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The Crying Indian, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

I touched on this briefly with my last post, but it has taken a couple of weeks to return to the story of “The Crying Indian”.  This post is both about the figure I created from found Styrofoam and the true story about one of the most successful Public Service Announcements of all time.  A few months back, I accepted the invitation of Bob Hill to show some of my river creations at his Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden in Utica, Indiana which is just across the river from my home in Louisville, KY.  After the high water we had in late winter and early spring, I had the opportunity and collected several large pieces of Styrofoam off of the riverbank with the intentions of making a few large figures that I could use for the Hidden Hill show.  I was successful in accomplishing this goal and the first figure I made was to become the piece I call “The Crying Indian”.

Basement studio view with the Crying Indian in progress, May 2016

I really don’t have a proper studio.  Just a basement at home that I hoard all the materials that I bring home from the river and the few finished works that I keep.  I really do prefer working outdoors at the Falls of the Ohio where I can work relatively quickly.  On occasion, I have a need to create work that is a little more formal or ambitious and requires more time to put together.  With a deadline approaching for a May 21 opening and weather unpredictable…I set about creating what I could in this cramped space.  There are some advantages like being able to listen to music or moving the laundry along and snacks are just a short staircase away.  Sitting at the foot of those basement steps, I weighed my options and introduced elements that may or may not become a part of the finished work.  The large chunks of Styrofoam that I had brought home from this year’s flooding were outside leaning against my house.  I selected the third largest piece and brought it into the basement.  It was time to go to work.

In progress image of the head of the Crying Indian, Louisville, KY, May 2016

Going into this sculpture, I knew that I wanted to keep it fairly “classical” meaning that most of the elements I used were white in color in “imitation” of marble statuary. I chose a river-polished hunk of Styrofoam for a potential head that felt somewhat in proportion to the figure I envisioned.  I sifted through bags and boxes of river collections and chose two hollow, plastic, and crushed fake golf balls for eyes.  The nose is a piece of polystyrene that is cone-shaped.  The mouth is a plastic and foam element from an old football helmet and the ears are pieces of Styrofoam.  The element that would become “the feather” in the Indian’s headdress was a broken plastic kayak? paddle that I had recently found and thought would look great in this context.  I would later use glacier and river worn quartz pebbles for the tears, but this was one of the last elements I introduced into this piece.  The rest of the work would be Falls of the Ohio driftwood and plastic elements collected in the park.

The Crying Indian in progress, Louisville, KY, May 2016

As I’m working on this, I’m also having an internal conversation with myself.  Talking to my materials I silently ask, “What do you want to be?”  I’ll pose questions and trust my subconscious to help me out by providing a few clues that become ideas that can be elaborated upon.  In this case, I was remembering that great Public Service Announcement from 1971 that is known as “The Crying Indian”.  I was wondering why there weren’t similar ads on television now decrying pollution and litter and extolling the public to do what they can do to help which is also the right thing to do?  What seems to rule the air waves now in the way of public service has more to do with finding cures for cancer and other maladies that afflict us…and that is important too.  Another little voice within me also feels that many of these physiological problems we endure will find their root causes in an increasingly degraded and contaminated environment.  For old times sake I looked up that original Crying Indian ad that was sponsored from the Keep America Beautiful folks and found it as effective as I had remembered it.  During my search, I clicked on a few other stories related to the Crying Indian and that’s when my jaw dropped in amazement.

Back view of the Crying Indian at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Detail, Crying Indian at the Falls of the Ohio holding plastic jugs, May 2016

The first big surprise is a story full of ironies beginning with the actor playing the”Crying Indian”…he  was not a Native American in the first place.  “Iron Eyes Cody”, America’s favorite movie and television Indian was born Espera Oscar de Corti in Gueydon, Louisiana in 1904.  He was actually a second generation Italian American.  He had a rough upbringing and when he was a child he left with his father for the American West.  It was out there that he first experienced indigenous cultures as well as the entertainment industry where he was to find life-long employment.  His first role, playing a Native American child happened in 1919 in a silent film entitled “Back to God’s Country”.  Iron Eyes Cody’s film and television career ultimately spanned the 1930’s to the 1980’s.  He claimed to be of Cherokee and Cree descent, but he needed his braided wig to become at least the image of an Indian.  Apparently, he never quite confessed to his deception and even lived to the ripe old age of 94.  Although Iron Eyes Cody was not a real Native American, he seems to have lived his life otherwise respecting the indigenous cultures.  He married a Native American woman and they adopted two Native children…one of whom became one of the best Native American musicians.  Perhaps it was the times, but I have to believe that if this ad were to be remade today that the public would insist that the Indian be at least genuine.

