large fin that comes in handy for scraping out nests in the gravel bottoms it prefers to breed on.  After the male entices the gravid female into his nest and with a little luck and persuasion, a clutch of about fifty eggs is deposited and fertilized.  The male assumes all parenting duties.  Can also be distinguished by it long slender body and bright orange-colored eyes.  After a few pictures and measurements the fish was released unharmed back into the river.

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On another river expedition in November, I visited a different Falls of the Ohio location near the Interpretive Center to sample the fish life there.  Within a minute or two of my first cast I caught this near world record Copperbelly Suckermouth, (Catostomidae cupricana).  I was using a hook baited with clam meat which is the principle food of this Ohio River oddity.  The boats anchored in the river are probably going after large catfish.  This view gives you a good indication of the body type that evolved with some fish that inhabit swift flowing water.  Drag has been minimized and the pectoral fins are strong enough to anchor the fish in place as it hovers over the clam beds it prefers.

Here’s a symbiotic side note…several fresh water clam species use the Copperbelly Suckermouth as an intermediate host during part of their life cycles.  The nearly microscopic clam larvae attach themselves to the fish’s gills where for a short time, the larvae suck blood and grow before dropping off the fish to complete their life cycles in the gravely bottom. The host fish are left unharmed during the process.

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A sneak peek on why this species is called the Copperbelly Suckermouth.  It’s undersides are a deep, rich, red to orange ochre color that is particularly intense during the Spring breeding period.  The strong sucker mouth is located on the fish’s ventral side and is flanked by barbels that help it locate food in the river’s bottom.  This was also strictly catch and release as was the case with my next fishy find.  As with most bottom dwelling fish at the Falls, one should limit how big a meal you make from your catch.  Toxins are more prevalent in the lower reaches which then are ingested and stored in the fish’s fatty tissues.  This particular species, however, has minimal food value.

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Another day and location at the Falls of the Ohio and another unexpected catch!  Using a grasshopper I caught on the bank and a beaver-chewed willow pole I found nearby, I fashioned a rig with an old line and a hook and caught this Kentucky Killifish, (Cyprinodontidae gargantua) by jigging the grasshopper around the shadows cast by the fossil-loaded limestone.  I dropped the grasshopper into just the right dark hole and pulled out this beauty.

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This is a giant among the killifishes as most are under a few inches in length.  Its blue eyes are distinctive.  Small invertebrates in the form of insect larvae are its main food item, but experience has shown it will go for whatever it thinks it can swallow using its relatively tiny mouth.  This fish has no food or sport value what so ever.  During the summer breeding period, the males of this species can get very colorful in an attempt to impress.  Still, a very nice way to cap the year with a new fish to add to the life list!

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Fishing on Mars or the Falls of the Ohio?  The setting sun has colored the dried riverbank a lovely Martian red.  Here explorers are doing what we do…searching for life in the most promising place we know which happens to be by the water.  I hope 2017 manages a way to be kind to our rivers and freshwater everywhere.  I’ll end my fishing story with a look inside the box where I keep my found fishing lures.  See you next year…from the Falls of the Ohio.

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Landscape at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I have always felt that if you did the research, you must publish your results.  Here it is the tail-end of July and what?? not a single post this month from the Artist at Exit 0!  Of course I have been out to the river on a couple of occasions and had a wonderful time.  So far, it has been a relatively easy summer.  We haven’t had spells of daily high temperatures pushing a hundred degrees that have marked some previous summers.  Knock on wood.  Every year and every season is different and 2016 will no doubt climatically distinguish itself locally in some way before this annual orbit around the sun is history.

