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Archive for the ‘unusual collection’ Category

High water at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

It was Leap Day, February 29 when I went back out to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  For the third consecutive week the Ohio River has been high and all my usual spots are underwater.  This post is being written a week later and the river is still covering most of my spots along the riverbank.  For the past month, I have been active mainly in the western section of the park.

Fallen Tree and high water at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

In the western area of the Falls,  the riverbank rises to greet a sliver of woods.  Standing on the top most level along the bank, this latest high water we are experiencing is about 8 to 12 feet below your feet, but in most places the river directly butts up to the bank and so there are few “beaches” to stand on and explore.  It is during these moments that you can most directly see and feel how a high river can upset and erode the riverbank.  I imagine that over time, the river will keep getting wider as the trees are undermined by the waters.  As I was searching for new sites and materials to work with…I decided to walk a bit more in the woods than I usually do.  Right now is a good time to do this before the vines and mosquitoes make it more difficult and unpleasant.

Found whitetail deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

As I was walking along the muddy paths I couldn’t help noticing how heavy the deer traffic was in this area.  Their tracks were everywhere and almost on cue, I came across five antler-less whitetail deer that were moving away from me near the tree line.  I liked this little area mostly because I came across small stands of bamboo-like river cane.  The old timers say that river cane used to be more plentiful and once helped to define the area more than it does now.  Walking along, I saw something white laying on its side and it turned out to be a deer skull from a small doe.  In the early days of my Artist at Exit 0 project, it was uncommon to come across deer tracks and years passed before I actually saw one out here.  All that has changed now.  This is the third deer skull I have found in the park in the last two years.  Their presence throughout the Falls of the Ohio has visibly increased which is probably not a good thing for such a small park as this one.

Deer skull mounted on a tree, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

I decided to leave the skull behind for someone else to discover.  Finding a suitable tree along the path, I mounted the skull on the knobby remains of a branch to mark this area as being particularly deer favored.  It was just a short hike from here to reach the river’s high edge again.

Wood debris in the water, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Eventually, I did find a hundred yard or so stretch of muddy bank that I could access and walk around.  It was located in a sheltered area where this was a slight bend in the river.  The prevailing currents and wind had pushed a large amount of debris against the bank and most of it consisted of wood and bark bits with the now expected plastic garbage mixed in for good measure.  I immediately began to find “stuff” and here are a few pictures of my “prized” finds.

Plastic drumstick, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Here is something for my Fake Food Collection…a small, plastic drumstick.  Over the years, I have found a few of this exact plastic poultry leg and so this is not exactly a unique find.  Note the teeth marks probably from the family dog?

Found green plastic frog toy, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Although the spring peepers are starting to be heard in our area…this one will never make a sound.

Found plastic toy hammer, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

I now have an impressive collection of found toy hammers and mallets and they are all made of plastic.  I need to take a photo of that collection and post it which is another in a line of weirdly specific things I have found out here.

Found Smiley Faces, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Here are two more “Smiley Faces” that are the latest ones I have found out here.  The larger is a volleyball and I’m not sure what the smaller one was intended for?  I haven’t looked at it again since I dropped it into the old collecting bag.  As I was exploring, what I couldn’t help but notice along this particular stretch of riverbank was how common toy balls of all sizes and sports that I was finding.  I decided to pick up all the ones I could access and make a collection of them all.  Here is that image.

A pile of various found balls, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Detail of found balls, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

So, what is your sport?  In this motley collection of forty plus river-found balls we have American footballs, soccer balls, basketballs (of course since this is major basketball country), golf balls, tennis balls, playground balls, Styrofoam balls, softballs, a plastic bowling ball, a volleyball, several ball pit balls, and couple of novelty balls, etc…  Of course, balls are the perfect floating object since they are round and roll easily and since they are usually inflated with air they are buoyant as well.  As the day was starting to get late and I had found all the balls in the area that I could reach…it was time to start for home.  I’m looking forward to the river dropping down and the temperatures to begin to rise.  Soon the spring bird migration will be passing through and I’m hopeful of seeing a few Rose-breasted grosbeaks and maybe a Scarlet Tanager or two.  One more image of my made on the spot ball collection looking back on an interesting day at the Falls of the Ohio.

