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The Falls of the Ohio State Park is a place of discovery.  So many new lifeforms have been described by science in the Devonian limestone fossil beds alone.  And of course, the Lewis and Clark Expedition which both began and ended at the Falls of the Ohio did much to help illuminate the breath of this country.  Magic keeps occurring in this amazing place and the following post is about one such recent and personal find…meet the aptly named “Smiling Tortoise”.

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The Smiling Tortoise or Clemmys helmeti  is a very rare terrestrial turtle now found in just one location in the world which is the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It was once presumed extinct.  Since being designated an Indiana state park…this elusive reptile has been seen more often in the last ten years than in the previous hundred years before the park came into existence.  Perhaps the added protective status has emboldened it to show itself more?  Park visitors have supplied a steady, if still infrequent sightings of it to the staff at the Interpretive Center.  Over the years, I have learned the best way to find something is to not look for it.  That was certainly true in the case of the Smiling Tortoise.  Although I have always wanted to see a living example, it took 14 years of patience before I came across one last November.

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We have experienced the warmest and driest Fall season I have ever lived through in the Kentuckiana area.  On such a warm November day, I happened upon a specimen that was gorging on bracket fungi growing on a decayed log.  In my enthusiasm, I took plenty of images and perhaps got a little too close by picking this one up to examine it.  I wanted to check out its shell on its belly or plastron to see if this individual had been tagged by the park naturalists when I carelessly picked one up.  Despite its benign appearance, it possesses a strong bite from a large mouth and its neck can move whip-like as it turns to defend itself from a threat.  I count myself lucky not to have lost a digit, still it bit me!

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I cut myself with my trusty Swiss Army knife or get poked by something else sharp out here every once in a while and so I have a small supply of bandages that I always keep with me.  Forewarned, but not undaunted, I carefully held the turtle by the top of its domed carapace and held it so it couldn’t reach me.  Above, it is all white, but underneath, there is a little color.  I didn’t have my measuring tape with me, but it’s roughly the size of your head.  Here’s what the ventral side of the Smiling Tortoise looks like.

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This marvelous creature sports a yellow tail which is stained by the turtle’s own urine and by a particularly musky gland found at the tail’s base.  The plastron has this unusual design and its concavity told me it was a male.  The reason for the slight indentation is to give a bit more of a “foot hold” when attempting to mate with the female of the species which of course, also possesses a domed shell.  This specimen exhibited healed wounds on its feet perhaps when a predator decided to try to eat it?  The fact that this one was still around testifies to the ability of this turtle to take care of itself.  When I showed the park naturalists my images, they were pleasantly surprised to see that this specimen did not have an identification tag on it.  So, this turtle was new even to them!

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After carefully releasing the turtle, I moved away to a discreet distance to see what would happened next?  I followed it as it moved through the woods investigating every groundhog hole and space around the trees and rocks, but what was it searching for?

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Since this is still a cold-blooded animal, the unseasonably warm weather perhaps roused it from its winter hibernation or perhaps it was still looking for that perfect den or burrow in which to over winter?  Not finding anything suitable, the Smiling Tortoise left the riverbank and headed back into the woods.

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Along the way, I was able to observe a few additional behaviors.  For the longest time, this tortoise regarded a hunk of river-polished Styrofoam.  I saw it poke the waste polystyrene both with its head and front feet.  When it didn’t respond, the Smiling Tortoise moved on.  This next image is going to be a little harder to explain…take a look.

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Well, your guess is as good as mine on this one!  Even the park naturalists were at a loss.  Something about this discarded large bottle of sports drink that floated into here from who knows where stimulated this behavior.  The turtle unable to mate with this bottle left the area in obvious disgust as it hissed its disapproval.  This was the only sound I heard it make.