Trumpet Creeper Vine, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

According to the WordPress folks, this is Riverblog post #450!  They are much better at keeping count than I am and so I will trust them on that.  I mention this not in the way of a boast, but rather from personal amazement that I have found enough content out in the Falls of the Ohio State Park to help keep it going!  I have a good friend who is also an artist and he used to blog on WordPress.  He stopped writing right around his 500th post!  He became a little disappointed that it was so time-consuming and didn’t lead to more sales or artistic opportunities.  I guess he also got to a point where he had said everything he wanted to say?  This post will combine a couple of river adventures together and is set for the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s getting to be high summer.  I can tell by the heat and the blooming trumpet creeper vines growing on some of the cottonwood trees.  Have you ever noticed that many of these trumpet creeper flowers have large ants in them?

Purple loosestrife at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Where moist conditions are prevalent out here, you will find great patches of Purple loosestrife plants growing under the cottonwoods and willows.  The loosestrife is by far more common in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio.  Despite being a very invasive species, they do add a beautiful pinkish-lavender color to the landscape and insects (particularly butterflies) seem to love their nectar.

Cabbage White butterfly on Purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Late June 2016

I am sure to visit this area several times while the loosestrife flowers continue to bloom.  Over the last several years, I have come across more butterfly species feeding off of these flowers including many swallowtail species (Tiger, Black Swallowtail, Spicebush, Pipevine, and Giant Swallowtail).  These flowers are also favored by several different skippers which occupy this strange position between being true butterflies and true moths.  It seems skippers possess qualities of both lepidoptera groups.  Here is a nice Silver-spotted Skipper ( Epargyreus clarus ) I came across also feeding on the odd blooms of a Cephalanthus buttonbush.

Silver-spotted skipper, Falls of the Ohio, Late June 2016

There were other butterflies out on this sunny day, but I didn’t get good pictures of all of them.  I did see my first Red Admirals of the year.  I did manage this image of a Tawny Emperor ( Asterocampa clyton ) butterfly using the camera on my cell phone.  It takes a bit of stealth to get the phone near enough to take a good image without scaring your subject away.  Over the past two years, I’ve become accustomed to taking my cell phone with me on my trips to the river.  I love that the device is so small, lightweight, and fits in my pocket and gives me a few more options than the digital SLR that I have.  I have to imagine that these little digital cameras are just going to continue to get better and even more useful.

Summer time butterfly at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I am also on the alert for any bird movements or sounds in the area.  On this expedition to the Falls of the Ohio I scored big by sighting two new bird species for my life list and getting decent pictures of both to show to any of you unbelievers out there!  After walking in direct sunlight for over an hour, I decided to cool off by walking in the shade of the large cottonwood trees that grow along the edge of the river.  I especially like the way this cottonwood tree fills the whole photo frame.  When these trees release their fluffy, light seeds it can almost appear as though it is snowing in slow motion.  The cotton fluff builds up and forms wind aided drifts on the ground.

Large, Cottonwood tree, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I had directed my reverie up into the canopy of the trees when an unfamiliar bird flew just above my head.  This bird is fast and I got a quick sensation of colors…light blue, white, and green.  I was extremely lucky to get such good pictures of it in full flight.  Check out how the tail feathers help with lift and aerial maneuvering…perfect for high-speed flight between the tree trunks.

The Mosquito bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I was elated when I realized that what just went whizzing by my ear is a species I have not seen in the park before.  It has a couple of common names.  Some people refer to it as the Cumberland Mockingbird (Mimus appalachians ) and around here I’ve heard people call it a “Mosquito bird”.  This specimen was actively picking off in midair several small flies that I could detect in the sunshine flying over my sweaty head.  The thought occurred to me that this bird and the Zika mosquito have moved into our area at about the same time.

The Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Diving Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

The Cumberland Mockingbird seemed to be able to “read” the air and wind currents around structures like trees and high river banks.  I observed it daringly flying and diving very near objects in its pursuit of an insectivorous meal. I saw it chasing another Falls of the Ohio specialty, the Eastern-eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus ).  This is the largest member of the click beetle family and can get 2 1/2 inches long.  It is said that its cryptic coloring is meant to mimic bird droppings.  As it happened this beetle was able to escape becoming the Cumberland Mockingbird’s lunch by hiding under some loose tree bark.

