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Posts Tagged ‘recycled art’

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The Falls of the Ohio State Park is a place of discovery.  So many new lifeforms have been described by science in the Devonian limestone fossil beds alone.  And of course, the Lewis and Clark Expedition which both began and ended at the Falls of the Ohio did much to help illuminate the breath of this country.  Magic keeps occurring in this amazing place and the following post is about one such recent and personal find…meet the aptly named “Smiling Tortoise”.

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The Smiling Tortoise or Clemmys helmeti  is a very rare terrestrial turtle now found in just one location in the world which is the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It was once presumed extinct.  Since being designated an Indiana state park…this elusive reptile has been seen more often in the last ten years than in the previous hundred years before the park came into existence.  Perhaps the added protective status has emboldened it to show itself more?  Park visitors have supplied a steady, if still infrequent sightings of it to the staff at the Interpretive Center.  Over the years, I have learned the best way to find something is to not look for it.  That was certainly true in the case of the Smiling Tortoise.  Although I have always wanted to see a living example, it took 14 years of patience before I came across one last November.

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We have experienced the warmest and driest Fall season I have ever lived through in the Kentuckiana area.  On such a warm November day, I happened upon a specimen that was gorging on bracket fungi growing on a decayed log.  In my enthusiasm, I took plenty of images and perhaps got a little too close by picking this one up to examine it.  I wanted to check out its shell on its belly or plastron to see if this individual had been tagged by the park naturalists when I carelessly picked one up.  Despite its benign appearance, it possesses a strong bite from a large mouth and its neck can move whip-like as it turns to defend itself from a threat.  I count myself lucky not to have lost a digit, still it bit me!

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I cut myself with my trusty Swiss Army knife or get poked by something else sharp out here every once in a while and so I have a small supply of bandages that I always keep with me.  Forewarned, but not undaunted, I carefully held the turtle by the top of its domed carapace and held it so it couldn’t reach me.  Above, it is all white, but underneath, there is a little color.  I didn’t have my measuring tape with me, but it’s roughly the size of your head.  Here’s what the ventral side of the Smiling Tortoise looks like.

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This marvelous creature sports a yellow tail which is stained by the turtle’s own urine and by a particularly musky gland found at the tail’s base.  The plastron has this unusual design and its concavity told me it was a male.  The reason for the slight indentation is to give a bit more of a “foot hold” when attempting to mate with the female of the species which of course, also possesses a domed shell.  This specimen exhibited healed wounds on its feet perhaps when a predator decided to try to eat it?  The fact that this one was still around testifies to the ability of this turtle to take care of itself.  When I showed the park naturalists my images, they were pleasantly surprised to see that this specimen did not have an identification tag on it.  So, this turtle was new even to them!

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After carefully releasing the turtle, I moved away to a discreet distance to see what would happened next?  I followed it as it moved through the woods investigating every groundhog hole and space around the trees and rocks, but what was it searching for?

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Since this is still a cold-blooded animal, the unseasonably warm weather perhaps roused it from its winter hibernation or perhaps it was still looking for that perfect den or burrow in which to over winter?  Not finding anything suitable, the Smiling Tortoise left the riverbank and headed back into the woods.

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Along the way, I was able to observe a few additional behaviors.  For the longest time, this tortoise regarded a hunk of river-polished Styrofoam.  I saw it poke the waste polystyrene both with its head and front feet.  When it didn’t respond, the Smiling Tortoise moved on.  This next image is going to be a little harder to explain…take a look.

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Well, your guess is as good as mine on this one!  Even the park naturalists were at a loss.  Something about this discarded large bottle of sports drink that floated into here from who knows where stimulated this behavior.  The turtle unable to mate with this bottle left the area in obvious disgust as it hissed its disapproval.  This was the only sound I heard it make.