Improvised Ball Collection, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Large, plastic Jack-o-lantern decoration, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

My images have been chosen and I’m writing quickly to create this Halloween-themed post before the big day arrives in our country.  Meaning I have until tomorrow to post this if I want this story to be relevant to the day at all!  2015 was a very good year for finding Halloween related junk at the Falls of the Ohio.  Some of this stuff I’ve saved into a small collection and the rest of my discoveries are preserved digitally.  I have long since moved from the position that I need to save every physical object that I come across.  Most of the time, having the picture is good enough.

Upside down, plastic jack-o-lantern, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

The two bouts of flooding that we had during the Spring washed all manner of goodies into the park.  It was an especially good year for plastic jack-o-lanterns.  These common objects are essentially a plastic bowl for receiving and holding trick or treat candy.  Naturally, real jack-o-lanterns are carved and hollowed out pumpkins that are illuminated from within often using candle power.  I’m always surprised by the variety of plastic jack-o-lanterns that I have come across.  This example was photographed as I encountered it…upside down and laying on top of the sand.

Destroyed plastic jack-o-lantern at the Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Here’s one that was crushed by the flood and some passerby hooked it onto a branched log.  Here’s another plastic jack-o-lantern deposited by the river, but this one is much smaller.

Small, plastic jack-o-lantern bottle laying in the driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Over the years, I have found many Halloween novelties including other containers for holding the precious bounty of candy.  The jack-o-lantern form, however, is overwhelmingly the most popular.  This year, I did find two different forms.  Here is one that is the head from an unlucky black cat!

Plastic black cat head candy carrier, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Now for a black plastic witch’s cooking pot that I nearly overlooked resting in the driftwood.  The witch is dancing in silhouette next to her fire.

Black plastic witch's cauldron candy carrier, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

I even came across the remains of a mask.  Costumes are a big part of Halloween and I don’t find many of them at the Falls.  This one was pretty muddy, but after cleaning it up a bit…I saw that it was a devil’s mask made from a soft foam.

Foam devil mask, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Okay, let’s look at a couple of shots of assembled river finds.  This one has a variety of different character references.

Various plastic toy novelties, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

This shot has a little bit of everything including vampire teeth, Shrek, Frankenstein’s head, a skull, a witch’s head, and a couple of scarecrows that also have a Halloween connotation.

Three different plastic owl bottles, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Owls also are iconic to Halloween.  Here I offer three found plastic bottles in the shape of owls.  The big red one was found in 2015 and the other two are earlier.

Falls of the Ohio Jack-o-lantern Collection, 2015

Most of these are associated with candy novelties, but not all.  I put this collection together at home when I noticed I had so many jack-o-lanterns in my various collecting bags.

Halloween-themed chap stick?, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

Can’t say until now that there is actually a Halloween-themed chap stick that you can purchase.  I am not likely to run across many of these along the riverbank.

Expressive face, plastic jack-o-lantern, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

I threw this guy into here because I like how expressive his face is.  Some of that is due to the dark river patina it has acquired being in the water for a while.  No doubt, I will keep running into this stuff at the Falls of the Ohio and I will try to document and or collect as I go along.  One last image from this year…earlier I was doing site specific assemblages using found colorful plastic elements.  Here is a detail of one piece I made and look who is taking pride of place?  Happy Halloween everybody…be safe and have fun.  See you in November!

Orange plastic jack-o-lantern with other river found objects, Falls of the Ohio, 2015

 

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E.K.U. show card, Sept. 2015

Although this is my first post of the month…my heart has not been far from the river or the odd kind of art that I make from the found remains of our material culture.  A few months back, I accepted the generous offer from Esther Randall, who is the Gallery Director of the Giles Galleries at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond to show in their upstairs gallery.  The bottom gallery will hold the colorful welded sculptures of Walter Early and his show will run concurrently with mine.  I do like the postcard Esther created.  She found two works by two very different artists that share the word “star” in their titles.  Our exhibitions will open during the upcoming week and if you happen to be in the area.  Please do stop by and check out our art shows.  Richmond is about 22 miles past Lexington, KY or about an hour and 45 minute drive from Louisville.  Here is the reverse of the card that gives other particulars about the opening reception and run of the show.