Eastern-Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

These click beetles always seem to be out at the Falls of the Ohio during the summer months.  They are harmless as adults.  Their larvae grows in decaying wood and are carnivorous.  Our area usually has an abundance of decomposing wood because of periodic flooding and the water-logged trunks that come with it.  I decided to move out of the shade because the mosquitoes were catching up with me and using me for snacks.  Not even an actively feeding Mosquito bird could turn these small flies away from their blood mission.

Dodo of the Ohio, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Dodo of the Ohio in courtship display, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Returning to the sunlight seemed to do the trick of chasing the noisome insects away.  I moved away from the shade of the trees and returned to the intermittent light by the fossil outcroppings nearer the riverbank.  All was right with the world.  A cormorant was swimming in the river as an osprey flew overhead with fish in talons.  I was happily engaged in my little world…when I heard the most unusual animal call of all.  I just had to find out what could make such a mournful noise!  I found a likely spot along a trail and just went quiet and motionless.  If the gods were with me then I had a good chance of seeing this mystery animal which was continuing its two-syllable call as it drew nearer to me.

Dodo of the Ohio with Passionflower and fruit, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

Dodo of the Ohio and Passionflower, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

There was a movement low to the ground and a parting of vegetation when a dingy white bird emerged onto the trail in front of me.  It puffed its body up and displayed its tail feathers in a showy fan.  A few wiry blue feathers on his head forms a crest that moves and down with the hopping dancing motion this species requires for courtship.  With a certain amount of fanfare, my first ever “Dodo of the Ohio” ( Pseudo dodo kentuckiana ) let itself be known that it was looking for companionship.  I had also found it in the context of a flowering and fruiting Passion flower vine ( Passiflora ) growing over the sand.  A pair of round, green fruits seemed to be the object of the dodo’s attention.  Our dodo is not at all related to the extinct species, but it is far from being a common bird.  Fortunately, it can fly, albeit weakly.  This at least keeps it off the ground while it sleeps at night.  I watched the dodo for several more minutes before it flew off.  The chance meeting of these two exotics was an amazing and unforgettable happening that helped make July an incredible month.  See you again sometime soon from the Falls of the Ohio.

Passionflower vine, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

 

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Katinka waving, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I had an unexpected rendezvous at the Falls of the Ohio recently.  I caught up with my friend Katinka as she was taking a walk along the riverbank.  I have always loved the way she looks when the sun strikes her face at just the right angle and creates this wonderful glow about her.  We are meeting by chance which is often the best way to go.   The two of us decide to walk together for a while.  She had an earlier start today than I did so I asked if she had seen anything on this beautiful morning that struck her as being memorable in some way?  Immediately Katinka answered that there was a tree near the water that impressed her as being particularly heroic.  Together we sought out the spot where it was rooted.

Portrait of Katinka, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

We don’t have to go far and as it turns out and I’m already familiar with this tree.  It’s a Black Willow and it is growing through the metal holes of an old discarded car wheel.  I noticed this one…and another similar tree growing through a tire in the western end of the park a couple of years a go.  I can understand why Katinka thinks this tree is “heroic” as it tries to thrive while wearing a metal and rubber yoke.  I keep wondering what will happen next as this tree moves through time?  Will the limbs growing through the holes eventually get pinched off?  Will the willow send out roots all around this wheel eventually elevating it off the ground?  How is this tree going to accommodate this wheel?

Katinka with the willow growing out of a tire, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Katinka with willow and tire, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I have documented this tree through a few seasons and so this was a good time to take a few early summer shots.  The tree seemed healthy and was certainly taller than before.  I noticed that after this year’s high water subsided, that the tree had shifted a bit as the tire settled into the earth.  Linking the tire with the tree is an unusual union of the natural and artificial and Katinka agreed.  She said that she couldn’t help but feel that the tree got the worst end of this bargain…but we shall see.

