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Archive for the ‘assemblage art’ 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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Vine covered Danger sign, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

It’s the end of the year and I have a handful of posts and projects I intended to present here before the date on the calendar changes.  I will do my best to try to catch up.  I’ll start with this outing along the Ohio River that happened in November.

I have finally had a bit of a lull from my day job and so I want to start catching up on posting images and stories of my Falls of the Ohio adventures over the last few weeks.  It’s also a bit of a relief from the disappointing presidential election we have just endured.  Hanging out at the river is always a good tonic for the soul.  May it always be that for me and other “river rats” who are drawn to moving waters.  For this post, I will concentrate on an assemblage I made using found bottles, jugs, and other plastic containers that I have collected from the banks of the Ohio River in this small state park in southern Indiana.

Picking up a plastic jug at the Falls of the Ohio

The Falls of the Ohio State Park is not a very big place as parks go, but it is a very historic and dynamic environment.  I remember when I first started coming out here it really bothered me to see so much junk along the riverbank.  It still does and  I tried standard recycling before settling on making art from what others preferred not to see or acknowledge.  What this unique space lacks in size, it makes up for by being a very dynamic environment.

For most of the year, the river behaves itself and lets the Army Corps of Engineers pretend that it is in control of its flow.  Every once in a while, however, the river reminds us through flooding and by going around the barriers set in its way to control it.  It is during these high water moments that all the rubbish sins of the world come down the river from environs both local and from parts north in our watershed.  As this blog documents, I find “stuff” all the time and unfortunately discarded plastic is high on the list.

Found plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, summer 2016

Here is found plastic that I brought back to my outdoor atelier under the willow trees.  I didn’t have to travel far to pick up all I wanted.  I realized as I drove to work this morning that my “outdoor atelier” is now under water.  A few days ago, we finally received enough rain to raise the level of the river.  It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have tried to do anything with plastic on this scale.  Only when I couldn’t deny the bright, unnatural colors any longer that it occurred to me to try to do something “artistic” with all this waste plastic.

Sorting the plastic by color, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

After I have selected a site for a project.  I move my materials to the chosen location and when I’m ready, I start sorting objects according to color.  I like to reference the electromagnetic spectrum and rainbows because they are about light.  Plastic is made from petroleum which is sun energy that has been harnessed by prehistoric plants and stored in their tissues.  Over deep time, heat, pressure and the vagaries of geology either liquefies this ancient material into crude oil or compresses it into coal.  It is interesting to think about how much our contemporary world is dependent on using the energy from our sun that shone millions of years a go!

found plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, October 2016

More found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

It will be a leap for some, but “light” in my mind is not only a part of the problem here, but also implies a solution.  We need to do a better job of using our innate creativity to capture the light of today’s sun.  Leave that “ancient energy” in the ground and we certainly don’t need anymore plastic.  Through a little trial and error, I found an arrangement that suits me.  If I am lucky and park visitors or the river decide not to erase what I’ve started then I expand and tinker with my outdoor composition.  If I’m correct, then this piece is already gone taken just today by the river. It lasted many weeks longer than I thought it would.  Thanks for tagging along with me!  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Colorful found plastic assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

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Well, the season for grand political theatre is almost over.  I’m feeling like most of the country who are so tired of the divisiveness that has defined this overly long election. Certainly, a major disappointment is the lack of any real environmental dialogue or engagement from either of the parties.  Three national debates…and hardly a mention of climate change at all.  We were much more preoccupied by Hillary’s emails than we are the fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed a historic and negative 400 parts per million this year for the very first time ever!  We have no idea what this will ultimately mean.  We believe that this can’t be a good thing, but we are willing to take the chance?  Do facts matter and are we close to a point where it won’t make much of a difference what we think and feel?  Nature has her own schedule and we have been consistently wrong in guessing what time it is.

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I find going out into Nature breathing deeply and keeping my eyes open helps a great deal. This is my restorative.   Walking parallel to the Ohio River and atop the Devonian limestone, my eyes register the circling Osprey looking for a good fish in the shallows.  The nearby purple loosestrife flowers are alive with insects of many species doing what is important right now which is attending to life.  Cooling its feet in a shallow spring, I come across one of the park’s box turtles.  I give it my full attention and love.  It’s life amazes me.  Once it was a leathery egg laid in a dirt hole.  When it hatched, a tiny, nearly exact replica of its parents emerged from the shell debris and soil.  Instinct led it to seek shelter and to react to that gnawing sensation in the pit of its stomach by eating something.  It’s alive and has its own reality deeply rooted in the history of life.

