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Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center panel, early October 2015

Although I could have gone on making this panel richer and richer, at a certain point, you need to call this piece finished.  Solid Light, Inc., the Louisville-based exhibit design team responsible for the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center’s renovation wanted to have everything in place by October.  Officially, the center won’t open to the public until January 2016, however, the center wants to do a series of trial runs to see how well the new exhibits will work with school groups under the center’s educational staff.  I worked pretty feverishly at my friend Tom’s large studio to get this panel realized before needing to turn it over to the designers.  Also compelling me was the need to undertake a personal trip to Florida with my family to visit my ailing mother.  Mom is getting better, but it’s just not life anymore if there aren’t many balls being juggled in the air simultaneously!  I had more than enough found objects and river materials to get the job done.  If anything, I may have had too many things to choose from!  For this post, I thought I would share images of the panel in progress as well as some detail shots of its surface.  The fun of this piece is looking up close to see the variety of objects both natural and artificial that have been fixed into place.

 

 

Falls panel at Tom's studio, Sept. 2015

I tried several arrangements before settling on something that I thought would work.  Central in all my compositions was the use of an old marine cable and the fragment from the side of a discarded set of wooden steps.  The design team wanted a look that seemed to suggest that the objects and materials I was going to use had just washed up upon this place.  Having something that appeared casual and spontaneous, but also composed was a big challenge.  My own formalist tendencies wanted to work within a tighter composition, but I relaxed that by doing several dry run layouts before I nailed or glued anything in place.  Of course, there is fantasy operating in the finished panel too because no where at the Falls of the Ohio have I ever encountered this much concentrated stuff in such a small area.

Falls Panel in progress, Sept. 2015

Another step that I realized was prudent before attaching stuff was painting my wood panel.  I went for a mottled brown and gray background that resembled mulch and dried leaves.  I think I did a good job of covering the surface and only in places can you see through to the wood panel below.

Panel painting, Sept. 2015

painted background for Falls panel, Sept. 2015

I was really proud of myself!  I only dipped my painting brush into my coffee once!  Once the surface was dry, I began by attaching the nylon cable around the panel first.  I used a borrowed nail gun hooked up to an air compressor to do this.  In fact, where possible, I used the nail gun as much as I could.  I also used screws and a variety of adhesives (depending upon the material being glued) to attach items to the board.  Working with polystyrene and various plastics can be tricky because certain compounds will eat and dissolve these materials.

Items being attached to the Falls panel, Sept. 2015

I worried that my barge cable might make the panel look too much like the decor you see in seafood restaurants, but I think I managed to barely escape that impression.  After the cable, I attached the wooden steps and glued the larger pieces of Styrofoam into place.  I had other limitations that I haven’t mentioned yet, but this is as good a place as any to say what those were.  First, nothing could project off of the surface any higher than 3.5 to 3.75 inches!  The panel would need to be able to slide into a case that is 4 inches deep.  Another concern was keeping a clean 3/4″ open wood margin along the entire outer edge of the panel.  This would assist in sliding the panel into its case.  Apparently, after the above shot, I didn’t take any more in process photos because I was too busy making the thing!  Here’s a pretty close to finished view of the panel.  I worked on this panel horizontally, but did tip it up to see it as others will see it and to find out if anything would fall off the surface?  Fortunately, everything pretty much stayed in place.

Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center Panel, October 2015

There is a whole list of things you can find on this panel.  On the base level, it is a good mix of the driftwood, polystyrene, glass, coal, aluminum, and other plastics found in the Ohio River.  Here are a few details to give you a better look.

Detail of Falls Panel, Oct. 2015

Broken flamingo, Falls Panel, Oct. 2015

Detail, Hammer and Halloween, Falls Panel, Oct. 2015

Detail of Falls Panel, Oct. 2015

Small doll on Falls Panel, Oct. 2015

Plastic Indian on Falls Panel, Oct. 2015

Coyote skull in Falls Panel, Oct. 2015

Some of the items on the panel like the coyote skull …I’ve had for many years while other pieces like the plastic Native American came to light a month a go.  I had to include at least one doll in this assemblage because outside of toy balls…dolls are the most frequently found toy I come across at the Falls of the Ohio.  I sprinkled in enough polished coal, walnuts, and mussel shells to keep it lively.  I’m looking forward to seeing all the finished displays sometime soon.  I’m sure this panel will look completely different in its case and in the context of the other exhibits.  Looking forward to getting back outside to the river sometime soon.  I still have a trip to Richmond, KY on the schedule to pick up my art that I have on display there .  For now, I will content myself with this picture taken in the park several weeks a go.  Thanks for dropping by!