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With the day drawing to a close, I decided to say good-bye and good luck to my scaly acquaintance.  I picked up my hiking gear and collecting bags and turned around and headed toward the Interpretive Center.  I was feeling stoked by the experience!  I hope the turtle eventually found an acceptable burrow and is fast asleep as a gentle snow now falls in Louisville.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

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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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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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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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Fresh plastic arriving at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

Last Saturday was a nearly 70 degree day and the sun was shining.  I couldn’t wait to get to the Falls of the Ohio to do a little exploring and maybe make something.  I was totally surprised to find that the Ohio River was up again despite our area not receiving much in the way of rain during the week.  The warmer temperatures must be melting what snow is still on the ground in the upstream sections of the Ohio River Valley?  That’s my theory and for the moment I will stick with that.  As with the previous weekend, the areas in the park that I more routinely work in were all underwater.  So, like the previous weekend I hiked out to the western section of the park where the riverbank is higher.  Honestly, I didn’t expect to find much out here since I picked up a lot of waste plastic to make my last rainbow arrangement.  Boy was I wrong.  Waiting for me along the waterline was a “fresh” selection of polyvinyl chloride for the picking.  Perhaps because for the moment I have been fixated artistically with this material, but to my eye it seems our “plastic problem” is getting worse.

Collected plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

In quick order I was able to stuff the two collecting bags I brought with me to capacity as well as fill a found plastic toboggan with even more plastic.  That was just the start.

Found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

I could have kept going and going, but soon realized that I was also running out of light.  I chided myself under my breath for getting a late start on this day.  I had other home duties that needed my attention.  If I was going to do anything with this latest batch of plastic finds it had better be soon.  I had also intended to check out the project I had made the previous week, but it was further down the riverbank.  Once I got going on this assemblage, I forgot all about that earlier piece.  It was now a race against the quickly setting sun.

Sorting plastic into colors, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

I dragged all the plastic junk I  had collected to a place on the riverbank that I thought had pictorial possibilities.  I then sorted this mess into various color groups.  Using the two plastic milk crates I had found and a wooden plank I created a shelf-like surface that was fairly level where I could arrange my latest collection of finds.

Plastic arrangement process photo with shadow, Falls of the Ohio, Feb., 20, 2016

Here’s a process photo of my piece about half way through along with my shadow.  This plastic arrangement was situated in a space between the high riverbank and a large log that floated into position here last year.  And now for some “finished” views.

Riverbank Plastic Arrangement , Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

Riverbank Plastic Arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

I finished laying the last piece of plastic down just in time for the “Golden Hour” when for a brief moment the light has this incredible color.  This time of day reminds me of some of Maxfield Parrish’s paintings who must have also been fond of this effect of light.  Here are a few details of the junk I used for my arrangement.

Blue and Green plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

Yellow, Orange, and Red Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

In the green section you can see the Tug Boat that I found on my last trip.  This time I picked it up and carried it with me and incorporated it into this piece.  Other notable finds include a light orange, Winnie the Pooh, “Tigger” character head that was used for collecting candy on Halloween night.  That’s a little different from the usual jack-o-lantern head.  I also found a bright red plastic fish that is also a sand mold for child’s play.  The majority, however, are bottles for detergents and various petroleum products.

Plastic Arrangement under the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

Soon, the light begins to fade.  In this shot you can get a better sense of why I selected this location.  My arrangement is protected by these wonderful tree roots that add a bit of animation to the scene.  What you can also see is that the tree to the left doesn’t have long to stand before the river and erosion will change this part of the riverbank and knock this tree down.

Arrangement on the Riverbank, found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

Plastic arrangement on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

The sun was setting and I had a long walk ahead of me and after basking in a bit of color it was time to call it a day.  On the walk back to my vehicle, I wondered what I was getting out of this activity?  As an exercise in building an awareness of the plastic issue…well, by this point everybody who cares to know does.  And the folks that would prefer this to be out of sight and out of mind, well, there is that too and you wonder what it would take to convince anyone of the urgency of this problem?  I went through several rationales, but it wasn’t until I got home and downloaded my pictures to my computer that I decided there was something in the perverse beauty of man who stands in contrast to the rest of nature that I find compelling.  I will muse on this for a while, but for now…so long from the Falls of the Ohio.

