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Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

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While my poor riverblog has been waiting for me…I have quietly been having one of my more creative years at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  When I visit the river, I’m making several projects with the junk I find as I walk along this familiar landscape.  My previous post shows some of the ways I have played with color and form using other commonly found and mostly plastic materials.   I also had fun this summer creating my own absurd brand of figurative sculpture from the river-polished polystyrene I have collected and stored out here.  Beginning in May of this year, “we”, meaning myself and the public,  have successfully added new figures to a growing site-specific installation at my favorite outdoor atelier under the willows.

One wonderful development is that on three different occasions, visitors discovering my site have interacted with or added their own figures to this group from the materials I have left behind for that purpose.  I did “harvest” a couple of figures after they made their first appearance here for a group show I’m participating in October 2017 at Murray State University.  That exhibit is entitled “Folk Fiction” and I’m elated to be showing at my old undergrad alma mater.  Besides, it’s always good to have survivors.

Autumn began with a visit from my equally anonymous nemesis…forever branded by my sons as the “Smashers”.  Whomever they are…they don’t play well which has resulted in the recent vandalism of several of these figures.  More about them later.  Now seems as good a time as any to provide a short history of this figural Styrofoam group I call “The Assembled”.  This story begins at the river on May 14, 2017 with the creation of the first sculpture.

After a wet spring with frequent bouts of high water, I was able to configure a site under the trees and near the old railroad bridge.  Over the next several months I kept adding recently found materials from the area while I pursued different art projects.  This was the first Styro-figure I created here and he’s a bat-earred naturist!  After he explored the landscape of this day in many other images, he eventually took his position greeting visitors to my outdoor studio and soon to be growing gallery.  As this installation grew, each new figure was photographed in different contexts at the park before joining the others back at my eastern most studio site.

"The Naturist" stands watch over the Styro-larder during May 2017

“The Naturist” was the first figure to join “The Assembled”.

My next figure is also the largest.  I remember needing to wait until enough of the absorbed water was gone from this big hunk of Styrofoam to just be able to lift it.  I call this piece the “Queen of Clouds” because the sky was so beautiful on the day it was made.

I remember that the wind kept blowing this figure over and it was difficult to get it to stand in place while I shot this short video.  The large fan blades that make up this sculpture kept falling off until I found a better way to attach them to her head.  The nose is a large wooden fishing float I found out here.  It’s mouth is the plastic cap from a deodorant stick.

Two Styro-figures at my outdoor studio during June 2017.

The “Queen of Clouds” parked at my studio under the willow trees.

Here’s another large figure from the month of July.  I really like how expressive the head turned out on this one.  His mouth is a red reflector that really caught the light well.  I dragged this one down to the Ohio River and documented it with this short video and lots of photos.  Afterward, it too joined “The Assembled” at my river studio.

One of the fun moments during this project was discovering visitors had added two new figures enlarging this group to four!  By days end, it was five figures with my latest absurdity with the bright red reflector mouth.  I was starting to get excited by the opportunity to create a nice little crowd this summer since plenty of Styrofoam remained to be used and people were playing along instead of just destroying what was on hand.  I also started to piece together a couple of other projects nearby.  One began at first with just a handful of found flip-flops of various colors and sizes.  Each visit to the river usually resulted in more found foot wear to add to the design.  I also created a colorful  rainbow-like arrangement from discarded plastic containers that also was a stand alone piece, but also went well with the other projects.  As the summer was approaching its height, wild grapevines were beginning to frame my grouping at the Falls of the Ohio.

Styro-group "The Assembled" in July 2017 at the Falls of the Ohio.

Three more figures joined the group.

As the summer wore on I couldn’t wait to visit my spot and listen to the oriole’s call and the sound of running water.  My site was always changing and my sculptures had survived a few summer storms as well as being vulnerable to vandalism.  So far, so good and so I continued to add new pieces here when I visited this section of the park.  Here are a few more for your enjoyment.