Katinka at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Katinka said she detected a theme developing and that she had witnessed other “unusual pairings”.  She asked me to hold out my hand and on my palm, Katinka placed the soft, hollow, plastic body of a toy animal that was missing its head.  She found this on the riverbank too.  Interestingly, nature seems to find a way to express life and in this case, a small seed landed in the dirt that had filled the toy’s hollow body and had sprouted!  This qualifies as a very small niche indeed.

Seedling growing from a plastic animal, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I placed the plant/toy on the sand and then I wished it well.  Simple as that.  I followed Katinka to our next spot.  She had seen something earlier and wanted to look at it again in case it was something that could fit the evolving theme of her tour of the Falls of the Ohio.  After a little searching around the vegetation around the willows, we found what we were looking for laying on the surface of the sand.

Hair band? with sprouts, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Once upon a time, this was an object that required hook fasteners to adjust.  In this found instance, the hooks from the cockle burr and other hardy plants have hitched a ride and their seedlings are using the man-made fabric for a substrate to germinate upon.  Perhaps as the plant continues to thrive and grow, it can jump off its host by spreading its roots far and wide?  I mentioned to Katinka that I knew a place that demonstrated a similar kind of union occurring between something artificial and natural and would she like to see that?  It was just a short distance along the water line and the sound of the river filled up any need for conversation.  The river can be satisfying in that way.

Snagged and disintegrating barge cable, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Reaching the spot, we could see a golden-yellow, tangled mess that was once a part of a large, tight, barge cable.  At some point, the cable was cut and floated down the river and was now stuck joining two separate willow trees together.  The yellow arc was swaying in the slight breeze.  Subsequent floods and even birds picking on this large rope for nesting material have continued the process of fraying it.  I thought there was something very art-like in the way this cable called attention to itself and the space around it.  In places at the Falls of the Ohio you can find other trees that have snagged lengths of this synthetic barge cable in their exposed root systems and limbs.  Here is another example of this as a river wave plays jump rope.

Barge rope snagged between two trees, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Both Katinka and I agreed that the snagged barge ropes offered us vivid examples of how the stuff we make interacts with the rest of the world.  While we were looking at the ropes, a new protagonist arrived via a muddy Ohio River wave.  A large plastic gasoline container became the latest piece of junk to become beached at the Falls of the Ohio.

Katinka next to a gas container, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Katinka with fuel can, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

So far, Katinka and I had spent the morning together looking at examples of how nature was dealing with us through our surrogates…the trash we create and discard.  We both agreed that perhaps we should spend the rest of our time together just looking at the beauty that is nature.  Although the Falls of the Ohio State Park is a rather small and some would add a rather limited place…I can usually find something that seems extraordinary and perfect in its own way.

unknown, immature fungus, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Moving to the nearest decaying log I found a small and completely unfamiliar fungus seemingly bubbling up from the wood itself.  All fungi have an important role to play and gives rise to the idea that nature’s creations are rarely superfluous like our own tend to be.  I qualify that with a “rarely” since it seems to Katinka and I that what seems troubling about man is that out of synch quality with nature that we now seem to embody and in fact embrace.  What was nature thinking about when it gave rise to us?  The fungi have a purpose…what is ours, perhaps to usher in the next great period in the history of life?

freshly hatched baby turtle, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

One more small and seemingly miraculous discovery before calling it quits for the day.  I spotted something moving over the shallow, water-covered fossil beds and a quick flash of the hand produced this freshly hatched terrapin.  Katinka checked it out before releasing back to the same spot where I had found it.  I hope it doesn’t run into any herons or raccoons that would make short work of it.  This was a nice way to end the day!  As my friend and I parted I watched Katinka as she immersed herself in a bed of violet flowering vines.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Katinka in the vetch, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

 

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At Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden in Utica, Indiana, May 2016