View from the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Sept. 2015

 

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Coal figure near the waterfalls, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I waited a few days to return to the exposed fossil beds on the Kentucky side of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  My earlier trek went so well that I was determined to walk a little farther dragging my collecting bag full of water worn coal with me.  I had the same idea as before, namely creating figurative images using the coal in site specific areas.  Today I was determined to walk around Goose Island which is accessible by foot in the summer and early fall when the river level is diverted towards the locks and thus exposing the many layers of this ancient Devonian reef.  It won’t be too much longer until the autumn rains replenishes the water along the Ohio River Valley and submerges this part of the park again until next summer.

Dancing Coal figure, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

As before, I crossed over at the Lower Tainter Gates in the eastern section of the park.  I walked along the Fixed Wier Dam reaching the area where some waterfalls that flow into Whiskey Chute remain.  This is where I created my first coal figure of the day.  From above, the figure appears to be dancing and this is one of my favorite images from this new series.

Water flowing thru notch in fixed wier dam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Going around the waterfalls, I walk through ankle to knee-deep water and continue following the dam’s wall westward.  Strategically placed notches at the top of this concrete wall provides a flow of water to a small wetlands area that harbors a variety of life.  In this place natural waterfalls and cascades have been replaced by artificial ones.  As I wade through it is a bit humbling knowing that the level of the Ohio River is at the top of this wall.  I saw many water-loving birds including Belted Kingfishers, Blue-winged Teal, Caspian Terns, Double-crested Cormorants, and Great Blue Herons that favor this part of the park.

A pair of Grass Carp, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Many of these birds were here because this area also attracts fish.  Numerous grass carp were eating algae in the shallows and small schools of juvenile fish were startled by the sudden appearance of my all too white legs as I walked through their space.  If I stood motionless for a while, the carp would return and I could observe them more closely.

Scene along the northwest tip of Goose Island, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Goose Island Coal Figure, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Goose Island has sandy banks.  As I was wading along the southeast side of the island, I set up this figure with up raised arms in an open spot among plants that were growing in a row parallel to the water’s edge.

Bleaching Goose Island Cottonwood tree, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Evaporating pond on Goose Island, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I left the water and walked along the edge of the island walking westward.  This section has a cottonwood habitat.  I came across a large cottonwood tree that had fallen off the high bank and was now bleaching in the sun.  Driftwood snagged around this tree’s root mass marks how high the water can get when the river is flowing.  There was a strong smell of urine around this shrinking pond and the many deer tracks proved these animals frequented this place.  Hundreds of tiny toads were hopping through the grass near this waterhole!  I had never seen anything like this out here before.  I wished I had taken at least one image of these toads in my hand for scale.  Although they were tiny, they also looked like perfectly formed adults that had been miniaturized.

Goose Island with distant view of the hydroelectric dam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Continuing my walk on Goose Island, I can see the wall of the Fixed Wier Dam and the hydroelectric plant in the distance which is situated on Shippingport Island.  The plants in the foreground with their prickly, ripening seed pods are Jimsonweed.  Along the sandy bank,  I could see slides where beaver have dragged their tree cuttings from the nearby woods into the water.  There is probably evidence of a dam nearby, but I did not see it on this trip.

Goose Island sand dunes, Lower Tainter Gates in the background, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

This is as far as you can walk in this part of the park.  Goose Island’s western edge ends at the Upper Tainter Gates.  This is a popular area for fishermen who reach this spot by boat.  I did see several Osprey circling the sky here.  There is a small section of sand dunes on Goose Island that are shaped by wind and wave.  In the above image, bird tracks crisscross the sand.  I placed my final coal figure of the day here at the edge of a dune.  This time the figure has been turned on its side. Plumes of sand were blowing up and away at the dune’s edge by wind.  In the image below, the distance from the top of the dune to the riverbank on the right is deceiving.  I estimate that this is a seven or eight foot drop and a short roll to the river.

Coal figure on Goose Island sand dune, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

From this area I start my hike home on the north side of Goose Island and start heading east.  It has been a great day interacting with this environment.  I have several other images to show before closing that were shot on this walk.  Fortunately, there isn’t as much plastic junk to find on this side of the park, but of course there were a few things that caught my eye.

plastic squirt gun, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Here’s another squirt gun to add to the collection.

blue plastic hand on fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

A goofy blue plastic hand rests on a fossil bearing rock .  If you look closely, you can see bits of a crinoid stem by the  thumb.  I did take other images of fossils along my walk.  Here are more crinoid pieces found near the Upper Tainter Gates.  Crinoids are often described as sea lilies and were sessile marine animals that filtered and captured small animals from a flower-like calyx.