A Rose for Mosquito Nose

Small Styro-character I called “Mr. Mosquito Nose”.

The Assembled with Mr. Mosquito Nose.

Rare view of “The Assembled” with “Mr. Mosquito Nose”.

I took “Mr. Mosquito Nose” home with me after this picture and he will reappear in an exhibition I’m participating in the early fall.  This next piece turned out to be a visitor favorite.  He began with me finding a flipper that I used for his headdress and the fishing lure that became his nose.  Between what I found that day and what was already in my collecting bag…I soon had the makings of an orange and greenish-yellow theme for this shamanic or high priest figure.  The staff he sports is capped with a found plastic jet toy I came across on the riverbank.

"Shamanic Figure with Staff and Flipper Headdress"

Shamanic Figure carries a staff capped with a found plastic jet toy.

Here he is in context with the other figures as the month of July began to pass.  If you like trains crossing over bridges then you might like a couple of the videos I have here including this one showing an early flip-flop project at this site.

Another day and another figure and in this sculpture’s case…it’s pretty silly and strangely neurotic looking with its crossed fishing float eyes!  Here he is posed sitting on a driftwood log with one leg crossed over the other.  Soon he too would be added to “The Assembled”.

"Indecisive Dude" at the Falls of the Ohio.

“Indecisive Dude” sitting on a weather-bleached log.

Here is a video that is a good overall site view of my outdoor atelier and it shows this latest figure in the fold.  It also features a passing train crossing over the old railroad bridge and yet another flip-flop arrangement in the form of a large spiral in the sand.

I like the way the spiral turned out and I tried working with the found colors as best as I could.  There is so much individual variation between each sandal…right or left, large or small, bright blue versus dark blue, etc…  I do feel that this piece really added to what I had already started here with “The Assembled”.  Here is a still image from that moment.

My outdoor studio site at the Falls of the Ohio, August 7, 2017.

Spiral flip-flop arrangement along with “The Assembled” at my studio site, August 7, 2017.

We are into the month of August now and I keep adding figures and rearranging my site on a regular basis.  It’s generally a very good month for me if I can get out to the river three or four times.  Plus, I like to also do projects in other areas of the park and so a few weeks might pass before I next visit this particular studio site under the willow trees.  I thought this next figure turned out nicely.  It was aided by finding a nice hunk of polystyrene that was irregularly shaped enough that it could imply motion.  He has a friendly demeanor to him if you can ascribe such qualities to an altered chunk of river-polished Styrofoam?

Smiling Figure next to discarded cooler.

Smiling Styro-figure next to an old cooler that washed into the park.

Here is the video from the end of this day showing this piece in the context of my studio under the trees.  This clip also reminded me that it was a hot day peppered by annoying gnats that also buzzed around the camera.  I will mention that generally speaking…biting flies and mosquitoes are not usually an issue to visiting the park.

Still two more figures to go before the fateful day the Smashers appear and reality reasserts itself.  I improvised all my figurative sculptures on site from materials collected out here.  I still feel it’s important for me to respect the hard-won shapes that nature has provided.  Interestingly, I still feel that the river “humanizes” Styrofoam in particular by knocking of the hard edges and generalizing the overall forms.

"The Happy Hunchback" listening to birds singing.

“The Happy Hunchback” strolling through the willow woods listening to bird song at the Falls of the Ohio.

Moving very slowly and deliberately, the “Happy Hunchback” cranes his neck toward the treetops.  It’s late August, have the orioles and indigo buntings already left?  If it weren’t for the other life forms also inhabiting the Falls of the Ohio, this multi-year “art” project would not have sustained my interest alone.  I can’t believe my luck!  Between the time of this figure and the next…a visitor added another sculpture and awarded my Shamanic sculpture “Best in Show”!

"Best in Show " award...presented anonymously.

“Best in Show” Award…presented anonymously.