In many ways this post is a continuation of my last published one on “The Crying Indian”.  I made that sculpture for this occasion which was a cart-blanch invitation from owner Bob Hill to place my river art in the context of eight acres of wonderful plantings that include many unusual and rare plants.  My work is far from the more durable art made from metal or stone that you would expect to see in a garden, but I’m always interested in placing my art in a less than typical gallery situations.  Hidden Hill is located in the tiny town of Utica, Indiana very near the Ohio River and not too far from my home in Louisville, KY.  To be on the grounds of Hidden Hill is a true delight and it’s easy to imagine that you are in a far more remote place than you actually are.

Bob Hill at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden, May 2016

Bob Hill is a well-known personality in our area.  He was a long-time columnist for Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper which in the days before Gannett took over was a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper with a big and loyal following.  Bob is now “retired” from the paper, but he is still an active author of books and articles and a big advocate for the joys of gardening.  When he opened Hidden Hill with his wife Janet, he realized that if they were going to compete against the big box stores selling bedding plants and more that they needed interesting stock that you just can’t find anywhere else.  Garden aficionados know who he is and will travel throughout our region to see what new specialties he is cultivating.  At the opening of my show, two gardeners who traveled from a distant Kentucky county went home with one of the two Franklinia alatamaha trees that Bob had in stock.  The Franklin Tree was named after Benjamin Franklin and is a small flowering tree that is now extinct in the wild and was last seen in its natural habitat during the early part of the 19th century.  A few timely cuttings and seeds taken upon discovery have kept this pretty tree alive to the present day.

Welded and painted metal flowers at Hidden Hill, May 2016

Great plants are not the only attraction at Hidden Hill.  Bob’s idea was to create a destination that would also be fun to visit and he has invited many artists over the years to place work on his property.  If there is one word that would describe the kind of garden art that Bob likes it would be “whimsical” and his grounds are full of examples.  Hill is fond of creating mini-environments where the plants and art work in concert with one another.

Man made from welded and painted watering cans by James Voyles, HIdden Hill, May 2016

I love this figure made by artist Jerry Voyles out of welded and painted watering cans.  Voyles is particularly well-represented at Hidden Hill.  Other area artists of note who have work at Bob’s place include Matt Weir, Caren Cunningham, John McCarthy, Jeff Reinhardt, Samantha Grifith & Jen Pellerin, Joe Autry, and many more including yours truly now.

Earth Knight by Albertus Gorman, at Hidden Hill, May 2016

This is another of my newer sculptures made for this show.  I call this one “Earth Knight” and it is made completely from materials I scavenged off of the riverbank at the Falls of the Ohio State Park this year.  “Earth Knight” is about 7 1/2 feet tall and is mostly made from Styrofoam.  The body is embellished with the bottoms of aluminum cans which turns out to be the strongest part of the can.  Often, it is the only part of a can left after the river has its way with it.  Embedded among the can bottoms is a plastic gray heart that I also found at the river.  I thought the head seemed somewhat “helmet-like” and I went with that idea for the whole figure.  The Earth after all is in desperate need of defenders and protectors.  Other materials used in this piece include found plastic, driftwood, and coal which are in both eyes.  This piece is located next to a marvelous Weeping Katsura Tree and a large evergreen which form the perfect background for this piece.  Here are some other views of this work.

"Earth Knight" detail, May 2016

"Earth Knight" reflected in a mirror mounted on a tree, Hidden Hill, May 2016

When I sited this figure, I wanted to see if I could work with the mirrors that were mounted by another artist on a nearby tree.  This was the best of those images that shows “Earth Knight” in context, but reversed due to the reflection.  Here is another recent big piece.  I call this figure “Flora” and the numerous flower references on her are why she has this name.  Again everything I have used was found at the river.