The Crying Indian and the Skyline of Louisville

The Crying Indian with Jugs

I didn’t feel that this figure was complete without photographing it in the context of the Falls of the Ohio where I originally found the materials that comprise it.  The addition of the white jugs became important not only because I have recently been doing a lot of outdoor assemblages using plastic containers, but returning to the fascinating story of “The Crying Indian”.  As was mentioned, this PSA was sponsored by Keep American Beautiful and the Advertising Council did the ad for free as a way of stimulating business interests in our country.  The Ad Council also created Smokey the Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog, this is your brain on drugs with the egg frying in the pan, buckle up for safety which was an early seat belt public service announcement and many more.  As for the Keep America Beautiful folks….well, they actually represented an organization consisting of  companies that produced bottles and containers of all kinds which make up a huge part of the litter you see everywhere but in the PSA crafted for them.  The Crying Indian ad is now considered a classic case of green-washing.  What occurred with this PSA was to put the responsibility for litter square on the backs of consumers and deflected any blame away from the manufacturers that produce these containers in the first place.  Once upon a time, containers were returned to their point of origin to be cleaned and reused, but there was a lot less trouble and more money to be made in convincing the public that single use containers were the way to go.  We are still in that place forty years later.  You can never underestimate the power of ad agencies to understand human behavior and psychology and use it against us to further the goals of their clients.  A good part of the shame people felt upon seeing trash being thrown at the feet of Iron Eyes Cody had to do with the subtle guilt that many people feel for displacing and persecuting the original inhabitants of this land.  That added ingredient helped make this one of the most successful public service announcements ever made.

The Crying Indian at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden, May 2016

The Crying Indian at Hidden Hill, May 2016

Here are a few images of the finished piece in place at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden.  It looks great where it’s at and I will do another story soon that will include the other sculptures I made for this occasion.  Some of them turned out very well, although they don’t quite have the back story that the figure does.  Hidden Hill is a special and beautiful place and I look forward to sharing more pictures with you.

I used Ginger Brand’s great article entitled, “The Crying Indian” that originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Orion Magazine for much of the information included in this post.  Brand really goes much farther than I could go here and I highly recommend this read.  Here is a link to that story…https://orionmagazine.org/the-crying-indian/  Another good source of information came from Priceonomics and the link to that story is http://priceonomics.com/the-true-story-of-the-crying-indian/  And, if you want to see the original one minute long public service announcement, it is available on YouTube and at the end of this post. Until next time…

Head of The Crying Indian, May 2016

 

 

 

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Louisville as seen from Indiana, March 6, 2016

The river has finally given us a reprieve from the high waters of the past month.  I  got an early start from my home in Louisville and crossed the Second Street Bridge on my way to the Falls of the Ohio.  Today, I decided to do something a little different and wandered the eastern bank of the Ohio River on the Indiana side which technically is not in the Falls of the Ohio State Park proper.  I just kept walking and walking and had no trouble filling my collecting bags with potential art materials.  Overall, it would turn out to be a good day and I managed a couple of modest projects which are the subject of this post.

View of Louisville from the Indiana bank, March 6, 2016

I walked as far east as I could without feeling like I was wandering onto private property.  I figured if someone were to challenge me, they probably wouldn’t object to me picking up the plastic and river-polished Styrofoam that soon filled up my bags.  As it turned out, I didn’t encounter a person all day long.  It could be that hiking along a muddy riverbank isn’t most people’s cup of tea, but that’s just speculation on my part!  I did come to one spot that afforded a nice view of Louisville’s skyline.  To take these pictures, I stood in what was once a creek that originally fed into the river.  That must have been some time ago, however, because the view behind me is somewhat industrial.  Now it’s a spot where the water backs up when the river is high.  Everywhere I wandered I found lots of junk mixed into a driftwood and ground up tree bark matrix.  Here are a few of the items I found that were a bit more interesting.

Plastic river corn, March 6, 2016

Here is a picture of miniature plastic river corn poking out among the woody debris.  There’s something about finding plastic plants out here that still provokes me.  I picked this corny cluster up and into the collecting bag it went to ultimately join the other fake food items that I have assembled over the years.