I had stashed this green plastic ball with my rainbow-colored plastic containers.  Makes a fine award and I have to admit, that I did put a lot of time into this particular figure.  I’m sure I had the biggest smile I can muster when I first saw this.  Whomever you are…thank you!

"The Assembled" at the Falls of the Ohio, mid September 2017.

“The Assembled”, mid September 2017 with “Best in Show” figure.

Another view from that day showing my overall site with a different found flip-flop design and my plastic container color spectrum on the left.

Outdoor studio and gallery, mid September 2017 showing "The Assembled", heart-shaped flip-flop arrangement, and plastic container color arrangement.

My outdoor studio and gallery with heart-shaped flip-flop design.

Just one more figure to go before that fateful day when the Smashers stop by and temporarily put a hitch in the magic that was this summer at the Falls of the Ohio.  I am amazed that nothing negative had happened sooner.  In the back of my mind, I understand that the river always has the last word in this process and so I don’t get too attached to the things I make out here.  Weeks would go by before I would re-visit this site in the eastern section of the park.  I was also spending a lot of time in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio which has a different quality to the landscape and receives fewer visitors.  I like to visit there when the purple loosestrife flowers are blooming because they are magnets for butterflies and other insects.  Moving on, here’s the last figure to officially join “The Assembled”.

"Raccoon Eyes" sipping from a found cup at the Falls of the Ohio, September 2017.

“Raccoon Eyes” enjoys a found beverage at the Falls of the Ohio, September 2017.

With his spiky hair-do and wide smile, the likable “Raccoon Eyes” likes to pause for refreshment when he can at the Falls of the Ohio.  Locals visiting the park bring these giant cups and I guess seeing all the other debris that has washed into here makes it okay to leave more trash behind?  The world is just absurd…and hence this project.  Old “Raccoon Eyes” took a hit, lost and eye, along with one of his arms when the Smashers came by.  Here is one more video this time showing my site before fate intervenes.

The little figure I ended the last clip with went on to have an adventure of his own and didn’t become a part of “The Assembled”.  He’s a close if diminutive cousin.  The Smashers came and went and it’s fortunate that more wasn’t actually destroyed.  My naturist character, who was the first character here, had his head split in half.  One of the volunteer figures that appeared was decapitated and I found its head in the tree branches above where it once stood.  The “Happy Hunchback” lost all the features in his head and was rendered permanently senseless.  The “Best in Show” figure lost and eye and his staff, but looks repairable.  I think whomever did this ( teenage boy(s) loom large) must have had second thoughts while in destruct mode, because it looks like some sculptures were barely touched.  I like to think that this is what happened and perhaps a little remorse set in before complete havoc was wrought.  I found a nearby stick that I remember setting aside for future use that more than likely served as the weapon.  I can imagine the temptation to not “light saber” all of them into bits must have been great.  This is my best interpretation based upon reading  the scene.

"The Assembled" after being visited by the Smashers.  Early October 2017

View of “The Assembled” after recent vandalism.

Of course you know that I’m not going to leave it here.  When I came upon the scene, I took some pictures and then off for a trek across the fossil beds and had a great day walking to the hydroelectric plant.  Yesterday, I brought my friend Peter Erwin along for a visit to the Interpretive Center and afterward we visited my studio site.  Using what I had on hand…I repaired what I could and recycled other parts to create new personas to replace the previous ones.  I think it’s going to be okay and I look forward to experiencing the continued evolution of this developing site.  I still have a little more work to do, but this is where I left it yesterday.  As for this post…one of my longer ones…reveals the level of engagement that this special place still holds upon me.  I think it also appropriate at this time to rename this group of survivors…I’m now going to call them “The Re-Assembled”!  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

"The Re-Assembled", Found Styrofoam and other materials, Falls of the Ohio, October 7, 2017

“The Re-Assembled” at the Falls of the Ohio. October 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spring in Kentuckiana, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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

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

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

small plastic horse, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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

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

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

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

Absurd figure, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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