"Flora", found materials from the Falls of the Ohio, at Hidden Hill, May 2016

Head of "Flora", at Hidden Hill, May 2016

“Flora” speaks the language of flowers and I have numerous found references from the Falls of the Ohio on “her”.  The main material is river-polished Styrofoam and the body was also found this year.  I also found the plastic planter with the bright pink sand shovel and was delighted when I came across a large root that I could use as an “arm” to hold these two elements with ease.  I have embedded found rubber balls around her waist line.  “Flora” is the second largest piece I have out at Hidden Hill and is about 6 1/2 feet tall.  Again all the elements that comprise her including the wooden base were found at the Falls of the Ohio.  One good aspect about my art is that I spend nearly nothing for art supplies because the world is already full of free stuff all around you.  “Flora” has a silk flower emerging from her mouth that was also found by the river and has traveled some unknown distance to finally reach this place.  And now, for the last of the four large works I have out in Bob’s gardens.

Detail of head of "Figure Holding a Red Ball", Hidden Hill, May 2016

Detail, side view of "Figure Holding a Red Ball", Hidden Hill, May 2016

"Figure Holding a Red Ball", Hidden Hill, May 2016

The smaller of the four new garden pieces is this one entitled “Figure with a Red Ball” which is about 5 feet tall.  Among the materials used in its construction include Styrofoam, plastic, coal, a glass marble, driftwood, and aluminum.  This piece has a very different “persona” from the other new figures I have made for Hidden Hill.  I do have other works on display and Bob has a covered shed where he let me set up several other more portable works from my Falls series.  Here’s a glimpse at that display.

Other river art on display by Al Gorman at Hidden Hill, May 2016

River art display, Hidden Hill, May 2016

So far, I’ve given a short tour for visitors and did a demonstration where I made a small, absurd figure from found river materials.  It was a cold and rainy day when the show opened, but some intrepid souls came out to say hello which I appreciate greatly!  I love that there is no definitive ending date and the figures in the shed will be available to be seen for about a month.  Certainly, not the art world as usual!  I will probably leave a couple of the larger figures out at Hidden Hills for a longer indeterminate time.  Bob and Janet’s place is open Thursdays through Sundays and by appointment.  If you are curious to learn more about their plant nursery here is the link to their website: http://www.hiddenhillnursery.com  I have since continued my river forays to the Falls of the Ohio and I look forward to presenting those posts on this blog.  Thanks for checking this out!  Until next time…

Back view of "The Crying Indian" at Hidden Hills Nursery and Sculpture Garden in Utica, IN, May 2016

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Spring in Kentuckiana, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

I’ve been remiss in posting new stories although I remain as busy as ever with my river art.  Of late, I have had fewer opportunities to go to the river because of rain, work responsibilities, and lots of family birthdays…which are all mostly good things!!  In this post, I will compress a lot of goings on starting with a quick trip to the Falls of the Ohio a few weeks back.  It’s officially Spring because the migrating birds have been through and the resident Baltimore Orioles have returned to build their hanging nests and raise their young.  Hearing the orioles’ calls is something I look forward to every year.  It seems we are having a bit cooler Spring which to my mind seems much more “seasonal” as my memory of this area and time of year is accustomed to.  As with any trip to the river, I begin by searching for the latest junk that I either overlooked or has just arrived.  Here are pictures of some recent finds.

Plastic citrus slice ice cube, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

My sharp eyes spied this among the driftwood.  It’s a plastic, fluid-filled “citrus slice”, perhaps an orange.  If you freeze this little item until the fluid becomes a cold solid…well, you have yourself a novelty “ice-cube” for your drink.  I intercepted this on its way to the ocean and now is in my collection of odd and particularly useless plastic junk.

small plastic horse, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Shattered plastic rocking horse, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Of course, in this part of the country, the first Saturday in May also means the Kentucky Derby.  On this particular foray to the river, I found two horses whose races have been run…so to speak!  They are now river trash that have been discarded and happened to wash up here from who knows where.  This stuff may have just traveled from across the river in Louisville, KY or floated hundreds of miles to reach this destination.  My intuition tells me that this stuff has traveled far.