Plastic D.J. toy, March 6, 2016

And now for a toy figure that probably represents a disk jockey character complete with over sized jewelry and a microphone.  I don’t recognize this character and it occurs to me that I’m now hopelessly out of synch with cartoon popular culture.  My sense is that programs come and go so quickly now that the plastic crap these shows spawn far exceeds the actual life of the shows themselves.

Found plastic toy lion, March 6, 2016

Moving closer to the railroad bridge that I like to work around…I found this realistic toy lion.  I think this is an example of how you can develop “a six sense” for finding stuff, because this lion was the same color as the wood chips and debris it was mixed into.  Stuff that is neon colored like many plastic items are makes them relatively hard to miss.  Let me show you what I mean.

Plastic color spectrum arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

Here’s my latest color spectrum arrangement made from found plastic.  I gathered these components up along my walk on the riverbank just east of the park.  I found a place that was relatively sheltered by the wind that had just picked up after my arrival.  Today, I found a bit more purple than I usually come across.

Plastic color spectrum, March 6, 2016

Detail of plastic color spectrum, Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

Most of  the plastic items in this assemblage are bottles of various sorts.  This time, I did add a few “humorous” toy finds like the plastic frog and rubber duck wearing sun glasses.  Since I still had a few hours to devote to today’s walk…I decided to venture further west and into the park to see what changes the river had made and to make one other piece I had in mind.

Flip flop flower arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

Flower made from found flip flops, Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

After filling my bag up with plastic bottles, I then switched to collecting lost flip-flops.  In a relatively short amount of time I had picked up enough of these cheap sandals of varying sizes, colors, and designs to make something with.  Since this is spring and we certainly have had our share of rain…it stands to reason that flowers would soon follow.  I began my arrangement by taking the larger flip-flops and using them as the base.  Gradually, I worked towards the center overlaying and stacking the smaller sandals that a child would wear.  The result was something that I called a “Chrysanthemum” in my plastic-addled brain.

"Chrysanthemum", found flip flops at the Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

I did enjoy having a little bit more of the riverbank to explore than I have had this past month.  We still have lots of potential for rain and high water.  I think on my next trip out here I will explore what the high river has deposited in the western section of the park.  I wonder if my ball collection is still around or did that eventually get reclaimed by the river?  I guess I will need to wait until next weekend to find out.  For now, here is one last image from this trip out at the Falls of the Ohio.

Train on the bridge, Falls of the Ohio, March 6, 2016

 

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Flooded trees at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Imagine my surprise to return to the same spot I had been working at last week…only to find it underwater!  Such was the case on my latest foray to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  In the week since I was last here, we did experience one day where it pretty much rained all day long.  Still, in my experience, the intensity of that storm would not account for all the high water I was seeing during this visit.  Flooding in February is commonplace, but also usually tied to snow melt in the upper Ohio River Valley.  Perhaps what I was seeing was a combination of heavy rains upriver from Louisville and snow melt?  Regardless, this required a change in plans in the field.  I decided to go where nature would allow me to go.  In this case, high, dry land was to be found in the western section of the park.  I had to walk widely around the edge of a rising river, but this interstitial zone between wet and dry is often a very interesting place to explore.

 

Found green plastic toy Tug Boat, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Found, green plastic tug boat toy, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Among today’s discoveries includes this green plastic, tug boat that floated in with the high water.  This, however, was not the only transportation related toy that I found on my walk.  Here is something else that I came across.

Found plastic doll car, Falls of the Ohio,  Feb. 7, 2016

It’s missing two wheels, but this plastic toy car may have given a Barbie-sized doll a ride once upon a time.  How long had this piece of plastic been floating in the river?  I like to go down to the river’s edge because this is such a dynamic place.  You never know what might be washing ashore while you are there!  Soon I reached an area that was crisscrossed by downed trees and logs that had floated in which forced me away from the water and higher up on the riverbank.  That’s when I made another significant discovery.