E.K.U. show card info, Sept. 2015

As you can see, my show is called “Albertus Gorman: Artist from Exit 0”.  For all the work I’ve done at the river, I still identify very much with the “Exit 0” sense for place and the slightly existential “feel” that it implies to me.  So much of my river art has been located in that interstitial area between the natural and artificial, between water and solid land, and between my own despair for the continued environmental degradation I experience in the park and the hope and optimism I want to feel as a human being rooted in the physical world.  So what am I going to present in this newest exhibition?

Al's art at home, Sept. 2015

Like many artists, I have the world’s greatest collection of my own artwork…or at least the pieces I’ve bothered to save from the river.  Like many artists, I tend to keep moving forward making new stuff which means that many pieces exist that may have been shown only once or not at all.  Of course, that is a big shame because different contexts bring out different qualities in the individual works and potential relationships that exist with the other pieces on exhibit.

Al's art at home, Sept. 2015

Here are a few more artworks I have “staged” prior to loading them in a cargo van.  I have many figurative Styrofoam sculptures that I have never shown in exhibition contexts.  In the above image, you can see my latest piece which continues the work I have been doing with found plastic containers.  I built a wall-mounted shelf from river-gifted wood and arranged the colorful plastic containers that I have also scavenged off the riverbank.  The individual bottles have Velcro on their bottoms to help secure them onto their narrow shelf.  A length of twine is there to help keep the bottles together while in transport.

Delivered sculptures at E.K.U., Sept. 2015

All of these Styro-sculptures have stories associated with them and I remember them like old friends!  This blog is their genealogical source recording their creation, their “lives” as art objects, and in some cases…even their demise.

Unloaded art work at the Giles Gallery, Sept. 2015

My work prior to installation at the Giles Gallery, Sept. 2015

I have five new works that were created specifically for this show.  Three of them are larger photo enlargements I have had made that show works I created in the contexts of their river environments.  For now, I will let Esther work her magic and I will post other images from the completed installation.  I also have one other project going on that I have remained mum about so far.  As you might remember, the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center has been closed for renovation as they upgrade their displays?  Well, they have contracted with me to create an assemblage on a roughly 8 foot by 4 foot wooden panel showing some of the river junk I have collected within the park.  I am really excited by this since this panel will be a part of their new presentation and will be the last panel seen as you exit the new displays.  Thousands of people (many school tours) will get a chance to see this piece which will document many of the things that you can unfortunately find in the Ohio River.  This panel is due soon and I have a lot of work left to do on it.  Once completed, it will slide into a vertical case with a sheet of plexiglas with some text elements on it to help explain, cover, and protect it.  It has already gone through several permutations, but for the moment, I will show just a few images taken of it in progress.  Here are images from Phase 1.

Panel for Interpretive Center, Phase 1, August 2015

 

Falls Panel, Phase 1, Aug. 2015

Detail, of Falls panel, Phase 1, August 2015

As you can tell, this can go in a lot of different directions because of the wealth of materials available.  All the stuff going onto this panel will have been collected within the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  There is no need to go anywhere else!  I want it to be as authentic as possible in so far as representing the kinds of stuff you can find floating in the Ohio River.  Since these images were made, Solidlight (the Louisville-based company creating the new Interpretive Center displays) has suggested some changes.  They want to see more driftwood used as a unifying element which should be easy enough to do.  I hope, however, that they will appreciate that people will be just as interested in the variety of crap I’ve collected as well and not settle for a cross-section of materials that can be found at the water’s edge.  To see that, a visitor simply needs to go down to the river to experience that already in place.  My good friend, sculptor Tom Butsch is letting me use his studio to construct this.  My own space at home is simply not large enough to accommodate this.  A couple more pictures before ending.

Beginning of Phase 2, Sept. 2015

A river found barge cable and section from a set of stairs are big individual elements going onto this panel.  I keep playing around with different compositions.  The trick for me is in keeping it more informal.  My impulse as an artist is to want to order this in some more formal way.  I will let you know how all this turns out.  I have an early October deadline, so this panel will be my focus for the next few weeks.  Until then…and from the banks of the Ohio River…see you next time.