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Living with the seasons, the turtle puts on a new growth ring for another year of life.  I have caught up to this one…decades after it left the egg.  I feel at peace and a feeling of well-being when I see Nature going about its daily and routine ways of life.  This is the way it has been before there was an us to proclaim ourselves to be the height and purpose of it all. One needs to go out into nature more to fully appreciate creation beyond the strictly abstract and intellectual.

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Plastic flower blossom in the sand at the Falls of the Ohio, October 2016

Our ability to transform our world is so complete that we can use a material like crude oil to create plastic flowers!  But should we and why would we want to in the first place?  It is specifically the effects of using fossil, hydrocarbon-based energy sources that have led us to the situation we now find ourselves.  Collectively, we have let oil and coal become more important than clean air and water.  Here in Kentucky, the political campaigns are fueled by the so-called “war on coal”.  What most people miss, is that this has less to do with environmental regulations and more with market forces.  Coal is a dirty form of energy that has been supplanted by the use of natural gas which is much cheaper.  Ordinary citizens are not taking down the old coal-burning plants and replacing them with natural gas burning utilities…big business is.  Coal jobs started to really disappear when it was discovered that you could reach a lot of coal quicker and employ fewer miners with mountaintop removal. The fracking techniques used to obtain today’s boon in natural gas are also fraught with huge issues which are now coming to light.

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We have the current and not fully resolved situation involving the Standing Rock Sioux people and an ill-advised and designed pipeline that the big corporate world have decided needs to go under the Missouri River.  Despite all our vaunted technologies, we lack the ability to make a pipeline that won’t eventually break releasing its poison into the waters.  What is so hard to understand about that?  I stand with the people who know that clean water is life. For awhile, it looked like the Ohio River was making progress, but in a way, the changes we are seeing in the climate have affected us here.  Currently, we have several large basin projects under construction in Louisville to deal with the reality that it rains more and a lot harder now which now overwhelms our sewers sending untreated waste directly into the river.  It will take billions of dollars and a lot of resolve to fix this, but I suspect, we will limp along trying to convince the people who make money the measure of everything to act sooner than later.

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So, here I stand on the wrack line between land and liquid.  I will continue to come out here and record with my camera and pen, the anecdotal changes I see happening in the park.  I come out here to challenge my creativity, see what there is to see, and restore my spirit.  Ultimately, the quality of our water and the environment at large is a referendum on our collective spirit.  We certainly have been found wanting and another election cycle is going by without so much as an acknowledgement that there are big challenges to the very substrate that sustains us all.  I will try to curb my disappointment, by immersing myself in the moment.  So long for now…until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.img_3366

 

 

 

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Rose Mallow at the Falls of the Ohio

We have had some stellar days of late with the air so crystalline and fresh that it has been an added bonus to be outside.  The temps have been manageable as well.  I began this post more than a week ago, but put it on the back burner until now.  I am no doubt busier now than I ever have been (particularly at work), but I’m still finding the time to be involved with my own art.  And I must confess…if I have to prioritize whether to stay home and work on a blog article or go to the river and participate in life at that level…well, I think you know what my answer will be!  I have enjoyed blogging, but must admit to myself that what I do will never be most people’s’ idea of a good read, especially since there are now literally millions of blogs out there!  I do still hope, however, to occasionally connect with folks who are creative and just plain interested in nature.

Rose Mallow, red coloring variant, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Recently, I went to the river to find a wealth of Rose Mallows in bloom.  That is not always the case and there have been years when I did not see any.  They have become among my favorite flowers that I can find at the Falls of the Ohio.  Their blooms are huge and there is some variation in our native hibiscus.  In a relatively small area, I found a patch of Rose Mallows showing off those colors which can range from a solid hot pink, to a snow-white blossom.  Usually, most of the mallows will sport some combination of white or pink with a deep scarlet throat.  I couldn’t help collecting a few seed pods and scattering their seeds in other locations I frequent at the Falls.  I don’t think this is technically legal since there is a park rule against collecting wildflowers, but since none of their seeds went home with me…I’m hoping I’ll be okay to do this?