The emergence of the Red-eyed Tortoise from it's burrow, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Detail of head of the Red-eyed Tortoise, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

As I was walking, I heard the distinctive sound of leaves rustling on the ground and I knew an animal was nearby.  I followed the sound to its source and came upon a very rare creature that appeared to be exiting an abandoned groundhog’s burrow.  I took a couple of quick photos and backed off.  This proved to be a good move since my actions did not necessitate a full-scale retreat back into the hole it was emerging from.  Hiding behind a tree, I let the tortoise take its sweet time as it fully came to the surface.  I was practically holding my breath the entire time and for good reason.  It’s not everyday that you get the opportunity to photograph and study one of the world’s rarest reptiles…the Red-eyed Tortoise (Gopherus helmeti).

Red-eyed Tortoise, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

The Red-eyed Tortoise was first discovered by naturalists early in the 19th century.  The Falls of the Ohio (and on the Indiana side of the Ohio River) is the southernmost point of this uncommon creature’s range.  Perhaps they were never plentiful to begin with?  Everything I was witnessing about this tortoise seemed to suggest that it is not only slow, but likes to take its time.  If this animal had a motto it would be something like, “Hey, what’s the big hurry”?

Red-eye Tortoise at the river's edge, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

I watched as the tortoise very deliberately walked to the water’s edge.  What I knew from books about this reptile was that it is omnivorous, but if it is hungry for live food than positioning itself near a rising river driving small animals up the bank would increase the chances of successfully catching a meal.  Unfortunately, I did not witness anything so dramatic.  In fact, during my time in the presence of this tortoise…I did not see it eat or drink at all.

Red-eyed Tortoise and Cottonwood tree roots, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

Red-eyed Tortoise, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

The tortoise lingered at the edge of the river for a while.  It very deliberately examined the driftwood.  Perhaps this was part of its hunting strategy?  There was something I was very curious about and it had to do with the temperature.  Most reptiles are cold-blooded and require the sun’s energy to warm them up.  Was this also true for this tortoise?  Although it was warmer today, it was still far from spring-like temperatures and so how was this reptile able to deal with the coolness?  The secret resides in its unique shell design and composition.  During the colder days, the tortoise’s carapace is made from a hard, foam-like material that not only protects it from blows, but also insulates and retains what heat this animal is able to generate.  In the warmer weather months, special vents in the carapace do the reverse and provide cooling ports that keep the tortoise from overheating.

Red-eyed Tortoise with found plastic bottles, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

I did catch one other puzzling behavior and it was in connection with a cache of river-born plastic bottles that had accumulated next to a large, downed log.  The tortoise appeared to initially be interested in them, but one sniff had our hard-shelled friend reacting adversely and it moved as quickly as it could away from that area.  I did not personally check out these plastic bottles, but I theorized that one of them was probably still carrying its toxic, noxious contents that the tortoise picked up on?  Regardless, it did beat a retreat away from the river and I followed from a respectful distance.

The Red-eyed Tortoise returning to its burrow, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 7, 2016

The last view I had of the Red-eyed Tortoise had it going head-first back down into its winter burrow.  There was a brief “flurry” of legs as dirt and leaves were used by the tortoise to seal the hole back up.  I made a mental note of the area where this burrow is located, but also realized that with the advent of warmer weather…this whole section of woods would transform in practically unrecognizable ways.  Perhaps this is for the best because even with the purest of intentions, I would not want any undo harm to come to it by drawing unnecessary attention to it.  I would be very selective about who I would tell about this tortoise’s existence and even more careful about who would see the images I made of it.  Of course, I hope I will get the chance to see it again, but I’m also prepared to have this be the one and only time I had this direct experience with it.  With the tortoise secure again, I collected my belongings and with the sun setting on my back…started on the long hike back home.  It had been a very special day and one that I would savor for some time to come.

Sun down at a flooded Falls of the Ohio State Park, Feb. 7, 2016

 

 

 

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First snow at the park, Jan. 12, 2016

The new year is off to an auspicious start.  First we had a bit of minor flooding that rearranged the park and the new and improved Interpretive Center has successfully opened.  I was curious to see what the river had left behind and make my first foray upon the riverbank and fossil beds.  On the day I had prepared to venture forth, well, it snowed the night before and covered many areas with a light dusting of what looks like confectioner’s sugar upon the landscape.