Falls panel, Phase 2, Sept. 2015

 

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Our dog Cory, Feb. 2015

Many thanks to all who have wished me well in my new position at the Carnegie Center for Art and History.  The people I work with are wonderful and the “old dog” that is me is enjoying learning new things.  I noticed on the internet, Facebook in particular, how much people love posting about their pets.  I’ve decided to take a page from the animal lovers of the world and try to post something both dog and Falls of the Ohio related and here goes!  I start with a picture of our family’s dog.  This is Cory and she will soon be eight years old.  She is named after the town of Corydon, Indiana where she is from.  Her mom was a pedigreed beagle and her father was…a one-eyed, black and white spotted Chihuahua/farm dog who took advantage of an opportunity that presented itself.  Such is life!  Regardless, the puppies were beautiful and Cory seems to have inherited the good qualities of both breeds.  My youngest son, Adam, did the choosing and I recall she was the only female in the litter.  In appearance, she looks like a miniature beagle and I love her coloring which is black and tan with little white feet.  Cory has warm, brown eyes.  She is smart, alert, playful, and devoted to our family to the point of being rather possessive.  When I come home from work or the river, she is by far, the most excited to see me!  Over the years her greeting me at the front door continues to be something I look forward to with deep fondness.

Dog-inspired, found character collection, Jan. 2015

I decided one cold winter’s day to sort through some of the items I’ve found at the Falls of the Ohio over the years and classify them into more coherent collections.  Out of my large and ever-growing toy collection, I determined that I had enough dog-related pieces to form a stand alone collection.  I gathered the items up and here they are reassembled on the riverbank for this “class photo” of dog characters.  This is just the stuff I decided to pick up and put into the collecting bag and does not count all the pet bowls, balls, and chew toys I’ve encountered.  I might have picked up all these other items as well, but there is a certain threshold of plastic fatigue that is reached that is hard to move past.  There is just so much needless stuff in the world and a lot of it seems to find its way into the Ohio River.  The sheer over-abundance of our material culture has certainly shaped my personal direction as an artist.

Detail of Dog Character Collection, Jan. 2015

While this is all just kitsch, some of this is fun and has endearing qualities that recall good moments from childhood.  It’s amazing how much a tiny piece of crap plastic can have these other associations attached to it.  I do recognize some of the characters portrayed, but not all.  It’s actually become part of the challenge to try to identify what some of this stuff refers to?  In this photo I recognize good old “Snoopy” from the “Peanuts” cartoon strip.  There looks to be a pair of “Weeble” dogs and a couple of others (including a Dalmatian with a fire hat) that are from children’s play sets.

Two "Clifford the Big Red Dog" plastic items, Jan. 2015

Here are two items from the “Clifford, the Big Red Dog” series.  There is “Clifford” in the form of a juice bottle cap with a black patina from being in the river for a long period of time.  I believe the other character is “T-bone”.  Originally, when you pulled the bone on the string it would cause the dog’s body to vibrate.

Sad-eyed puppy plastic keychain, Jan. 2015

I don’t recognize this guy?  He’s kind of cute in a bug-eyed way.  I’m sure there was a lot of time and effort that went into the myriad decisions to produce this item from beginning concept to finished product.  That also includes extracting the petroleum from the earth and other ingredients that went into this exact plastic recipe.

Bowtie dog with paw raised, Jan. 2015

This cutie seems old.  I tried looking on a few toy sites, but could not identify this specific piece.  I wonder if in fact it is made of rubber that has become rigid over time?

found, earless, plastic dog head, Jan. 2015

This earless, body-less, squashed, brown, plastic dog head was probably once part of a child’s pull-toy.  That’s my best guess here.

"Huckleberry Hound" as found on Goose Island

This photo is from a few years back and shows a plastic “Huckleberry Hound” toy as I found it on Goose Island.  I remember this character from my childhood and was shown along with “Quick Draw McGraw” cartoons.  I later used the blue dog for a story I posted.  Here’s an image from that story entitled “Lost and Found Hound”.

Huckleberry Hound as the lost dog.

