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.
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?
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.