Artist at Exit 0 in winter gear, Jan. 12, 2016, Falls of the Ohio

I come prepared…mostly.  Even covered up, I could feel the wind and the cold which was blowing hard enough that it made my eyes water.  Reaching into my trusty Dutch field jacket, I pull out my vintage “Wind-Dodger” goggles and put them on.  I came across these goggles still new in their 1950’s box at a favorite junk store that is now gone.  They were manufactured by the Kono Manufacturing Co., of Woodside, N.Y.  I think the graphics on the side of the box sold me as to their value.  Printed in red ink it read:

“The scientific construction of the Wind-Dodger fits the natural contours of the features-providing maximum exclusion of wind and rain and all foreign particles in the air.  The elastic tape holds the Wind-Dodger firmly in place under every condition of work and play in all kinds of weather.”  I am a big believer in the value of science.

Further more, printed on the side of the box, was added they were suitable “For Work” and “For Play” and would be useful to railroad men, farmers, mechanics, construction workers, as they engage in sailing, hunting, fishing, flying, skiing, and driving.  It was a natural leap for me to assume that they would also be perfect for a river junk artist like yours truly.  One thing that the Kono Manufacturing Co. forgot to say is that they also steam up inside the goggles and require frequent drying.  Still, they prove to be better than nothing.

The scarf I’m wearing is the oldest piece of clothing I own.  It was given to me by a friend and artistic mentor back in the mid 1970’s and somehow I have held on to it over the years.  I realize that with a lot of the clothing I own…I can be ridiculously sentimental.

Snow on driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

The biting wind and cold are a concern, but so is the footing.  The snow covers up a multitude of sins that cannot be seen.  It is still slippery out here and in places the mud hasn’t completely frozen.  Much of what I think I can find out here will remain hidden until warmer weather returns.  But, I’m out here anyway and so I make a quick walk around some familiar places and record what I can with my camera phone.

Bent over willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

I discover that a favorite willow tree is now almost completely bent over and resting on the ground.  A huge log that the river deposited on top of this tree has shattered one of its main branches.  I suspect that it is not long for the world.  Spring flooding will repeat this battering process and I assume the tree’s prognosis is not good.  Of course, there are other things that present themselves in this frigid landscape that rode in with the high waters.

Purple plastic rocking toy, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

My eye is immediately drawn to this purple plastic “dragon” rocking toy.  I find another giant reptile reference on the rocks nearest the river and here it is.

Plastic dinosaur, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

This plastic sauropod arrived in a fresh water wave.  I believe this species was formerly called “Brontosaurus”, but has been renamed “Apatosaurus” since it was discovered that an earlier scientific find gave the new name priority over the older, more familiar name.  I briefly allow myself to soak in the irony of finding an object made from ancient petroleum that washed up on these even older fossil beds that references this prehistoric animal.  Heady stuff indeed!  Nearby, was my next find that continued this line of thinking.

Plastic, Shoveler duck decoy, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

And, what happened to some of the dinosaurs?  It is believed that they evolved into birds.  Right on cue, I find this plastic duck decoy!  It represents the male Northern Shoveler, (Anas clypeata).  I have found many other plastic duck decoys out here, but this is the first for this pretty species.  The winter river at the Falls of the Ohio is a good place to see different duck species.  In fact, winter may be the only time of year to see many of them.  The river is steaming because the actual water temperature is warmer that the surrounding air, but the wind is a little fiercer too.  I decide to keep walking and soon come across an old project I did from last year.

Site specific, green plastic bottle assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

Site specific, green plastic bottle project, Jan. 12, 2016

snow-covered, green plastic bottles, Jan. 12, 2016

I created this site specific piece using green plastic bottles after last year’s flooding.  It was sited high upon a big mound of driftwood that was too big for this recent minor flooding to affect much.  Originally, I had filled the underside of what I think is the remains of a boat dock with the green bottles.  Time has shifted the bottles to the bottom of the wood form.

snow-covered vines, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

While the snow is beautiful and transforming as these snow-covered vines can attest to….it is also getting ridiculously cold!  The fingers on my right hand hurt and sting from the cold because I have to take my glove off to operate my camera.  Soon images of a hot cup of coffee began to intrude upon my winter reverie.  It’s time to go home, but there was yet one more very pleasant surprise waiting in store for me.