Fossil crinoid pieces, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

On the walk home, I kept walking by different fossil corals exposed in this ancient limestone.  Corals are colonial animals and you get a sense for this in my next image.

Exposed fossil coral, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The park prohibits collecting fossils and I begin to wonder if this heavy bag of coal that I have lugged around the island would count?  Technically speaking coal is a fossil material.  Although I found all my coal within the park, it did not originate here.  I retrace my steps crossing the exposed fossil beds and by the time I reach my vehicle…I am one tired guy.  If my luck holds, I might be able to take one more walk out here before this area becomes the bottom of the river again.  If it doesn’t happen…there is always next year!

Fossil beds with the skyline of Louisville in the distance, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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Under the railroad bridge, Tainter Gates, Sept. 2014

Two years have passed since I last set foot on the fossil beds on the Kentucky side of the river.  I had to wait until I fully trusted a bum knee to be well enough to walk upon the hard, irregular limestone surface that for most of the year is underwater.

This is after all, the bottom of the Ohio River and accessible most summers when water is diverted to fill water levels at the McAlpin Locks and Dams.  The Ohio River is a managed river for much of its length.  Closing the snow plow shaped tainter gates helps regulate water levels for commercial navigation and flood control, but it also exposes the majority of the fossil beds to inspection at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

I have rolled my ragged jeans up and I’m wearing a pair of shoes for sloshing through knee-high deep water at best.  As I move under the old iron railroad bridge, I walk past the gigantic concrete and metal gates holding the river back.  Something in their hieratic designs reminds me of ancient Egyptian art.  Here on a massive, civic-project scale, abstracted silhouettes of seated pharaohs serve the gods of engineering.  My goal today is to reacquaint myself with this unique environment and mark the day in some way.

The railroad bridge looking back to the Indiana side.  Sept. 2014

From experience, I know that there are far fewer materials to access on this side of the fossil beds.  Most of the Styrofoam, plastic, and driftwood I frequently use is driven by wind and river currents to the Indiana bank where I’ve preformed  most of my projects.

Being out in this environment with its varied materials often inspires me to want to make something, but what will I do today?  I take advantage of the river polished coal I found around the railroad bridge and envision an image I can work with site specifically.

I have come to like working with coal as a material because it is timely and is also invested with so much meaning.  In Kentucky, coal is currently a big political issue and many good people truly believe there is a war on coal and climate change is a not supported by the facts.

Anthracite is a deeply, shiny-black crystalline material out of the mine… but the river can tumble it into dull, but smooth feeling, egg-like forms.  I prefer the more river polished pieces of coal.

I’m guessing I’ve picked up about 10 or 12 pounds of coal which I carry in a canvas collecting bag.  Okay, I have my material and my feet are already wet.  With walking stick in hand, I walk along side the high walls that separate the Ohio River from the now exposed Devonian Age fossil beds.

Wall seperating Ohio River from fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

 

The dam’s concrete wall that separates the river from where you are standing on the fossil beds is maybe 18 to 20 feet tall?  It’s up there and sobering as well because the Ohio River’s waterline is just below the top of the wall which is just on the other side!  A series of pre-formed notches along the top of the wall allows water to flow over a section of the fossil beds.

A small wetlands area has been encouraged here that draws many water-loving birds.  Among the species I observed on this day included:  the Belted Kingfisher, Caspian Terns, Great Egrets, Osprey, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorants, Canada Geese, Killdeer plovers, Blue-winged Teal, Mallard Ducks, Black Vultures, and an American Coot.

Although it’s not hot today, there is little to shade you from the intense light out on the open fossil beds.  Most of these beds are high and dry, but the surface is pockmarked in places with potholes that hold water.  Most of the shallow pools that caught fish when the river level dropped have been cleaned out by the water birds.

In the above photo, a large log has become stranded on the top of the wall placed there when the Ohio River was receding from flood stage.  It was in this area that I set down my heavy collecting bag and laid out my first Coal Man design on the fossil surface.