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With the day drawing to a close, I decided to say good-bye and good luck to my scaly acquaintance.  I picked up my hiking gear and collecting bags and turned around and headed toward the Interpretive Center.  I was feeling stoked by the experience!  I hope the turtle eventually found an acceptable burrow and is fast asleep as a gentle snow now falls in Louisville.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

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Landscape at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I have always felt that if you did the research, you must publish your results.  Here it is the tail-end of July and what?? not a single post this month from the Artist at Exit 0!  Of course I have been out to the river on a couple of occasions and had a wonderful time.  So far, it has been a relatively easy summer.  We haven’t had spells of daily high temperatures pushing a hundred degrees that have marked some previous summers.  Knock on wood.  Every year and every season is different and 2016 will no doubt climatically distinguish itself locally in some way before this annual orbit around the sun is history.

Trumpet Creeper Vine, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

According to the WordPress folks, this is Riverblog post #450!  They are much better at keeping count than I am and so I will trust them on that.  I mention this not in the way of a boast, but rather from personal amazement that I have found enough content out in the Falls of the Ohio State Park to help keep it going!  I have a good friend who is also an artist and he used to blog on WordPress.  He stopped writing right around his 500th post!  He became a little disappointed that it was so time-consuming and didn’t lead to more sales or artistic opportunities.  I guess he also got to a point where he had said everything he wanted to say?  This post will combine a couple of river adventures together and is set for the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s getting to be high summer.  I can tell by the heat and the blooming trumpet creeper vines growing on some of the cottonwood trees.  Have you ever noticed that many of these trumpet creeper flowers have large ants in them?

Purple loosestrife at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Where moist conditions are prevalent out here, you will find great patches of Purple loosestrife plants growing under the cottonwoods and willows.  The loosestrife is by far more common in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio.  Despite being a very invasive species, they do add a beautiful pinkish-lavender color to the landscape and insects (particularly butterflies) seem to love their nectar.

Cabbage White butterfly on Purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Late June 2016

I am sure to visit this area several times while the loosestrife flowers continue to bloom.  Over the last several years, I have come across more butterfly species feeding off of these flowers including many swallowtail species (Tiger, Black Swallowtail, Spicebush, Pipevine, and Giant Swallowtail).  These flowers are also favored by several different skippers which occupy this strange position between being true butterflies and true moths.  It seems skippers possess qualities of both lepidoptera groups.  Here is a nice Silver-spotted Skipper ( Epargyreus clarus ) I came across also feeding on the odd blooms of a Cephalanthus buttonbush.

Silver-spotted skipper, Falls of the Ohio, Late June 2016

There were other butterflies out on this sunny day, but I didn’t get good pictures of all of them.  I did see my first Red Admirals of the year.  I did manage this image of a Tawny Emperor ( Asterocampa clyton ) butterfly using the camera on my cell phone.  It takes a bit of stealth to get the phone near enough to take a good image without scaring your subject away.  Over the past two years, I’ve become accustomed to taking my cell phone with me on my trips to the river.  I love that the device is so small, lightweight, and fits in my pocket and gives me a few more options than the digital SLR that I have.  I have to imagine that these little digital cameras are just going to continue to get better and even more useful.

Summer time butterfly at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I am also on the alert for any bird movements or sounds in the area.  On this expedition to the Falls of the Ohio I scored big by sighting two new bird species for my life list and getting decent pictures of both to show to any of you unbelievers out there!  After walking in direct sunlight for over an hour, I decided to cool off by walking in the shade of the large cottonwood trees that grow along the edge of the river.  I especially like the way this cottonwood tree fills the whole photo frame.  When these trees release their fluffy, light seeds it can almost appear as though it is snowing in slow motion.  The cotton fluff builds up and forms wind aided drifts on the ground.

Large, Cottonwood tree, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I had directed my reverie up into the canopy of the trees when an unfamiliar bird flew just above my head.  This bird is fast and I got a quick sensation of colors…light blue, white, and green.  I was extremely lucky to get such good pictures of it in full flight.  Check out how the tail feathers help with lift and aerial maneuvering…perfect for high-speed flight between the tree trunks.

The Mosquito bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I was elated when I realized that what just went whizzing by my ear is a species I have not seen in the park before.  It has a couple of common names.  Some people refer to it as the Cumberland Mockingbird (Mimus appalachians ) and around here I’ve heard people call it a “Mosquito bird”.  This specimen was actively picking off in midair several small flies that I could detect in the sunshine flying over my sweaty head.  The thought occurred to me that this bird and the Zika mosquito have moved into our area at about the same time.

The Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Diving Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

The Cumberland Mockingbird seemed to be able to “read” the air and wind currents around structures like trees and high river banks.  I observed it daringly flying and diving very near objects in its pursuit of an insectivorous meal. I saw it chasing another Falls of the Ohio specialty, the Eastern-eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus ).  This is the largest member of the click beetle family and can get 2 1/2 inches long.  It is said that its cryptic coloring is meant to mimic bird droppings.  As it happened this beetle was able to escape becoming the Cumberland Mockingbird’s lunch by hiding under some loose tree bark.

Eastern-Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

These click beetles always seem to be out at the Falls of the Ohio during the summer months.  They are harmless as adults.  Their larvae grows in decaying wood and are carnivorous.  Our area usually has an abundance of decomposing wood because of periodic flooding and the water-logged trunks that come with it.  I decided to move out of the shade because the mosquitoes were catching up with me and using me for snacks.  Not even an actively feeding Mosquito bird could turn these small flies away from their blood mission.

Dodo of the Ohio, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Dodo of the Ohio in courtship display, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Returning to the sunlight seemed to do the trick of chasing the noisome insects away.  I moved away from the shade of the trees and returned to the intermittent light by the fossil outcroppings nearer the riverbank.  All was right with the world.  A cormorant was swimming in the river as an osprey flew overhead with fish in talons.  I was happily engaged in my little world…when I heard the most unusual animal call of all.  I just had to find out what could make such a mournful noise!  I found a likely spot along a trail and just went quiet and motionless.  If the gods were with me then I had a good chance of seeing this mystery animal which was continuing its two-syllable call as it drew nearer to me.

Dodo of the Ohio with Passionflower and fruit, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

Dodo of the Ohio and Passionflower, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

There was a movement low to the ground and a parting of vegetation when a dingy white bird emerged onto the trail in front of me.  It puffed its body up and displayed its tail feathers in a showy fan.  A few wiry blue feathers on his head forms a crest that moves and down with the hopping dancing motion this species requires for courtship.  With a certain amount of fanfare, my first ever “Dodo of the Ohio” ( Pseudo dodo kentuckiana ) let itself be known that it was looking for companionship.  I had also found it in the context of a flowering and fruiting Passion flower vine ( Passiflora ) growing over the sand.  A pair of round, green fruits seemed to be the object of the dodo’s attention.  Our dodo is not at all related to the extinct species, but it is far from being a common bird.  Fortunately, it can fly, albeit weakly.  This at least keeps it off the ground while it sleeps at night.  I watched the dodo for several more minutes before it flew off.  The chance meeting of these two exotics was an amazing and unforgettable happening that helped make July an incredible month.  See you again sometime soon from the Falls of the Ohio.

Passionflower vine, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

 

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At Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden in Utica, Indiana, May 2016

In many ways this post is a continuation of my last published one on “The Crying Indian”.  I made that sculpture for this occasion which was a cart-blanch invitation from owner Bob Hill to place my river art in the context of eight acres of wonderful plantings that include many unusual and rare plants.  My work is far from the more durable art made from metal or stone that you would expect to see in a garden, but I’m always interested in placing my art in a less than typical gallery situations.  Hidden Hill is located in the tiny town of Utica, Indiana very near the Ohio River and not too far from my home in Louisville, KY.  To be on the grounds of Hidden Hill is a true delight and it’s easy to imagine that you are in a far more remote place than you actually are.

Bob Hill at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden, May 2016

Bob Hill is a well-known personality in our area.  He was a long-time columnist for Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper which in the days before Gannett took over was a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper with a big and loyal following.  Bob is now “retired” from the paper, but he is still an active author of books and articles and a big advocate for the joys of gardening.  When he opened Hidden Hill with his wife Janet, he realized that if they were going to compete against the big box stores selling bedding plants and more that they needed interesting stock that you just can’t find anywhere else.  Garden aficionados know who he is and will travel throughout our region to see what new specialties he is cultivating.  At the opening of my show, two gardeners who traveled from a distant Kentucky county went home with one of the two Franklinia alatamaha trees that Bob had in stock.  The Franklin Tree was named after Benjamin Franklin and is a small flowering tree that is now extinct in the wild and was last seen in its natural habitat during the early part of the 19th century.  A few timely cuttings and seeds taken upon discovery have kept this pretty tree alive to the present day.