I wrote this story in 2010 and was inspired by the lost and stray dogs I sometimes encounter in the park.  Sadly, plastic is not the only thing that gets disposed of out here.  I did have one adventure at the Falls where I was menaced by a feral dog, but usually, they are very wary and difficult to approach.  In my story, there is a happy ending and owner and dog are reunited.  I guess it was kind of touching or at least as much as putting Styrofoam, plastic, and sticks together can be.  I’ve never taken Cory to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  For one, dogs are supposed to be on a leash…not that everyone adheres to that.  I guess I fear I would lose her if I let her run loose.  Her nose would soon be overcome with “scent joy” and that would get the best of her.  There are so many intriguing smells out here that make up a vast language that we have forgotten about that dogs still remember.  Although she usually comes to me when I call her…out here, she could be gone in a blink of an eye and it’s not worth that.  We will just stick to our neighborhood’s park.  I have a couple other “dog” related projects I’ve made over the years.

Styro-dog playing with a Ball

Here’s an early project I created when I was less interested in stories and more interested in images and objects.  You can’t tell from this picture, but I also made an “old woman” figure to accompany the dog.  This piece is made from Styrofoam pinned together with little wooden pegs.  It also incorporates plastic, driftwood, and nuts in its fabrication.  The yellow ball is the core from a contemporary softball which gives you a hint for scale.  I think the working title I had for this piece was “A Game of Fetch”.  I enjoy the challenge of creating some sense of motion using such static materials.

Tiny dog sculpture with walnut

Despite looking large in this image…this dog is actually very small.  You can tell by the walnut I’ve added for scale.  It’s “playing” in the shed, dried leaves of a willow tree.  I think in this one, the eyes are bits of found coal.  I used this same figure for an image that became one of my Christmas cards.

Tiny dog with tracks

The dog is on the trail of a very large bird.  In this case, the tracks were made by a Great Blue Heron and partially frozen in the sand.  Well, there you have my tribute to dogs and the Falls of the Ohio.  I dedicate this post to our beloved dog Cory.  On a daily basis she teaches us that we are more fully human when we give our hearts to members of another species.  See you next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Cory, the Wonder Dog, Feb. 2015

 

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Falls of the Ohio State Park Interpretive Center

On November 24 the Falls of the Ohio’s Interpretive Center closed for renovations.  This is the first large-scale overhaul of the permanent exhibits since the center opened in 1994.  Since that time, the state of the art in terms of exhibit display has progressed by leaps and bounds.  According to an article appearing in the Courier-Journal, the Falls of the Ohio Foundation has raised six million dollars to pay for the new updates which are expected to be completed sometime in the fall of 2015.  Louisville’s respected museum design company, Solid Light Inc. will handle the redesign and installation.  The Interpretive Center will be employing the latest interactive technologies and refining its focus to better educate visitors about the significance of the Falls of the Ohio area.  Four new themed exhibits will take the place of the old static displays and are named “The Devonian Sea”, “A Changing Land”, “Converging Cultures” and “The Falls Today”.

Grand Hall of the Interpretive Center, 3/2010

I am looking forward to checking out the new exhibits once they open.  But if I may for a moment, pause and reflect upon the demise of the original beloved centerpiece that was once on display in the Interpretive Center’s main hall.  In style, it does harken back to a tradition when collections of natural history specimens and objects that provoked wonder were kept in Wunderkammers and cabinets of curiosity.  This eclectic display has never failed to fire up my imagination.  Yes, it is a mishmash of objects (both real and artificial) and it jumps all over the timeline.  This is actually one of the reasons I find this display so appealing.  My experience of the Falls is one where all this history and information exits simultaneously in the present and I felt that from this art-like installation.

old display at the Falls of the Ohio, birds above the mammoth skeleton

old fish display at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center

 

I love the scale of the mammoth skeleton and the taxidermed fish and birds lifting to and flowing from the ceiling.  With this display it was easy to adjust for scale and you received a truer sense for just how big the Devonian sharks were and how truly huge an Ice Age elephant was.  I’m not sure that a projection or video could convey this as much as something you could make a true physical comparison with that is sharing the same space with you?  A walk around the centerpiece revealed beautifully fabricated and delicate Devonian Age sea creatures inhabiting a coral reef.  The displays under glass contained specimens and relics that were a tip of the hat to many of the great 19th century naturalists that helped put the Falls of the Ohio on the map.  In essence, a lot of the information you needed to know about the Falls was contained in this single display.