Coal Man variation, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

The figure has a marionette-like presence, but I relate more to it as a simple sign for figure.  In my head I’m seeing an ancient landscape marked here and there with this contemporary pictographic/petroglyph.  The Falls of the Ohio have been occupied by man for thousands of years and I like relating to this history.  The water is shallow and green from algae.  Molted bird feathers define the circumferences of many of these water holes.  Annoying small flies and gnats fly around the potholes and around your head seeking salt or other moisture.

Coal Man Series, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

This figure has been laid out on a table-like boulder surrounded by very shallow water.  It’s a very temporary site-specific expression on a very tiny island.  I have heard people describe the exposed fossil beds as being a “moonscape” and it does feel like this landscape could be from another planet.

Seated Coal Man on Fossil Beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Many of the fossil beds are in layers or courses and here I am trying out some of the pictorial possibilities using my now seated Coal Man.  The Interpretive Center is the structure in the far distance.  After a while,  it’s time to cool off a little and have a good sit.  There’s a series of small cascades up ahead that are the nearest to imagining what the Falls may have originally looked like and I head that way.

Coal Man by the Cascades, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

I see in my mind’s eye, each different Coal Man design introducing a different feature on this side of the park.  I have been wading in shin-high to knee-high water to reach this place.  It’s like an oasis on the exposed and fossilized ancient coral reef.  I like resting here and having a water and snack break.  If you remain inconspicuous you can often spot many different bird species here.  The shallow but swiftly flowing water has small schools of baby fish seeking places of safe harbor.  I’ll bet the oxygen levels in this water is very high?

Cascades, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Cascades, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

I cool off wading and exploring this area before moving on.  This space has a bit of the amphitheater feeling about it.  The cascades take on a larger horseshoe formation connected by many small waterfalls.  In the recent past, much larger cascades existed and put on a water show that I wish I could have seen.

Cascade at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Time to move on and dry off.  Today, I’m only planning on walking to the beginnings of Goose Island where I will make my final images with this Coal Man.  I definitely see returning out here again soon while the river level remains low.  It won’t be too much longer before autumn rains and winter snows replenish the Ohio River and re-submerges these fossil beds until next year.

Skyline of Louisville as seen from the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

So far, I had kept the Coal Man dry.  At this location which was the extent of today’s visit…I took advantage of clear, shallow water to create these pictures.

Coal Man Series, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Coal Man Swimming, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

The wet coal turned deep black and I liked how many of the images graphically benefited from that.  I guess this is Carboniferous Man swimming above the Devonian Age?  From here I bagged the coal and started the walk home over the fossil beds.

Before closing, here are a few actual fossils I photographed along the way.  This was once an active coral reef over 300 million years a go.  Life was in the oceans.  The species first discovered here have greatly expanded our knowledge of life at this time.  This was the high point for corals and sponges and also gave rise to the first fishes.

Fossils from the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Sept. 2014

Fossils from the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Sept. 2014

This was my last river excursion of the summer.  It is amazing how quickly this year is flying by!  I was really happy that my left knee did not give me any problems.  I am feeling encouraged and I still have this bag of coal I can keep playing with on a future visit.  Thanks again for coming along…from the fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park…so long for now.

Fossil Beds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Sept. 2014

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the riverbank, cracks in clay, July 2013

I never told you how this story played out and so now is as good a time as any.  A few weeks back, I had posted on how some unknown visitor(s?) had been altering my outdoor studio at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  For a least two years previously, I had been storing my river found art materials at this site.  People who stumbled upon this spot often mark their presence by changing how I left it in some way.  Folks might rifle through the junk or take or destroy the Styrofoam figures I might leave behind.  I don’t mind this…in fact, I encourage the interaction.  On site, it’s easy to make the connection that all these poor materials I use came from the river.  I still think of my outdoor studio as a shared laboratory for this exercise in creativity.  It’s an acknowledgement that all this junk is out there and that something else positive might come from it.  For several weekends, my latest visitor has been building a wooden driftwood structure over my spot to the point where it usurps my ability to continue working there.  So, I made a few changes that I thought would benefit both of us.  I modified the structure so that I could stand within my site.  I also opened up the space more which I thought also encouraged additions.  I was curious to see how my visitor would react and here are the pictures.

destroyed driftwood structure, July 2013

destroyed driftwood structure, July 2013

destroyed driftwood structure, July 2013

It appears that my “improvements” weren’t appreciated because I arrived one day to find it all laying on the ground.  All the nylon line and strong knots that were holding things together were cut with a knife.  Stuff was scattered and the big polystyrene figure I had left there was destroyed again.  Here’s how I discovered my Styrofoam man.