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

Destroyed figure, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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

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

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

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

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Wooden boat dock on debris pile, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

So easy to get behind on creating new posts!  As it often happens out here at the Falls of the Ohio…more stuff goes on than most people care to read in a single post.  This will be a relatively short, but hopefully sweet story.  A few weeks a go on a lovely sunny and warm weekend morning I decided to visit the Falls and see how my green bottle piece was surviving.  I had positioned it on the other side of a washed out boat dock that was peaking out of a huge pile of driftwood and debris that had washed into here a few months a go.  The above photo is how it would first appear to anyone venturing onto this driftwood mound.  And, this is how it would appear from the other side looking towards the parking lot and fixed wier dam.

Green plastic bottle assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

My segregating all the green glass and plastic bottles into the exposed structure of the boat dock was holding up fairly well.  I just had a little bit of straightening up to do.  The fact I went back to something I had made before was somewhat unusual since I prefer moving forward by making something new.  I guess this piece was holding up a little better than some of my other projects by virtue of it being somewhat hidden and few folks want to venture onto this shifting mound of materiality.  You can get hurt here if you are not careful and it’s easy to have a foot go through a weak spot on the mound.  This has happened to me many times, but knock on wood, I have never been injured by my carelessness.  I was admiring my handiwork and whistling to the Baltimore Orioles that were in the nearby cottonwood trees when I saw two people approaching my position.

Marjie and Anika make a Styrofoam sculpture, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Marjie and Anika and their Styrofoam creation, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Here are a couple of pictures of my new friends in action.  It’s the mother and daughter team of Marjie and Anika and they were here at the Falls collecting flat, weathered boards for a shed they were making back at their home.  When they saw me they came right over to see what I was doing and they saw the bottle piece which they enjoyed.  Of course, one thing led to another and we had a great conversation about conservation, recycling, and the value of being outdoors.  We even discovered that we have a good friend in common in Claude Stephens who works at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.  They were once neighbors.  Marjie is a very practical and inventive person and I was particularly struck by how she has been able to eliminate all the soap products from her home save one.  I don’t want to mention that product by name, but you are familiar with it.  It’s a dishwashing liquid that is especially good at cleaning oil soaked sea mammals and birds.  Apparently, by adjusting the strength of the soap by diluting it with water you can have an all-purpose cleanser that’s good for the laundry and can be used for shampoo too!  Standing on this debris mound, it would be very easy to show you examples of all the many plastic containers that are used by all the myriad kinds of soap products.  Cutting them out of our waste chain would be a dream come true!  I showed them images of other projects I had made and stored on my cell phone and they became inspired by some of the figurative pieces I’ve made from Styrofoam.  That got this dynamic duo going and they were off to make a Styrofoam sculpture of their very own!

Anika and Marjie make a figure, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

They are an ambitious pair and decided to use the biggest polystyrene chunks they could find on this mound.  I helped them set the body upright since it was still a bit heavy with retained water.  The figure soon became a robot with found toy balls for eyes and a light bulb stuck on top of its head like a cherry on a sundae!  It was a bit tricky keeping one’s balance standing on the driftwood.  I find it helps to stand on the bigger logs which are less likely to shift or break.  After sticking on a pair of arms, Marjie and Anika left their creation in place.  We said our goodbyes and they collected the boards they had chosen for their shed and went home.  I stuck around a little longer and took a few more images.

Marjie and Anika's Robot Man, Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

Robot Man at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

It’s rare when I meet folks out here who not only “get” what I do, but want to participate too.  Creativity is a human birthright and can be expressed in so many ways.  I especially enjoy it when I meet people who use their creativity to benefit the planet even in the smallest way.  Those individuals inspire me.  I exchanged email addresses with Marjie and she later sent me pictures of the shed she built at home.  As it turns out, this was not the last time I would meet mother and daughter.  They came out in support of a Public Art Walk event that was produced by the organization I now work for…the Carnegie Center for Art and History in historic New Albany, Indiana.  Work there has been keeping me busy, but I manage to come and visit my beloved Falls and Ohio River whenever opportunity allows.  I’ve made other projects lately and look forward to sharing them with you soon.  Here’s to everyone having a great summer this year!