Red Admiral butterfly, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Late summer is also a good time to see which butterflies are around.  The Falls of the Ohio certainly has its regular species who inhabit its various ecological niches.  Here is one of the park’s Red Admirals and it is visiting a “willow lick” to drink up the sugary exudence seeping from a wound in this tree’s bark.  These wounds occur in various ways, but the most common one is with collisions with large floating logs that crash battering ram-style into these willows during flooding.  This happens mostly in late winter or early spring and it is not out of the ordinary to have these willow trees be completely submerged by the Ohio River.  These willow licks attract a variety of insects ranging from butterflies, ants, hornets, and many different types of flies.

butterflies on purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Of course, every year is different from the last one and so far I have to say I think this has been just an average year for butterflies.  Usually, one species will be found more commonly than the other species.  For example, I can remember certain years where the Viceroy was the most common butterfly.  I have also seen it when the small Pearly Crescent or the larger Buckeye Butterfly were the most plentiful individual species.  This year I can’t tell that one species is more numerous than another.  I like visiting the Purple Loosestrife stands particularly in the western section of the park during the height of their blooming period.  I know this plant is highly invasive, but it also attracts a large amount of insects and butterflies in particular.  Multiple species gravitate towards the nectar these plants produce.  It’s interesting to watch different species feeding on the same plant like in the above photo.   A skipper species (on top) and fritillary species (on the bottom) are coexisting on this flower because this resource is plentiful and the butterflies are focused.  What these loosestrife stands also attract are predators.  It’s common to come across large orb weaving spiders and praying mantises waiting to ambush a meal.  I have come to think of these loosestrife stands as being important feeding areas for the Monarch butterflies that migrate through our area and this has mitigated my feelings towards this invasive plant.

Installation view of show at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN....Aug. 2016

Gallery shot at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

View inside my exhibit at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

Another reason to be feel grateful is that I have another solo art exhibition and it is currently up at the Artists’ Own Gallery in Lafayette, Indiana.  It’s a co-op space and the duties of running the gallery fall upon the member artists.  I was invited by one of the members to show at their downtown, Main Street location.  The exhibit which is entitled “At the Intersection of Culture and Nature” features a selection of my Styrofoam sculptures along with a few more dye sublimation prints on aluminum I had made of site specific projects that are now gone.  It is all stuff I have found and experienced at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  On the morning the show opened, I gave an artist’s talk and had a nice group present to hear more about how this work came to be.  I even sold a few pieces to help offset the costs of printing my photos and renting a van to haul it all around!  I really liked having the opportunity to show off my “Crying Indian” sculpture once again and it looked completely different in a gallery context as compared to where it was first shown outdoors earlier this year at Hidden Hills Nursery and Sculpture Garden.  All the Artists’ Own artists I met were welcoming and I appreciated their hospitality!  The exhibit will remain up until mid September and so if you find yourself in the area…please stop by and enjoy all the great art on display throughout this beautiful gallery.  Meanwhile, back at the Falls of the Ohio…

Styrofoam stash at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Figure idea, head and body, found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

On my first visit back to the river after my show opened, I had this general feeling of well-being.  I went over to my stash of Styrofoam that I had collected this year and starting putting shapes together.  I soon came up with the requisite head and body for a new and large figurative sculpture I wanted to make.  The large chunk of polystyrene that I used for the figure’s body had been collected months ago, however, it was still a bit waterlogged and heavy to move.