Styro-Snowman in snow, Falls of the Ohio, jan. 2016

Styro-Snowman, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

As I was heading back to the parking lot…I came across an old friend whom I was happy to see!  We first met at the Falls on an absurdly warm day in December when the temperatures were in the low 70 degree range!  I had photographed him as he was decorating river trees in advance of the holiday season.  My old Styro-Snowman buddy was just beaming!  At last, he was in his element and I’m so happy that his patience was rewarded.  Not wanting to intrude too much in his special moment, I bid farewell and took this parting shot as I left the river.  Stay warm everybody…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Styro-Snowman in his element, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

 

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After the last high waters, late July, 2015

Eventually, the water does go back down and reveals after the fact, all the newest changes that the river has made in the park.  You saw part of that in my last post with the way one favorite willow tree has been shaped by this latest event.  In many places in the park, you can find logs that floated here from some potentially far away places.

Stranded logs on the wier dam wall, with the City of Louisville in the background, late July 2015. Falls of the Ohio

Just a few weeks earlier, I posted images of Asian carp jumping over this very same spot.  The walls of the dam were no obstacle then.  Now the dam has been “graced” with many logs that were stranded along the top.  They will stay here until the next flooding event or until something else shifts the balance.

My green bottle piece after the latest flood, late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Because this is summer and we have experienced so much rain, all the vegetation is really lush.  Familiar paths are overgrown and the heat and humidity seem trapped at ground level.  I am completely sweaty in no time at all.  I went and checked out the green bottle piece I had made many weeks a go and it is still relatively in place.  I assembled it on top of a large driftwood mound that this latest bout of high water was unable to fully reach.  I can tell that the mound has shifted some and all of the bottles have settled within the upturned boat dock.  Now, the entire mound is covered in vines.  This makes it especially tricky to walk over.  I snapped a few pictures and moved to the safety of the riverbank.  There are lots of areas to explore and who knows what we shall find?

River coconut, Late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Slogging through the mud and wetness along the river’s edge, I make this amazing discovery.  It’s a River coconut!  I wonder what the tree that produced this hairy fruit looks like?  Since much of the water that reaches us here flows from the north downward, I imagine that this is one hardy tree.  I guess the coconut’s shagginess is a coping mechanism for cold winters?  As we walk, there are more discoveries to be made.

Giant toy watch or ?, late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Further down the riverbank I encounter this object.  I am holding it as I am because initially, I thought this was an extra-large toy wristwatch minus the hands and numbers.  Since I have been able to examine it more closely from the leisure of my home…I am now thinking that this is a child’s pro wrestling inspired championship belt?  All the glued on rhinestones must have fallen off while the river carried it away from wherever it originated from.

Broken, blue plastic dolphin riding toy, late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Walking further west…I discover the remains of a riding toy.  This is a blue plastic dolphin that came to rest in the Willow Habitat.  There are more plastic items to find.  Next was perhaps my favorite find of the day.

River patinated, plastic doll shoe, late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

This is so small, that I’m surprised I spotted it among all the other small items both natural and artificial.  It’s of course a plastic doll shoe, but this one has a nice patina acquired from being in the river for a while.  I still find many dolls and doll parts, but this little doll accessory is a rare find.  Unfortunately, there is also plenty of other plastic in the park that isn’t so hard to find.  Here’s one such example as I found it in place.

Plastic jugs in a mud puddle, Late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Three plastic bottles and containers rest in a pretty disgusting looking puddle.  The orange color is actually something I find occurring here naturally and may be due to some red oxide that exists below the many levels of clay and sand.  Of late, I have been collecting various plastic bottles and creating other site specific pieces with them.  On this particular day, I made a relatively small one due to time constraints.  I have often found that it is good to have some limits with this river art.  Simply, there are so many things one can work with and I have added to my vocabulary of forms and materials slowly over the years.

Plastic bottle composition, heavy with the black, Falls of the Ohio, late July 2015

detail of colorful bottle piece, Falls of the Ohio, late July 2015

Like some of my previous efforts, I chose a particularly promising area that seemed to have a “wealth” of plastic bottles and containers.  I then set out to find colorful examples to make an assemblage with.  I like contrasting the high artificiality of these bright objects with the more subdued organic efforts of Mother Nature.  The high-keyed colors are often cheery.  I think that even on a subconscious level, we recognize the former products that were in these bottles even without their original labels which have washed away.  From our own household experiences and uses, we are reassured by the soap that will clean our clothes or the oil that keeps our engines humming and in good condition.  That’s where the tension lies in these simple assemblages…we know that this is far from the case.   Since we now know that these containers and the products they once held were extracted from nature at great cost.  In the aftermath of use…that cost continues as the packaging is disposed of irresponsibly.  This particular artwork is heavy on the black which influences things as well.  I simply found more black containers on this day and used them.  After a few photographs, I picked up my collecting bags and headed home exhausted from slogging through the mud, heat, and humidity.  I’ll leave this post with one more view from the Indiana side of the Ohio River.  On the way home, I noticed a small flock of Canada Geese gliding past the skyline of Louisville and the river seemed at peace for the moment.  Catch you later from the Falls of the Ohio.