Diesel engines crossing the Falls of the Ohio, May 2015

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Christmas Bird at the Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

In the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park I came across a remarkable bird.  As far as I know, this is the first documented sighting of the so-called Christmas Bird (Xmasii noelensis) in our area.  The bird’s red crest, green collar, and azure-colored wings are diagnostic as is the bicolor beak.  I was down at the river on a rather foggy morning when I noticed the bird flashing its wings in mockingbird fashion which is a distant relative of this species.

The Christmas Bird, Louisville in the background, Dec. 2014

I was looking for interesting pieces of driftwood and odd items washed up by the Ohio River when I came across this bird.  This is a long distance migrant and one that hails from as far north as the Arctic Circle.  The Christmas Bird earns its name in a couple of ways.  Of course, its complimentary plumage is rather seasonably inspired and it does seem to migrate to the lower 48 states around the time of the holidays.  Where the bird will appear is rather unpredictable, however, it is a welcome sight in most any location.  Here I have photographed the bird “flashing” its wings against its body while perched upon a driftwood log.  The park is in Southern Indiana and the skyline of Louisville, Kentucky can be seen across the Ohio River.  After taking this shot, the bird flew off.

Display of the Christmas Bird, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I said to myself…”Well, that’s that”.  I fully did not expect to see this rare bird again, but I received a “gift” of a rather unexpected nature.  Underneath the old iron railroad bridge, not too far away from my initial sighting, I came across this “decorated” nest and recognized its significance.  This is a display from the Christmas Bird.  Using an abandoned mud-lined nest of an American Robin, (Turdus migratorius), the Christmas Bird has created an assemblage involving red berries and the remains of a string of old Christmas lights that washed into the park with the other river-bourn detritus.  From this evidence, I suspected the bird had “claimed” this area.  If I in turn displayed patience…I might get another opportunity to photograph this unusual species.

Christmas Bird with its display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I waited about an hour and the Christmas Bird did appear to my great joy!  It arrived at the nest with a red berry in its beak which it added to its growing collection.  It is believed that this bird is attracted to the color red.  Usually, berries from the holly tree are used, but in this instance I recognized them as the fruit of the Nandina plant.  The bird probably discovered them growing in a private garden in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana.  It is suspected by ornithologists that the southerly migration of the Christmas Bird, which brings it to warmer climates, may trigger this unusual nest-like and courting behavior.  The Christmas Bird is known for its ability to tolerate extreme cold and it takes a great drop in temperature to stimulate it to migrate.

Close up of the Christmas Bird with red berry, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Christmas Bird with display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I was able to observe this bird making about ten trips back and forth between the nest and its berry source.  If the bird was aware of my presence…it did not appear to be overly alarmed.  Once in a while, the bird with crest erected, would cock its head back and forth trying to differentiate my form among the willow branches.  I held my breath and tried to remain still and as unthreatening as possible.

The Christmas Bird with its seanonable display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The weather grew damp and cold and the sun looked like it was not going to appear from beneath its blanket of clouds.  I made the decision that I had enough images and it was time to leave this bird in peace and go home.  On the ride home, I felt I had been given this great gift, the gift of nature which remains priceless and timeless!  For me, nothing packaged in a box and wrapped with a bow can equal this living blessing.  To all who have followed my adventures by the river this year…I offer my sincerest good wishes during this season of holidays!  I hope that at least once in your lifetimes, you will be visited by the Christmas Bird bringing red berries for your nest.