Head of the Grateful Man, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Head and shoulders of the Grateful Man, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Without doing any direct carving, I just accepted the forms that the river had provided for me and went with that.  I did make a few small holes to insert the found objects that would serve as this figure’s features.  The mouth is a piece of wood that looked like a “mouth” when I found it.  The eyes are part of the hull of a Black Walnut that I split in half and inserted into the head.  The nose is a bright orange, Styrofoam fishing float found that morning.  For the ears, I used parts of the sole of an old shoe and then I added a small plastic ring to separate the head from the body which has become my custom over the many years of doing this activity.  The rest is just driftwood picked up on site.Large Figure in Ecstasy, found materials from the Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

The resulting figure is much bigger than me and after I assembled it…I went scouting for a good location to make my pictures.  As you may remember, the large piece of Styrofoam that is the figure’s body was water-logged and so I set it up relatively close to my outdoor atelier.  Although the figure looks to be praying, what I was going for was a trance-like state of ecstasy?  I know I have felt this sensation of being outside one’s self where you feel a part of or kinship with the other living things around you.  Behind the figure is a large log with intact root mass that washed into here during the last good flood.  In this photo, a small flock of Canada Geese does a respectful flyover of their own.

A Canada Goose flyover, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Large Figure in Ecstasy near downed tree, Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

I seem to have started a personal blogging trend where my posts are getting on the long side!  So, this looks like as good a place to wrap this up as any.  By now, my ecstatic figure is probably history and martyred like so many other figures I have left in the park before.  I tell each piece I make and leave behind that this will likely be its fate unless some kind soul takes pity and takes it home with them.  These figures seem to understand.  It’s all about being present in the moment when we are at our most alive.  I have more stories to tell and art to share, but will hold of for now.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Three Clouds with Figure in Ecstasy, Falls of the Ohio, August 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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The Crying Indian, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

I touched on this briefly with my last post, but it has taken a couple of weeks to return to the story of “The Crying Indian”.  This post is both about the figure I created from found Styrofoam and the true story about one of the most successful Public Service Announcements of all time.  A few months back, I accepted the invitation of Bob Hill to show some of my river creations at his Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden in Utica, Indiana which is just across the river from my home in Louisville, KY.  After the high water we had in late winter and early spring, I had the opportunity and collected several large pieces of Styrofoam off of the riverbank with the intentions of making a few large figures that I could use for the Hidden Hill show.  I was successful in accomplishing this goal and the first figure I made was to become the piece I call “The Crying Indian”.

Basement studio view with the Crying Indian in progress, May 2016

I really don’t have a proper studio.  Just a basement at home that I hoard all the materials that I bring home from the river and the few finished works that I keep.  I really do prefer working outdoors at the Falls of the Ohio where I can work relatively quickly.  On occasion, I have a need to create work that is a little more formal or ambitious and requires more time to put together.  With a deadline approaching for a May 21 opening and weather unpredictable…I set about creating what I could in this cramped space.  There are some advantages like being able to listen to music or moving the laundry along and snacks are just a short staircase away.  Sitting at the foot of those basement steps, I weighed my options and introduced elements that may or may not become a part of the finished work.  The large chunks of Styrofoam that I had brought home from this year’s flooding were outside leaning against my house.  I selected the third largest piece and brought it into the basement.  It was time to go to work.

In progress image of the head of the Crying Indian, Louisville, KY, May 2016

Going into this sculpture, I knew that I wanted to keep it fairly “classical” meaning that most of the elements I used were white in color in “imitation” of marble statuary. I chose a river-polished hunk of Styrofoam for a potential head that felt somewhat in proportion to the figure I envisioned.  I sifted through bags and boxes of river collections and chose two hollow, plastic, and crushed fake golf balls for eyes.  The nose is a piece of polystyrene that is cone-shaped.  The mouth is a plastic and foam element from an old football helmet and the ears are pieces of Styrofoam.  The element that would become “the feather” in the Indian’s headdress was a broken plastic kayak? paddle that I had recently found and thought would look great in this context.  I would later use glacier and river worn quartz pebbles for the tears, but this was one of the last elements I introduced into this piece.  The rest of the work would be Falls of the Ohio driftwood and plastic elements collected in the park.

The Crying Indian in progress, Louisville, KY, May 2016

As I’m working on this, I’m also having an internal conversation with myself.  Talking to my materials I silently ask, “What do you want to be?”  I’ll pose questions and trust my subconscious to help me out by providing a few clues that become ideas that can be elaborated upon.  In this case, I was remembering that great Public Service Announcement from 1971 that is known as “The Crying Indian”.  I was wondering why there weren’t similar ads on television now decrying pollution and litter and extolling the public to do what they can do to help which is also the right thing to do?  What seems to rule the air waves now in the way of public service has more to do with finding cures for cancer and other maladies that afflict us…and that is important too.  Another little voice within me also feels that many of these physiological problems we endure will find their root causes in an increasingly degraded and contaminated environment.  For old times sake I looked up that original Crying Indian ad that was sponsored from the Keep America Beautiful folks and found it as effective as I had remembered it.  During my search, I clicked on a few other stories related to the Crying Indian and that’s when my jaw dropped in amazement.