Skyline of Louisville with Canada Geese swimming, Late July 2015

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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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debris field, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

April’s tale was of a high Ohio River and rain fall for the record books. Twice the river rose to flood stage before subsiding back into its muddy banks.  Left in its now drying wake are trash mounds and islands of wood and debris that were pushed and floated upon the water’s surface by wind and current.  In this mish mash of culture and nature I carefully pick my way over and through the debris fields at the Falls of the Ohio.  All along the riverbank, the dull and muddy colored wood contrasts with the reflected light from hundreds of plastic bottles and chunks of bright white Styrofoam.

Large blue plastic egg among other river debris, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

I picked a great day to visit the river.  As soon as I arrived in the park, I could hear several newly arrived male Northern Orioles calling back and forth through the tall cottonwood trees.  I even found several eggs.  Here is a large blue plastic egg nestled in shredded tree bark and plastic bottles.  I also found a muddy, but real Canada goose egg now too cool to incubate. There was an adult goose hanging out near me and I suspect some early nesters had their clutch washed away by the second flood.  I decided with so much brightly colored plastic scattered all over this woody mound…I wondered if I could put any of it to use?

detail, yellow plastic trash, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

As you can see in this detail image…I decided to concentrate on the color yellow.  I stayed within a certain area and collected all the yellow objects on this driftwood mound.  It was tricky work because the footing was not good.  Several times I sank to my hip as my leg would go through the loosely tangled branches, dirt, and logs.

I call this piece “Yellow Concentrate”.  It consists of mostly plastic, quart-sized oil containers along with a few larger laundry detergent jugs.  There are a few odd items as well.  I found three rubber ducks on today’s adventure and used two of them here.  I used a bowl-like depression in the driftwood as my setting to assemble and sort through the junk.  I was glad to have the wooden platform in the foreground because it was also easy on the feet.

Landscape view with "Yellow Concentrate" facing railroad bridge, April 2015

 This site gave me potential for a few good views.  Here is “Yellow Concentrate” with the railroad bridge in the background.

"Yellow Concentrate" with the City of Louisville across the river. April 2015

Now here’s the same piece with the skyline of the City of Louisville on the southern shore.  All that massed yellow really pops you in the eye.  Individually, all these yellow plastic containers barely registered scattered across the debris field, but it’s a different story when you bring them together.  Feeling pretty good about yellow…I decided to next try a different color.

"Blue Extract", Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

As I was collecting all the yellow containers…I was also sorting out the blue ones and throwing them in the driftwood bowl.  On a nearby fallen, diagonally leaning tree trunk…I arranged my collection.  The big blue Easter egg is near the center.  As I worked on “Blue Extract”, the hole I was standing in kept getting wider and deeper.

"Blue Extract", Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Most of these containers are plastic oil and liquid detergent bottles, but I mixed a few aerosol cans in as well.  In this line are seven plastic and rubber balls.  One last project before calling it a day.  I stayed in the same area and pulled aside all the lost flip-flops I encountered.  I laid them all out on the white surface of a metal refrigerator that had floated in here with the last flood.  It looked like the Shoe Shaman had been this way too.

lost flip-flops on the side of a refridgerator, April 2015

Sandal Arc, found objects from the Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

The stark whiteness of the fallen refrigerator reminded me of the white pedestals that you would find in an official gallery.  I organized the lost foot wear from smallest to largest, left to right.  I soon left for home with a hefty collecting bag full of “river treasure” and a camera loaded with images.  Every thing else was left in place.  I will come back when the river level drops a little bit more and the fudge-like mud has had the chance to harden in the sun.  There is still so much more to explore in the park and can see myself keeping busy for the rest of the year.  Here’s one last look over the shoulder at today’s location at the Falls of the Ohio.  I realized after the fact, that the found milk crate I used to move materials around was so bright red that it holds its place among the yellow and blue.  Until next time!

Site of this day's activity, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

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