Christmas Bird with red berry, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

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The Falls of the Ohio beneath the railroad bridge, March 5, 2014

The Ohio River water level has been bouncing up and down these last few weeks.  On this excursion, I caught up with it while the river was receding.  The shoreline that I am accustomed to seeing is still underwater, however, if you walk carefully between the wet and the dry, there are areas you can explore.  I brought a fairly empty canvas collecting bag along in anticipation of river treasure.  After a couple of hours, I took a break and dumped the bag out and here is what caught my eye.

Collecting bag contents, early March 2014

Literally, a mixed bag of junk including many familiar items that I have long-standing collections formed.  The Styrofoam is for a small sculpture I have in mind.  The flip-flop sandals, well…I have been collecting them for a while and I have a vague notion of an artwork that I want to make with them.  I have ideas, but I’m waiting for the river muse to send me more signals.  The same holds true for the small, plastic wheels.  I have about two hundred of them stacked in a pile on my basement floor.  I thought I could finish the wheel piece for the exhibition at the Carnegie, but it remains unresolved.  I have also gathered several found combs and the variety of forms a simple object can take always interests me.  Recently, I gave my comb collection to my friend Jeff for his birthday.  He is probably one of the few people I know who would like receiving such a gift.  Jeff was once a middle school art teacher and he keeps a cigar box filled with the smallest pencils in the world.  Each pencil had been sharpened to within an inch of its existence by his former students.  Here’s an example of an interesting comb followed by other images of objects found on this day.

comb from a vacuum cleaner, March 2014

Later, it was determined that this combination comb and brush is from some kind of vacuum cleaner.  Now whenever I go out the river, my friend asks me if I have any other combs for his collection.

plastic corn on the cob, March 2014

My Fake Food Collection keeps expanding.  I found several new pieces on this excursion with this one being the most memorable.  Plastic corn on the cob with a little pat of butter melting into the kernels.  In the background, you can see how much junk is intermixed with the wood debris.

hand-formed duct tape ball, March 2014

Here’s the latest addition to my hand-formed ball collection.  This one is made from duct tape.

pink plastic octopus sand mold, March 2014

I’m starting to develop a large collection of sand toys of all kinds.  Here’s a pink plastic octopus sand mold.  I think I will photograph this collection soon.

two found plastic dinosaur toys, March 2014

I found two plastic dinosaur toys on this trip.  I believe these are intended to be the same species…Dimetrodon which was an early reptile with mammal-like characteristics.  Dimetrodon hails from North America and the early Permian period.  When the Falls of the Ohio was an active marine ecosystem (about 370 million years a go)…Dimetrodon would still be about another 200 million years into the future.  The vast stretches of time and the ebb and flow of life forms is mind-boggling.  I am in the here and now and what I have noticed on this trip to the river is how few other life forms I’ve seen.  The spring migration of neotropical birds is not too far off and I always have my eyes open for early arrivals.  Today…I get lucky.

detail, head of the River Roller, March 15, 2014

The River Roller, March 2014

I was poking around the shifting shoreline when I spotted this heavy bodied bird in a willow tree.  With its blue head, yellow ocher body, and light green tail…I knew I was looking at my first River Roller.  Rollers are a family of old world birds and this is the only representative on this continent.  This species has a rather large and heavy bill that serves it well when it feeds on the nuts of hardwood trees.  At the Falls of the Ohio, you can always find walnuts, hickory nuts, and acorns.  I believe that this was what this bird was doing…looking for food.

River Roller at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I think this is a female roller because the colors are not as bright as the pictures I’ve seen of the males.  In size, this bird is comparable to the American Robin.  I observed this bird checking out the holes and hollows in the willow trees which is pre-nesting behavior.  The females are the ones that choose which sites are suitable to raise their chicks.  This bird will eventually move on to the northern portions of the Ohio River Valley.  The River Roller has never been documented nesting in this park.

River Roller among the willow rootlets, March 2014

River Roller investigating willow roots, March 2014

The River Roller hung around for about five minutes before flying off for parts unknown.  During the time I watched it, the roller demonstrated a strong curiosity for the environment at the river’s edge.  It seemed especially interested in the willow trees themselves.

