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Posts Tagged ‘culture and nature’

Rose Mallow at the Falls of the Ohio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Clouds with Figure in Ecstasy, Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

 

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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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Taylor with Styro-sculpture, late March 2014

Taylor’s Artist at Exit 0 Video Link

Here’s a short video interview conducted by Taylor Ferguson on my Artist at Exit 0 project at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Taylor is a journalism student at the Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Indiana and was nice enough to be interested in filming my process.  Our late March day at the river was a bit windy which the microphone picked up beautifully, however, it washed out the rest of the audio.  What you hear me saying is a bit of stream of conscious narrative which was edited into the video at a later date.  I previously published a post entitled “Touring with Taylor” that has some of my images and words made about the experience.

Mr. Mosquito Nose standing in a tire, late March 2014, Falls of the Ohio

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Mr. Mosquito Nose, April 2014

I’ll bet some of you out there might have wondered what’s happened to the old riverblog?  Here it is near April’s end and there is nothing to show for what occurred during this month.  Let me reassure you that the Artist at Exit 0 has been as active as the river has allowed him to be.  Exploring the line between culture and nature is personally important.  Between periodic high water, the exhibit at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, the Kentucky Derby Festival, and life in general…posting stories has needed to take a back seat.  The process, however, is ongoing.  I have been to the river on multiple occasions and observed the transition from winter to spring at the Falls of the Ohio.  Making art remains a priority and I realize that I just feel better if I have the opportunity to make something of my own.  Don’t be surprised if I end this month with a flurry of posts in an attempt to catch up.  Let’s start at the beginning of April and see how far I get.  Here’s a story featuring Mr. Mosquito Nose who had an experience with a young journalism student interested in what the Artist at Exit 0 does on an ordinary trip to the Falls.

Mr. Mosquito Nose at the river's edge, April 2014

This day began with a rendezvous at the river.  I arrived early and was scouting out the situation.  The Ohio River had just been up and I knew the riverbank was reconfigured with different driftwood and new junk  waiting to be picked up.  I had been contacted previously by Taylor Ferguson who is a journalism student at the nearby Indiana University Southeast in New Albany who requested to tag along with me on one of my Falls of the Ohio adventures.  Taylor has a creative project of her own…to create a short, documentary video and she wanted the Artist at Exit 0 to be the subject.  This was the first time anyone has requested this and so I agreed to do it.  With a cool and sunny day before us we left the still leafless willows and walked out onto the riverbank.

Taylor at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Taylor turned out to be a super friendly and very interested in my projects.  I will admit that it was odd being tethered to a microphone and I felt a little self-conscience talking to myself so openly with a video camera pointing in my direction.  I usually have some dialogue running through my head as I explore this environment, but to hear it in such an audible fashion was different.  I brought Taylor to my U.F.O. (Unidentified Floating Object) art site where I keep my river materials and demonstrated how I went about making an absurd figure from the poor stuff of the world.  With Mr. Mosquito Nose in hand, the three of us left my outdoor studio and explored the environs near the railroad bridge.  Along the way, Taylor would ask me questions about when and why I started this project.  By now, those are familiar questions.  I enjoy looking for what is interesting about each day.  So, now it was time to walk the riverbank with Mr. Mosquito Nose and be present in this moment.

Mr. Mosquito Nose and orange barge cable, April 2014

The lack of footprints in the sand told me that few others had recently passed this way.   As we walked along, I kept an eye out for those little micro-contexts that I could pose this latest Styro-figure in.  After making an object…I’m interested in using it to create an image.  With luck, the images might then be used to tell a story.  Here we have come across an old, frayed barge cable that the river washed into the park.  It seemed a good location to take a few photos.

figure next to an old camp fire site, April 2014

Near the cable, we came across the remains of a camp fire.  Brick and rock define a shallow pit that still had some ashes in it.  For a few years now, I have also photographed old camp fire sites with the intention of publishing them here as a collection.  I’m always struck by the elemental nature of this activity and what its importance has meant for our species’ survival.  We set up Mr. Mosquito Nose by the fire pit and now those photos are a part of this record.

Mr. Mosquito Nose and plastic sprayer, April 2014

Among the other objects we came across was this old sprayer.  The figure’s arms are raised in warning because this might have potentially been used to spray herbicide or worse.  Caution is required whenever you come across something that could possibly harm you.  Knock on wood, I’ve been doing this project for more than a decade without any physical reactions or incidents from the stuff I’ve encountered out here.  I place a lot of faith in the diluting power of millions of gallons of fresh water.

Mr. Mosquito Nose and various bottles, April 2014

Moving on to another location, I collected a few glass and plastic bottles along the way and made this composition.  Some of these containers have mystery contents of their own.