Broken, plastic novelty pump container in the shape of a snowman, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

This is the first of these items that I have ever found.  It’s a plastic pump bottle for what?…soap, hand lotion, or what have you?  The snowman image is kind of fun.  Finding this item is just a short leap of the imagination to this temporary creation.

Absurd figure, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Scene with Absurd Figure and the Skyline of Louisville with a Fire in the Background, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Scouting around the immediate area produced enough detritus…I mean art materials to create this figure.  I have become quite quick in being able to make an absurd sculpture from most anything I find around me.  These figurative pieces are meant to be seen as absurd because I feel our handling of our environment is both silly, stupid, and ultimately tragic.  I try my best to let my figures “communicate” this on their own through their “very being”, but occasionally, my true feelings come out and besides people are becoming more and more literal.  These works are meant to call attention to the types of materials that make it into our environment, particularly through our precious waterways and as such help to build awareness of this situation.  But, by now, if you don’t know that this form of degradation is happening during our time…then you simply prefer not to know.  For me, it’s not enough to call attention to this problem, but to try to at least suggest something hopeful.  I know this is very idealistic…but there you have it.  What these artworks also try to embody is a call for creativity.  Anybody and everybody’s creativity is required if we are to have any kind of future.  What artists can do is take the same information that everybody else receives and by turning this information on its head…perhaps come up with something different and unexpected conclusions or applications.  Creativity, however, is not just the province of a gifted few.  It’s truly in everybody if folks could just recognize it in its many forms and try to cultivate it just a little bit.  Creativity is our kind’s “ace in the hole” and is probably why we have evolved this far in the first place.  What I do at the river is as much a demonstration project where I have been willing to engage these often poor quality materials in the hopes of forming some kind of meaning from it all.  I keep looking at the image directly above this paragraph.  There’s smoke rising from a big fire on the Kentucky side of the river and the plume as I remember kept getting larger and darker.

Destroyed figure, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

The last time I made it out to the river I went by my absurd friend to see how he was doing.  Predictably, he was in a sad state of affairs.  His head was completely missing except for the broken snowman bottle that was lying on the ground.  I just moved on.  It’s always about moving forward and I had another mission on this day.  This year we have had some decent flooding, no records mind you, just activity that is normal to this river.  Each high water incident deposits something new upon these fabled shores.  Today, I’m looking for large branches that have the potential to be arms or legs for some big figures I’m making at home.  I have a new opportunity to show some work in a context that is a bit different.  Retired Courier-Journal columnist, Bob Hill, has invited me to place work at his Hidden Hills Nursery in Utica, Indiana…just across the Ohio River from Louisville.  Bob wrote a very nice article for Southern Indiana Living about my artwork and I want to have a nice showing which will occur on May 21.  It’s a Saturday and if you are around and interested…the fun will start about 10:00 am.  I have collected three particularly large sections of Styrofoam (probably old boat docks) and I’m using them for the bodies of figures I’m making to be placed on the grounds of his plant nursery.  Bob specializes in hard to find flowers, trees, and shrubs.  I’m really curious to see what I have in mind will look like on his property.

Basement studio view with "The Crying Indian" under construction, Louisville, May 2016

For the moment, the scene has shifted from the river to my basement studio at home.  I call it a studio, but it’s really evidence that I have become a hoarder!  It’s also proof that I don’t leave everything behind at the river.  Believe me, I have taken more than my share of river crap away from the scene of the crime.  My poor suffering wife and family.  Anyway, here’s an in process view of a figure that became “The Crying Indian”.  It’s a meditation on the old public service announcement that appeared around 1970 or 71 and if you were around then, you probably have vivid memories of it.  I look forward to telling you more about this particular figure which has an interesting back story, but for now will just tease you with a sneak peek.  When I finished this piece, I couldn’t help but take it out to the river to photograph it in the environment where I found most of the pieces.  Here’s the proof.  I will leave it here for now, but if you want to see the real thing…consider this your invitation to visit Bob Hill’s Hidden Hills Nursery.  Hope to see some of you then.