The River Roller at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I wish this bird well and hope it reaches its intended destination.  I feel this way about every bird that migrates through this area.  After seeing this once in a life-time rarity I felt that my day like my collecting bag was full and it was time to go home.  That wraps it up for another river adventure.  See you next time.

View at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

 

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crushed plastic jack-o-lantern, Oct. 2013

For a few hours more it’s Halloween in Kentuckiana.  With a tornado watch in the air and rain for certain, it’s not boding very well for the actual observance. Sorry about that kids.  It does seem to me that the actual going door to door and collecting candy is not the same prized occasion it used to be.  It seems these days (and here’s where I start sounding old) every holiday has candy and it’s not as special as it used to be.  Halloween is becoming more of an indoor activity with parties replacing the ceremonial wearing out of the shoe leather.  Still there are decorations and costumes to carry on the tradition.  While making my rounds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park…I keep my camera and collecting bag ready for any Halloween related or other spooky items.  Among the more common Halloween finds are these plastic jack-o-lanterns.  The bigger ones are used for actual candy collecting and the smaller pieces are novelties for the table.  Here are a couple more the river has washed up.

smashed plastic jack-o-lantern container, Oct. 2013

destroyed plastic jack-o-lantern, Oct. 2013

Of course, all these novelties are made from discarded plastic which may turn out to be the scariest thing of all.   Walking near the river’s edge, I will often be startled by sights of a spectral nature.  The ghosts of objects and functions past hang mournfully from the branches of the willow trees.  Observe these two ghostly images…if you dare.

plastic "ghost" on a willow branch, Oct. 2013

plastic "apparition" at the Falls, Oct. 2013

During one recent high water moment along the river’s edge…I spotted what appeared to be “something” hanging upside down from a tree branch.  It was animated, black, and hairy and after snapping a quick photo…I got out of there.  In the back of my mind the words “cat demon” formed.  I didn’t want to hang around and find out more.  The hairs on arms were standing straight up!  Judge for yourself.

upside down "black cat demon", Oct. 2013

Today we had a Halloween party at the art program that I manage.  Needing a costume I had to do some quick overnight thinking and making…which often produces interesting results.  How many times has having a deadline served you well?  Looking at the river junk I have saved at my house…I created this head-gear? or weird sculptural hat to fill the bill.  Here’s my “costume” photographed against a black cloth that makes it look like an art object.  Imagine wearing this on top of your head!

Al's Halloween Styro-hat, Oct. 2013

The foundation is the Styrofoam shell of an old bicycle helmet.  The effigy head is actually recycled from an old, now destroyed sculpture I made and left on site at the river.  After the rest of the body fell apart…I wandered bye and salvaged the head since it was still in good shape.  I had no idea what I would do with this head…until this opportunity  presented itself.  The eyes are plastic bottle caps from old dish washing detergent bottles.  The red mouth is more waste plastic as is the yellow hand on top.  The arms, nose, and ears are wood bits.  The neck (which you can’t see very well in this image) is a polystyrene mushroom.  The bungy cord which forms a chin strap, is the only element that did not come from the river.  I have a beaver-chewed willow stick running through the head and into the base.  A little glue holds it all together.  If one can “prize” finding discarded Styrofoam…then I confess to liking the shells from old bicycle helmets.  I have used several over the years to make various turtle and tortoises.  Here’s an example that became the basis for my Cottonwood Turtle story from a few years back.

Albertus Gorman's "Cottonwood Turtle", found Styrofoam and wood, Falls of the Ohio

Well, it’s time to call it a day.  Just a few intrepid souls in costumes made it to the door on this dismal night.  They were well rewarded with chocolate and bubble gum.  To close, here’s one final image from the river…what would Halloween be without witches and here’s one of the best.  Trick or Treat from the Falls of the Ohio.

plastic witch cup, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2013

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