fallen figure, July 2013

He had been sitting in a fork of a nearby tree.  I think my visitor picked him up and threw him across the site…again!  At this point, I’m feeling pretty bummed out.  I left this figure as I found it.  My visitor also left me some additional trash behind as is his custom and I gathered it together again to create this “portrait”.

trash at my site, July 2013

I thought the “Big Red” with the “Big Blue” was an interesting touch.  In our area, those are the home colors of rival universities.  Another giant Styrofoam cup joined the group and I have my suspicions that the cigar packaging is from the same individual as well?  I think this is what saddens me the most that all this convenient store trash would be walked to this site and simply thrown on the ground.  As much trash that appears here from upriver, I’m shocked by how much park garbage originates from the nearby towns.  And yes, there are trash cans available everywhere.  I sat by my site for a while and pondered the situation.  I wondered why with all the space and driftwood available in the park that this spot became so important to my visitor?  Feeling like this individual more than likely doesn’t play well with others…I decided to walk away from this site for a few weeks or months before returning.  So far, I haven’t been back to my old spot under the willows.

two fishermen, July 2013

The day felt shot, but I didn’t want to leave things that way and so I went for an extra long walk.  After all, I have the rest of the park to potentially explore.! Along the way, I spotted these two guys attempting to fish by the wall of the dam.  They didn’t appear to be having any luck and so I left them with these fishy images by the side of a trail they would pass by.

coal fish, July 2013

coal fish, July 2013

coal fish, July 2013

I used river smoothed coal I gathered on site and improvised these three fish on the sand.  Peppering the silica granules black is coal dust.  The white dots are pulverized mussel shells.

three coal fish on the sand, Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

Thus far, it has been an atypical and sometimes unsettling summer at the Falls of the Ohio.  All the early season rains and subsequent high water have disrupted the usually hot, humid, and lazy routine found here during this time of year.  In an odd way, it doesn’t feel like summer has truly arrived for us yet.  We have a few more months for this to happen before the leaves start turning colors.  To close, here is one more coal-fish image in a slightly larger context.  Have a great weekend!

coal fish in context at the Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

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river-polished coal, Falls of the Ohio

The coal that I find at the Falls of the Ohio looks like the image above.  What I mostly come across in the park are pebble-sized stones and coarse gravel that have been polished smooth by the Ohio River.  The same river processes that shapes Styrofoam and wood also alters coal.  Over the last two years I have been collecting this coal off of the riverbank and creating site specific art installations and images using this fossil material.  Although coal is organic and natural, what I’m finding does not belong in the Ohio River.  I believe this coal comes from the commercial barge traffic delivering fuel to hydroelectric plants throughout the Ohio River Valley.  During times when the river is running high, materials carried into the water seem to eventually find their way to the Falls of the Ohio.

coal flake in situ, 2012

Before getting to the heart of this post, I would like to share a few other associations I have with coal and Christmas.  My Dutch mother told me stories of her childhood and St. Nicholas Eve which is celebrated earlier in the month than our Christmas.  Good children might expect small toys, fruit, or candy to be placed in their shoes as gifts from the white bearded saint.  If, however, you were badly behaved over the year…you ran the risk of getting coal in your shoe as punishment.  St. Nicholas has a chimney sweep friend named Black Pete and he usually does the dirty work. Fortunately, my mom doesn’t recall anyone she knew who this happened to!  There are times, however, when getting coal in your shoe isn’t a completely bad outcome.

radiating coal flake at the Falls of the Ohio, 2012

My mother also recalls how important and scarce coal was one particularly bitter winter and Christmas.  It also happened to be during World War II and the city of Amsterdam was occupied by foreign soldiers.  I believe she said the particular year in question was 1942?  When resources  became scarce, people would walk the railroad tracks at night looking for chunks of coal that fell off the railroad cars.  People risked their lives doing this.  Found coal would be burned in home stoves to keep everyone warm.  When coal wasn’t available wood was burned next.  My mom remembers that by war’s end, every wooden piece of furniture in the entire apartment was cut up and burned for heating and cooking purposes.  Back then, a bag of coal would have been as fine a gift as receiving an orange or piece of chocolate.  The times have really changed since then.