Prince Madoc figure in the old display at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center

Of all the elements in this centerpiece, perhaps the most controversial was the inclusion of a life-size figure of Prince Madoc.  He was one of three figures presented which also included a representation of a Native American and a pioneer figure that might have also been a portrait of John James Audubon?  In case you have never heard of Prince Madoc…he potentially was a 12th century Welsh explorer and he and a band of his people may have been early European visitors to North America.  There is a persistent legend about a group of blonde hair blue-eyed Indians that may be descendants of Prince Madoc.  An old Native American story has this band being routed in battle near the Falls of the Ohio and is the connection to our area.  When President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark west to explore the continent…he asked that they keep an eye out for evidence of this story.  I have a good friend who couldn’t bear to look at the Prince Madoc figure and not because it wasn’t done well.  To him, it was a travesty to include this in a tableau that included factual elements.  To date, there is no convincing evidence, no archeological proof that Prince Madoc ever came to this continent.  I guess the veracity of the story never bothered me and I just liked the tale because of its association with the Falls.  To me, this is what history is about…some parts fact and some parts myth.  The Prince Madoc figure was there to add an extra dimension of imagination I could appreciate.

underneath the mammoth's ribcage

Prince Madoc may have been banished from future displays, but the mammoth skeleton was kept.  It was taken down and repositioned so that you have to pass between its legs and under its ribcage to enter into an auditorium.  I’m sure the new displays will be incredible, but I do hope they will also inspire visitors to use their own imaginations to some degree.

My collection of found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Having touched base with the Interpretive Center, I decided to connect with my own peculiar low-tech universe.  On this day it was sunny and windy and I made my way under the willow trees which provided some shelter from the breezes.  My larder of river-polished polystyrene chunks as white as the recent snowfall was there waiting for me.  I got an idea to make a particular figure from other items I found that day, but the piece I started crumbled to pieces.  A rare but not unheard of temporary setback.  I will return to it when I find the right form for this figure’s body.  On to improvised plan #2.  I looked around my pile and selected two new pieces and joined them together as head and body.  The addition of beaver-chewed willow stick limbs and some stones for eyes and plastic for the mouth and you have the basics of a figure.

Benchmark figure in the Falls landscape, Nov. 2014

This is the second piece I made and he is decidedly less complex than the sculpture that fell apart.  I kind of like this guy as an abstracted representation of a figure out in the landscape.  I walked him through the land and stopping here and there for different photo opportunities.  Here are a few more pics from this day.

Benchmark figure posed near river trash, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

To me, this figure has a sort of benchmark quality to it.  Here it’s posed next to some typical river trash.  There are places out here that “bleed” red from some oxides that originate beneath the sand.  I did keep the plastic wheel I found and added it to my ever-growing collection of toy wheels.  I have several hundred of them now and hope to create a grand piece with them.

Figure in a hole on the fossil cliffs, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Up on the fossil cliffs that overlook the river, I found a nice hole for my figure to stand in.  I tried to set the figure up by positioning the legs in a naturally occurring crack in the stone, but the wind was just too strong to allow this to happen.  A single fisherman shares the scene with my latest creation.

Styro-figure posed next to a nice piece of driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

For this image, I simply liked the piece of driftwood my Styro-figure is posed next to because of its worn and polished sculptural qualities.

Styro-figure posed next to anonymous improvised driftwood shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Here, I’ve set up the figure under an anonymous driftwood construction.  I liked the way the propped up driftwood defined and framed a space for my figure to exist in.  On this particular day, there wasn’t a made up story that came to mind.  For most of my Falls forays…this is the typical way the day goes.  It’s about being outside and reacting to the elements and conditions I come into contact with on the river’s edge.  This is how I interpret what is happening at the Falls of the Ohio.  I am already looking forward to my next visit and sharing it with you.

The Interpretive Center as seen from the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two smiling face fishing floats from the Falls of the Ohio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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