Mr. Mosquito Nose and dog food bowl, April 2014

Later we came across this pet food bowl that was half full with water.  The water in this bowl could have collected here as the river level dropped or been filled up by rainfall?  It is another example of an incongruous object making an appearance at the Falls.Mr. Mosquito Nose, April 2014

Taylor and I came across another barge cable that had been snagged by a low hanging willow branch and created this final photograph with Mr. Mosquito Nose.  The day was moving along and both of us were needed elsewhere.  About a week later, Taylor called me up to say that most of the audio the microphone picked up had interfering  sounds of wind and water.  This seemed perfect to me because that’s what I usually hear out here as well with the occasional bird call thrown in for good measure.  Taylor had three hours of footage that needed to be edited down to three minutes which sounded like a daunting challenge in its own right without the audio difficulties.  I later caught up with Taylor in Louisville and did a quick voice over recording that I hope will do the trick for her project.  At the time of this writing…I haven’t seen the finished video, but hope it turns out for Taylor and that she gets a good grade for it.  Okay, that’s it for now from the Falls of the Ohio State Park…one last image then I’m calling it a post.

Sand, driftwood, and disposable drink cup, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

 

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wooden cable spool and willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, March 22, 2014

It’s a sunny Saturday and warm for this time of year.  One of those days I can’t wait to get to the river.  Spring is still slow in developing, but it can’t be much longer now.  I spent a good part of the day just filling up my canvas collecting bag with all types of odds and ends both man-made and natural that have washed up on these fabled shores.  I’m finding so much stuff that for practical reasons I decide to see if I can find a spot up the bank and under the willows that might make a good location for a temporary outdoor art studio.  I can offload some of my larder for future use while continuing to walk the edge of the river.  I’m enjoying the sunshine and taking deep breaths of the fresh air.

U.F.O. studio...Unidentified Floating Object studio, March 2014

U.F.O. studio, Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I chose a spot bordered by a large log that keeps most of the driftwood at bay and what I call the U.F.O. or Unidentified Floating Object which is circular metal platform that was once painted white with blue trim.  It’s starting to show some rust now.  This large object washed over the dam during a high water moment three or four years a go.  Since then it’s changed positions with the rising and falling river levels and was once completely buried under driftwood.  The U.F.O. is a platform that normally would be anchored out on  the river.  Barges and other water craft can tie on to it if necessary.  Some how this one got loose and relocated to the park.  When I first discovered it here I also imagined that it was a giant bathtub plug that helped keep the water in the river.   I was lucky that I had the same outdoor studio for many years before this winter’s high water rearranged the landscape again and floated all my collected materials away.  I spent a few hours walking the river collecting Styrofoam and sticks and can’t wait to make something new.

Mega Spool figure in progress, March 2014

Completed figure at the U.F.O. studio, March 2014

The first figure I make here is from the largest chunks of polystyrene I had found on this excursion.  I used two fishing floats (one larger than the other for expressive effect) for the eyes.  The nose is a plastic piece from a fooseball table.  The mouth is a red reflector.  My figure has ears, arms, and legs that are pieces of driftwood.  The figure has a benevolent feeling to it and I can’t wait to photograph it by the river.  I did run into a young sculptor attending the Kentucky School of Art who was collecting driftwood for her own project.  Her name is Jenn and she approached me asking if I was the person with the show at the Carnegie Center for Art and History?  She and her classmates had seen the exhibition.  Jenn is building an installation at the school and promised to let me know when she completed it.  It will be fun to see art made by someone else from materials collected within the park.

Large Styro-figure on a tiny willow island, March 2014

Styro-figure on tiny willow island, Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

When I first meet the river, I spend a little time looking around and scouting out potential locations to create the photographs that will represent this day in my project.  I decide that I like this tiny “willow island” which consists of clay and sand bound together by the living roots of this tree.  Waves and water wash all around it and at times it does look like an island.  As the river recedes to its normal pool, this tree will be high and dry at last.  It’s amazing what it takes to keep this tree in place with such a dynamic river always testing its resolve to survive.  During the highest river levels, this tree would be completely submerged underwater.  Many of the willows along this stretch of the river bear scars and wounds from large logs battering them, breaking branches, and grinding bark away.  I pose the figure on the root mass and move to the next shot which isn’t too far away.

Styro-figure and large, wooden cable spool, March 2014

Styro-figure and wireline spool, Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

Near tiny willow island is a large wooden “spool” for wire line or cable.  I’m amazed by this object’s heavy-duty construction.  This spool floated into here and is now partially sunk into the sand.  Small waves lap the shoreline and you can also see black coal dust swirling around the water’s edge.  Later when I see my pictures I’m struck by how similar this spool is to the circular platform that now forms part of my latest outdoor studio.  This new area to cache my materials is very visible and hence ultra public, however, if we have heavy spring rains…it’s very possible that all this will be washed away and rearranged again.  I often wonder what might go through people’s minds when they stumble upon my outdoor atelier?  It’s an odd archeological site of Styrofoam boulders, small piles of plastic toys, and a tangle of found roots and driftwood.  All the stuff you need to make an absurd figure!  I left my latest Styro-creation next to the spool.  I will go a head and tell you…I returned a week later and all I could find of him was his body and legs.  There must be headhunters out here?  I searched the area, but found no further trace of my figure.  As with most of my Falls projects, they continue to “exist” as images.  The exhibition that Michael Wimmer and I are participating in at the Carnegie Center of Art and History is entering its last week.  I’m so appreciative of the positive response I’ve received for my work.  The show will end with a tea and cookies closing.  If you are in the area, please stop by.

Final shot from the big spool and tiny willow island, March 2014, Falls of the Ohio

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