coal flake in water, 2012

It’s becoming more difficult for me to believe that the events of 1942 occurred seventy years a go!  Since then, the peace was won (for a short time) and the western economies thrived and grew on cheap and abundant fossil fuels.  If populations had stayed relatively the same size, perhaps we wouldn’t be noticing the effects burning those fossil fuels have had on the environment?  But the world’s population grew and then grew a lot more which puts pressure on all our resources.  Today we live on a planet where billions of people want to live at the same standard of living that the west has squandered away.  With China and India experiencing their own industrial growth moments being fueled by coal…the environment at large will surely see further damages.

found coal and aluminum can bottoms in red mud, Falls of the Ohio, 2912

Since beginning this Falls of the Ohio Project nearly ten years a go…I have created my own unique holiday cards.  Every year I send something different out into the world.  This helps me get into some kind of holiday spirit. Friends and family tell me that they enjoy receiving these admittedly odd cards.  The last several years I have waited for the weather to get more seasonal perhaps with snow or ice present before rushing out to document the moment.  As it so happens, it’s been getting warmer and warmer over the past several winters.  As a whole, 2012 was our warmest year ever and the calendar page hasn’t yet turned to the new year!  Our December began with temperatures in the low 70 degrees mark.  Finally, the day after Christmas it has become cold enough and we may see a dusting of snow over the ground.

coal and clam shell designs, Falls of the Ohio, 2012

Currently, I have artworks (a sculpture and photo series) on display in a coal-themed exhibit at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.  While working on my projects, I had a conversation with a sculptor friend of mine who grew up in a steel making town in Pennsylvania.  He recalled from his childhood that it snowed a lot during their winters, however, it didn’t take the snow long to turn from white to dull black because of all the coal soot in the air.  This inspired me to envision black “snowflakes” or “coal flakes” and I began to create small site specific designs on the ground based on this idea.  No two coal flakes I’ve made has been exactly the same as another.

three coal flakes at the Falls of the Ohio, 2012

I have located these coal flake designs in fairly public places along side walking trails mostly used by fishermen.  A photograph documents each one I have made.  To me, this is a form of public art and it’s interesting to see how people will react to these modest designs.  Some coal flakes don’t make it because there is something else in the human spirit that needs to disturb or destroy what it doesn’t understand.  Many of these designs were rubbed out nearly as quickly as I made them!  By now, I’ve created enough coal flakes that it occurred to me that I had my newest holiday card theme already completed in sixteen different designs!  The images in this post are just a few of the ones I sent out this year.

coal flake on red mud, 2012

And so I ask myself, what am I hoping might occur by sending out these unfamiliar images?  Hopefully, people will register that there is a connection between burning fossil fuels and the changing climate we are currently experiencing.  The environment isn’t just something that’s out there, but is a big part of the context of our lives that we contribute something to.  I also continue to hope, that people will see personal creativity as an advantage our species has over others and that we honor and use this creativity to figure out how to live harmoniously with ourselves and the planet.  I feel a lot of our hyper consumption is based on low self-esteem where creativity is replaced with consumption.  Here’s hoping in the new year that more people learn how to tap into their own internal resources to help aid the earth!  Happy Holidays to all from the Falls of the Ohio!

coal flake made from coal and small clam shells, Falls of the Ohio, 2012

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I have had a few folks ask about the Project Reclamation exhibit I’m participating in and I thought this post would be a good place to feature this.  The exhibit opened a couple of weeks a go on November 2, 2012 and will run through January 12, 2013.  About a year and a half have passed since curator and artist Mary Margaret Sparks asked me to participate in this invitational exhibit.  There are thirteen artists represented in this group show with a nice cross-section of projects in various media addressing the complex topic of coal its use and extraction.  The Carnegie Center for Art and History located across the Ohio River from Louisville in nearby New Albany, Indiana has done a fine job of installing and interpreting the works and has planned many activities that the public can engage in to learn more about the controversial topic of coal mining through the practice of Mountaintop Removal or MTR.  This is a highly destructive way to extract coal from southern Appalachia’s mountains which also endangers  some of the greatest biodiversity in our part of the world in pursuit of cheap and reliable energy.  To further spur the artists along, the not for profit organization Kentuckians For the Commonwealth invited the participants to Whitesburg in Letcher County, Kentucky to tour Appalshop and watch a few coal-themed documentaries.  A guided tour into coal country provided additional impressions of the mountains and the folks who call this place home.