Back view of the Crying Indian at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Detail, Crying Indian at the Falls of the Ohio holding plastic jugs, May 2016

The first big surprise is a story full of ironies beginning with the actor playing the”Crying Indian”…he  was not a Native American in the first place.  “Iron Eyes Cody”, America’s favorite movie and television Indian was born Espera Oscar de Corti in Gueydon, Louisiana in 1904.  He was actually a second generation Italian American.  He had a rough upbringing and when he was a child he left with his father for the American West.  It was out there that he first experienced indigenous cultures as well as the entertainment industry where he was to find life-long employment.  His first role, playing a Native American child happened in 1919 in a silent film entitled “Back to God’s Country”.  Iron Eyes Cody’s film and television career ultimately spanned the 1930’s to the 1980’s.  He claimed to be of Cherokee and Cree descent, but he needed his braided wig to become at least the image of an Indian.  Apparently, he never quite confessed to his deception and even lived to the ripe old age of 94.  Although Iron Eyes Cody was not a real Native American, he seems to have lived his life otherwise respecting the indigenous cultures.  He married a Native American woman and they adopted two Native children…one of whom became one of the best Native American musicians.  Perhaps it was the times, but I have to believe that if this ad were to be remade today that the public would insist that the Indian be at least genuine.

The Crying Indian and the Skyline of Louisville

The Crying Indian with Jugs

I didn’t feel that this figure was complete without photographing it in the context of the Falls of the Ohio where I originally found the materials that comprise it.  The addition of the white jugs became important not only because I have recently been doing a lot of outdoor assemblages using plastic containers, but returning to the fascinating story of “The Crying Indian”.  As was mentioned, this PSA was sponsored by Keep American Beautiful and the Advertising Council did the ad for free as a way of stimulating business interests in our country.  The Ad Council also created Smokey the Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog, this is your brain on drugs with the egg frying in the pan, buckle up for safety which was an early seat belt public service announcement and many more.  As for the Keep America Beautiful folks….well, they actually represented an organization consisting of  companies that produced bottles and containers of all kinds which make up a huge part of the litter you see everywhere but in the PSA crafted for them.  The Crying Indian ad is now considered a classic case of green-washing.  What occurred with this PSA was to put the responsibility for litter square on the backs of consumers and deflected any blame away from the manufacturers that produce these containers in the first place.  Once upon a time, containers were returned to their point of origin to be cleaned and reused, but there was a lot less trouble and more money to be made in convincing the public that single use containers were the way to go.  We are still in that place forty years later.  You can never underestimate the power of ad agencies to understand human behavior and psychology and use it against us to further the goals of their clients.  A good part of the shame people felt upon seeing trash being thrown at the feet of Iron Eyes Cody had to do with the subtle guilt that many people feel for displacing and persecuting the original inhabitants of this land.  That added ingredient helped make this one of the most successful public service announcements ever made.

The Crying Indian at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden, May 2016

The Crying Indian at Hidden Hill, May 2016

Here are a few images of the finished piece in place at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden.  It looks great where it’s at and I will do another story soon that will include the other sculptures I made for this occasion.  Some of them turned out very well, although they don’t quite have the back story that the figure does.  Hidden Hill is a special and beautiful place and I look forward to sharing more pictures with you.

I used Ginger Brand’s great article entitled, “The Crying Indian” that originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Orion Magazine for much of the information included in this post.  Brand really goes much farther than I could go here and I highly recommend this read.  Here is a link to that story…https://orionmagazine.org/the-crying-indian/  Another good source of information came from Priceonomics and the link to that story is http://priceonomics.com/the-true-story-of-the-crying-indian/  And, if you want to see the original one minute long public service announcement, it is available on YouTube and at the end of this post. Until next time…

Head of The Crying Indian, 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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