Welded and painted metal flowers at Hidden Hill, May 2016

Great plants are not the only attraction at Hidden Hill.  Bob’s idea was to create a destination that would also be fun to visit and he has invited many artists over the years to place work on his property.  If there is one word that would describe the kind of garden art that Bob likes it would be “whimsical” and his grounds are full of examples.  Hill is fond of creating mini-environments where the plants and art work in concert with one another.

Man made from welded and painted watering cans by James Voyles, HIdden Hill, May 2016

I love this figure made by artist Jerry Voyles out of welded and painted watering cans.  Voyles is particularly well-represented at Hidden Hill.  Other area artists of note who have work at Bob’s place include Matt Weir, Caren Cunningham, John McCarthy, Jeff Reinhardt, Samantha Grifith & Jen Pellerin, Joe Autry, and many more including yours truly now.

Earth Knight by Albertus Gorman, at Hidden Hill, May 2016

This is another of my newer sculptures made for this show.  I call this one “Earth Knight” and it is made completely from materials I scavenged off of the riverbank at the Falls of the Ohio State Park this year.  “Earth Knight” is about 7 1/2 feet tall and is mostly made from Styrofoam.  The body is embellished with the bottoms of aluminum cans which turns out to be the strongest part of the can.  Often, it is the only part of a can left after the river has its way with it.  Embedded among the can bottoms is a plastic gray heart that I also found at the river.  I thought the head seemed somewhat “helmet-like” and I went with that idea for the whole figure.  The Earth after all is in desperate need of defenders and protectors.  Other materials used in this piece include found plastic, driftwood, and coal which are in both eyes.  This piece is located next to a marvelous Weeping Katsura Tree and a large evergreen which form the perfect background for this piece.  Here are some other views of this work.

"Earth Knight" detail, May 2016

"Earth Knight" reflected in a mirror mounted on a tree, Hidden Hill, May 2016

When I sited this figure, I wanted to see if I could work with the mirrors that were mounted by another artist on a nearby tree.  This was the best of those images that shows “Earth Knight” in context, but reversed due to the reflection.  Here is another recent big piece.  I call this figure “Flora” and the numerous flower references on her are why she has this name.  Again everything I have used was found at the river.

"Flora", found materials from the Falls of the Ohio, at Hidden Hill, May 2016

Head of "Flora", at Hidden Hill, May 2016

“Flora” speaks the language of flowers and I have numerous found references from the Falls of the Ohio on “her”.  The main material is river-polished Styrofoam and the body was also found this year.  I also found the plastic planter with the bright pink sand shovel and was delighted when I came across a large root that I could use as an “arm” to hold these two elements with ease.  I have embedded found rubber balls around her waist line.  “Flora” is the second largest piece I have out at Hidden Hill and is about 6 1/2 feet tall.  Again all the elements that comprise her including the wooden base were found at the Falls of the Ohio.  One good aspect about my art is that I spend nearly nothing for art supplies because the world is already full of free stuff all around you.  “Flora” has a silk flower emerging from her mouth that was also found by the river and has traveled some unknown distance to finally reach this place.  And now, for the last of the four large works I have out in Bob’s gardens.

Detail of head of "Figure Holding a Red Ball", Hidden Hill, May 2016

Detail, side view of "Figure Holding a Red Ball", Hidden Hill, May 2016

"Figure Holding a Red Ball", Hidden Hill, May 2016

The smaller of the four new garden pieces is this one entitled “Figure with a Red Ball” which is about 5 feet tall.  Among the materials used in its construction include Styrofoam, plastic, coal, a glass marble, driftwood, and aluminum.  This piece has a very different “persona” from the other new figures I have made for Hidden Hill.  I do have other works on display and Bob has a covered shed where he let me set up several other more portable works from my Falls series.  Here’s a glimpse at that display.