All of the participating artists had some prior interest either working with coal as a social issue or material substance before accepting the invitation to show.  There is a unity in the belief that the more we degrade the environment, the more we change ourselves and not for the best. For me, my entry came through the related issue of clean fresh water  which is also our number one vanishing resource.  I frequently find river-altered coal at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Combining this coal gravel with discarded and river found booze bottles gave me an opportunity to work with ideas about consumption and addiction.  The result was my “Mountaintop Mini-bar” sculpture, but I also have six photographs from my “Coal Flake Series” on view as well. My impression of our guided trip to coal country reinforced what I’ve previously seen and experienced.  It seems to me that the people who were sacrificing their land and culture were not receiving much in the way of compensation for our quest for coal.  Regrettably, this is an old tale seen time after time across the globe.  People might think that this is something that only happens in distant poor countries, but we have our own share of material poverty in our own backyard.

Most of the participating artists took considered approaches that referenced and respected the uniquely rich culture of coal country.  Several artists worked with traditional fiber and or needle and thread to produce their statements.  Julie Yoder created a large wall installation, “Appalachian Patchwork”,  assembled with woodcuts on handmade paper.  Patchwork quilting is an important Appalachian art form and Yoder’s piece represents the landscape and local culture as being a composite of unique designs that have come together over time to form a whole.  Mountaintop removal has a way of fragmenting this landscape and disrupting the continuity that life here depends upon for survival.

Other artists utilizing fabric, needle, and thread include Jo Ann Grimes with her sympathetic portrayals of miners.  Joel Darland and his marvelous hand-embroidered quilt squares.  Rachel Brewer’s two embroideries of song birds on dirty furnace filters.  Mary Margaret Sparks’ imposing “Lest We Forget” hand-embroidered and sewn re-purposed fabric waterfall that is a memorial to lost mountain streams and creeks that were damaged by coal mining.  Also in this group is a fascinating video entitled “Harriman” which is the work of Denise Burge and incorporates video, fabric, and thread.  Burge’s video is a statement made in the aftermath of a disaster.  A broken coal slurry dam in Tennessee had poisoned the surrounding watershed and imperiled the health of a community living in the area.  Burge’s video documents some of the clean-up involved and how protective the coal industry is in guarding its own image.

Photographs by Joshua Howard contrast the natural beauty of coal country with the grim realities of the industry.  A more overt political statement comes from Wayne Ferguson who sees Kentucky’s senior senator as being in cahoots with the industry that helps bankroll his re-election campaigns.  Ferguson’s drawings chart the corrupting influences of money and power at the expense of the land and the best interests of the people.

The sense that mountaintop removal is a great calamity for nature at large comes through the works of two artists.  Ceramic sculptor Alex Adams’ piece entitled “Wounded” suggests that MTR mining disrupts the very living tissue of the mountain range. He does this by representing two mountains that have had their peaks literally removed revealing  raw, open wounds.

Painter Michael Koerner’s approach is equally reductive and he comes to a similar conclusion about the fate of the mountains.  His diptych entitled “After the Canaries Left the Coal Mines, the Mountains Began to Leave Appalachia” is an argument reduced to its essential points.  For example, in Koerner’s landscape, the painting is physically divided into two parts suggesting man’s indifference towards nature.  The bare slopes past the forested mountains are a warning of what could occur with unchecked mountain top removal.

One last artist before closing.  Aron Conaway’s work lies at the heart of our culture of consumption.  His work entitled “Billions and Billions Served” features a Ronald McDonald clown driving a toy front loader on top of a large pile of coal.  In his work, Conaway makes it obvious that we are all implicated in the big issues of our day.  The demand for coal exists because we demand the energy to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer time heat.  If we don’t like the side effects of coal mining, perhaps we should speed up our search for alternative energy sources, find ways to curtail our addiction to electricity or both?  The demand for cheap coal and energy is what drives the supply.

The Carnegie Center for Art and History has a nice program of upcoming events that expands the breath of this exhibition.  I have already participated in one gallery talk that drew an interested crowd.  Film screenings, art making opportunities, and a panel discussion on mountaintop removal and renewable energy sources will also be held during Project Reclamation’s run.  There is the hope that this show will travel which will be an added bonus.  Thanks to Mary Margaret Sparks, Karen Gillenwater, and the staff at the Carnegie Center for their hard work.  I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into an exhibition from our area.  My next post will be from the Falls of the Ohio!

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Hello all and welcome to another adventure set at the Falls of the Ohio.  Since my last visit, the Ohio River has risen in response to all the rain that fell in the northern portion of the Ohio Valley and has flowed down river in a southwestern direction.  The fossil beds normally exposed during the summer and early autumn months are now submerged by swiftly flowing water.  Walking this ever shifting shoreline I’m open for whatever presents itself as novel and different.  Turning the corner around a  stand of willow trees I was caught by this unusual sight.