Sundown at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 20, 2016

 

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Plastic Thumb Moth, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Beyond the Woodland Loop Trail in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio is where today’s river adventure finds me.  It has been many months since I last visited this side of the park.  I have been looking forward to walking on the driftwood that accumulates on this riverbank.  As always, I’ve got my trusty walking stick and collecting bag with me.  It’s time to find what there is to find and make something from that.  Right away, I found this plastic butterfly or moth (fireworks perhaps?) and enjoyed taking several images of it juxtaposed with the riverbank landscape.  Just a quick look around and I can see lots of plastic and polystyrene to potentially use.  I will also keep my eyes open for a good site to do one of my plastic arrangements that I have been having fun with of late.

Brown Bagging it, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I was fairly confident that I would find as much plastic debris on this shoreline as I had found in the eastern section of the park.  That would prove to be correct and I brought an extra collecting bag along to help with the gathering process.  I have been enjoying organizing the colorful plastic bottles and containers that I find into mostly chromatic and rainbow-inspired arrangements.  The driftwood and sand out here is unified in coloring presenting a monochromatic landscape where bright, colorful plastic notes sing out among all these lost trees.  You soon realize as you sort out the plastic from the driftwood, how much of our material culture is intermixed into everything else.

Found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan 30, 2016

Colorful, found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

After walking the high water line for a couple of hours, I dumped all the colorful plastic I had collected onto the sand.  I thought I had picked a good location that was between the water and the riverbank.   I picked up a nice plastic milk crate along the way to assist with the gathering.  I notice that I usually pick up intact items preferring them over plastic bits and pieces…although, I will use fragments too especially if they are a hard to come by color.  Most all of the plastic bottles and containers I find have had their labels washed off by the river.  I put a lot of trust in the cleaning power of millions of gallons of water.

Sorting plastic by color, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Using the patterns and intervals of driftwood that the river had previously laid down here as a supporting structure where today’s found plastic is sorted by color and staged.  Here is where you might find out that you picked up more green bottles than yellow or that purple was that day’s hard to find color.

Found plastic on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Here’s a view looking eastward with a bit of the skyline of Louisville suggested through the distant trees.  From my experience, fewer people visit this section of the park and many who do often prove to be residents of Clarksville which is just over the flood wall.  Let’s show a few more images of how this piece rounded into shape.

Western Park Plastic Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Western Park Plastic Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I like the big wooden beam lying parallel to the plastic.  Not all the driftwood out here is of the wild variety.  I find lumber cut-offs and planed planks of all kinds and have used them in my art as well.  These shots were taken on a beautiful end of the month day where we had a respite from the cold and grayness.

Western park plastic arrangement, Jan. 30, 2016

There was one large blue plastic drum that was buried in the sand and had water in it as well.  I didn’t like how it intruded into these pictures and so tried to take it away.  Well, it was much too heavy for one person to life out of the sand.  Fortunately, among the few people I did see on this day were old river rat friends who gave me a hand with this.  The blue drum nearly folded in half takes its position at the end of the line.

Variation on an image, Western Park Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30,2016

detail of Western Park Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I hung around and admired all the bright colors as they revealed themselves in a setting sun.  I think this is the most complex plastic assemblage (as far as variety and number of individual pieces used goes) that I have made thus far.  I will go ahead and tell you that this work no longer exists except as digital images.  Over the past week, we had strong rain storms that went through the Ohio Valley resulting in a high river.  Although the rains didn’t affect us directly, all the water that was dropped into the watershed caused it to inundate many of the familiar places on the riverbank that I like to work.  The river has been unpredictable of late and I have had at least three new projects washed away.  As I walked home, I did find an interesting bottle that I walked over before.  I’m fairly sure this is Fred Flintstone based on the diamond pattern on his “garment”.  A quick inquiry over the internet yielded some results.  This find was originally part of a four plastic baby bottle set that featured Fred, Barney, and their kids Pebbles and BamBam.  This vintage baby product was more than likely manufactured between 1977 and 1984!  I wonder if its possible for my find to be that old?  Judging from the wear and tear and severe fading…that’s a distinct possibility.  Happy with my new find…I dropped it into my collecting bag.  I think it is the unusual items I come across that make this such a fun way to spend time at the river.  With the sun going down, the temperatures are getting cooler…time to go home.  Until next time from an ever-changing Falls of the Ohio.

Very faded Fred Flintstone character plastic baby bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Fred Flintstone baby bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

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