Detail view of "The Crying Indian" , Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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Maple seeds, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

April was a busy but mostly productive blur.  Lots of balancing went on encompassing family, work, loss, art, birthdays, and spring transitioning to summer.  We had an issue with our family computer that kept us quiet for a while, but hopefully that has been resolved.  At this point, I have thousands of photographic images scattered everywhere and if by chance I happen to lose something…well, chalk that one up to the will of the digital gods.  I had this strange realization about being a  survivor of a by gone analog era that my sons don’t understand or have much experience with.  These digital images I have been creating at the Falls of the Ohio can be as transient as the artworks they document.  Fortunately, for my sanity, I was able to get to the river on a couple of occasions in this month, breathe deeply, and relax with my art.  The last two visits I made to the park in April were gorgeous days and productive.  Here are images made from that day’s project.

That day;s gathered plastic bottles, April 2016

I have been having fun gathering up the different plastic bottles and containers that I have been coming across the last two years and making something with them.  The arrangement I made today was composed of black and white plastic junk I came across after a few hours of work.  All the black and white containers were found in the general area of where this piece eventually came together.  I moved around a center location and after fanning in and out found enough stuff to bring back to “base”.  I had previously picked out a place where I wanted to make something because I liked the view with the railroad bridge and the City of Louisville behind that.

Mostly white plastic bottles, April 2016, Falls of the Ohio

Mostly white plastic containers, but also a gray and two silver ones too.  Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

I found a couple of nice plastic buckets and a nice fairly straight wooden plank and set the arrangement up with its back shielded by a huge log.  There was an even larger log that had an end on it that had been scorched by fire, but it worked with the scene.  First, I arranged all the black bottles up and moved from left to right and kept the large containers on the bottom row.  I set the three “grayish” containers up next and that including the two silver jugs I came across.  At least they seemed to represent some value between black and white and I took several photos with them in the configuration.  Later in the day, I did return back to this spot and shot a few without the gray containers in the pictures…just the black and white ones which I liked too.

Beginning of Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Here’s an image with a train crossing the tracks.  Unfortunately, I did not get a shot before my piece was set up.  Now for a progression of other work in progress photos documenting the brief peak of the “Arrangement in Black and White Plastic”.

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic with Louisville in the Distance, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

View with Arrangement in Black and White  Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

View of Arrangement in Black and White Plastic (from the black end), Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

While I was working out in the driftwood, new friend and fellow artist Chiel Kuijl came out looking for a few choice pieces of wood for his rope installation.  Chiel has been the Artist at Residence at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest and is originally from the Netherlands.  We have crossed paths out here at the Falls of the Ohio as well as socially with mutual friends.  He has returned to Holland, but is due to return to Louisville this year to work on a recent commission.

Artist Chiel Kuijl at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, April 2016

Chiel later built a beautiful rope installation over water as well as distinctive “furniture” from ropes and driftwood.  Park of this busy April included visiting Chiel out in Clermont, KY to see what he accomplished during his residency.  I look forward to showing you a few images of his work in a later post.  First!…let’s get through this one.  I did remove the “gray” containers so it is just black and white butting up to one another.

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, version 2, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, version 2, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

I week after I made this piece, I returned to check on it and inspect my base studio.  Here is an “after” picture.  I already have plans in mind on how I can reuse this black and white plastic.  One other fun development…I am working towards my show at Bob Hill’s Hidden Hills Nursery in Utica, IN.  That will open on May 22 after some of the Kentucky Derby madness has subsided some.  I have three very large figures I have been working on and you will see those soon.  Have a wonderful Sunday…from the Falls of the Ohio and the Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog.

Arrangement in Black and Gray Plastic, a week later, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

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