A tree captured barge cable or rope was in a different position from the last time I had noticed it (see this year’s Halloween post).  It is possible that the river rose high enough to dislodge it from its previous resting spot.  I was struck by the way it seemingly is suspended in mid-air with its regular yellow and black intervals contrasting with the unruly roots and branches around it.  Around here, water can both rise and fall quickly.  In the fine silt and mud you can often find interesting patterns that were created by the movement of wind and water.  Here is such an example.

The back and forth rhythm of the river caressing the land are recorded as peaks and valleys in this very fine mud.  I can be “hypnotized” at times by concentrating on this movement which I find soothing.  I’m always interested in the various subtle patterns that water can create on the mud of the riverbank.  It’s akin to trying to “track” water and recognize its footprint as it moves onto the land. I also noticed about a two foot tall, low “wall” of material (mostly wood and dried grasses) along the shoreline that marks this latest high water moment.  And of course, there is always the ever-present mostly plastic junk that also gets swept away and mixes with the natural debris.  I found lots of plastic detergent bottles, bits and pieces from toys including another doll’s head.  Here are images of other finds including an interesting toy ball.

I’m assuming this is a dog toy based on the image of the dog on the ball?  The small knobs are different from the usual balls I find out here.  Now, for a bright blue comb in a design that’s also new to me.  The tiny grains around the comb are seeds from various river grasses.

More ” blueness”  in the form of plastic wheels on a wrecked pull toy.

In the mud, I came across this other type of footprint that I thought was a bit unusual from the norm.  Of course, it’s a sports shoe with cleats on the bottom sticking up from the mud.

And one last found wheel whose radial pattern inspired another image in my ever-growing “Coal Flake” series.

I’ve come to really like making these designs from river-altered coal that I find at the Falls.  I’m under the impression that this coal has fallen or been swept off the immense barges that transport this fuel up and down the river.  I suppose it’s possible that somewhere along the river’s journey the water has cut down through the rock to expose a coal seam somewhere, but I haven’t ever heard of this happening.  The barges seem the likeliest answer.  This particular example has more Asiatic Clam shells used in the design.  These clams are the most common of their kind that I find at the Falls.  Once upon a very recent time a go, the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys were the world’s epicenter for fresh water clams.  By altering the rivers and the water quality in them, many of these amazing creatures have either gone extinct or have become so very rare.  The Asiatic Clam is a non-native animal imported here in the 19th century as a good luck charm and has thrived as has the Zebra Mussel that you may have heard about?  The day was moving on and except for a few Mallard ducks and Canada geese I hadn’t seen much in the way of wildlife.  I decided to end my day by doing a little fishing.  I found a short, recently beaver-chewed willow branch and attached some waste fishing line I found.  I attached a hook and found bobber and into the water it went.

Oh, for bait I caught a small grasshopper and attached it to the hook.  A small found lead weight kept the bait below the water.  Every once in a while I would raise my short pole up and down in a “jigging” motion.  To my immense surprise I caught this very unusual fish!

This fish is called the Iron Gill based on the metallic covers it sports around its gills.  Other distinctive features include bright blue eyes and a small white dorsal fin.  It’s body shape is unique and lends itself to easy filleting…although I wouldn’t normally recommend eating the fish from this part of the river.  Catching this fish here was a surprise because normally this is a deep water fish found in large flowing rivers.

This species was first described to science by Constantine Rafinesque back in 1811.  Rafinesque was a controversial figure and brilliant naturalist.  He had a gift for collecting and recognizing new species, however, in his zest to publish and receive credit for his discoveries he was very sloppy in his methods.  As a result, many of the animals and plants he introduced to science are poorly described and classified which led to much confusion and consternation among the other “scientifics” of the time.  In the end, Rafinesque usually won out because science gives priority to the person who first (no matter how poorly) brings the new creature to the world’s attention.

After this last image, I released the Iron Gill back into the water and rebaited my hook.  Alas, this was the only fish I caught on this day, but it reassured me that my skills in this area were still intact.  For my next post, I want to show you images of a coal-themed exhibition I’m participating in the nearby town of  New Albany, Indiana.  It’s a good show and worth a post.  For now, I would like to close with another image of a found toy I came across on this day.  Have a great weekend out there in the wider world!

 

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