Other river art on display by Al Gorman at Hidden Hill, May 2016

River art display, Hidden Hill, May 2016

So far, I’ve given a short tour for visitors and did a demonstration where I made a small, absurd figure from found river materials.  It was a cold and rainy day when the show opened, but some intrepid souls came out to say hello which I appreciate greatly!  I love that there is no definitive ending date and the figures in the shed will be available to be seen for about a month.  Certainly, not the art world as usual!  I will probably leave a couple of the larger figures out at Hidden Hills for a longer indeterminate time.  Bob and Janet’s place is open Thursdays through Sundays and by appointment.  If you are curious to learn more about their plant nursery here is the link to their website: http://www.hiddenhillnursery.com  I have since continued my river forays to the Falls of the Ohio and I look forward to presenting those posts on this blog.  Thanks for checking this out!  Until next time…

Back view of "The Crying Indian" at Hidden Hills Nursery and Sculpture Garden in Utica, IN, May 2016

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Plastic Thumb Moth, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Beyond the Woodland Loop Trail in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio is where today’s river adventure finds me.  It has been many months since I last visited this side of the park.  I have been looking forward to walking on the driftwood that accumulates on this riverbank.  As always, I’ve got my trusty walking stick and collecting bag with me.  It’s time to find what there is to find and make something from that.  Right away, I found this plastic butterfly or moth (fireworks perhaps?) and enjoyed taking several images of it juxtaposed with the riverbank landscape.  Just a quick look around and I can see lots of plastic and polystyrene to potentially use.  I will also keep my eyes open for a good site to do one of my plastic arrangements that I have been having fun with of late.

Brown Bagging it, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I was fairly confident that I would find as much plastic debris on this shoreline as I had found in the eastern section of the park.  That would prove to be correct and I brought an extra collecting bag along to help with the gathering process.  I have been enjoying organizing the colorful plastic bottles and containers that I find into mostly chromatic and rainbow-inspired arrangements.  The driftwood and sand out here is unified in coloring presenting a monochromatic landscape where bright, colorful plastic notes sing out among all these lost trees.  You soon realize as you sort out the plastic from the driftwood, how much of our material culture is intermixed into everything else.

Found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan 30, 2016

Colorful, found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

After walking the high water line for a couple of hours, I dumped all the colorful plastic I had collected onto the sand.  I thought I had picked a good location that was between the water and the riverbank.   I picked up a nice plastic milk crate along the way to assist with the gathering.  I notice that I usually pick up intact items preferring them over plastic bits and pieces…although, I will use fragments too especially if they are a hard to come by color.  Most all of the plastic bottles and containers I find have had their labels washed off by the river.  I put a lot of trust in the cleaning power of millions of gallons of water.

Sorting plastic by color, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Using the patterns and intervals of driftwood that the river had previously laid down here as a supporting structure where today’s found plastic is sorted by color and staged.  Here is where you might find out that you picked up more green bottles than yellow or that purple was that day’s hard to find color.

Found plastic on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Here’s a view looking eastward with a bit of the skyline of Louisville suggested through the distant trees.  From my experience, fewer people visit this section of the park and many who do often prove to be residents of Clarksville which is just over the flood wall.  Let’s show a few more images of how this piece rounded into shape.

Western Park Plastic Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Western Park Plastic Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I like the big wooden beam lying parallel to the plastic.  Not all the driftwood out here is of the wild variety.  I find lumber cut-offs and planed planks of all kinds and have used them in my art as well.  These shots were taken on a beautiful end of the month day where we had a respite from the cold and grayness.

Western park plastic arrangement, Jan. 30, 2016

There was one large blue plastic drum that was buried in the sand and had water in it as well.  I didn’t like how it intruded into these pictures and so tried to take it away.  Well, it was much too heavy for one person to life out of the sand.  Fortunately, among the few people I did see on this day were old river rat friends who gave me a hand with this.  The blue drum nearly folded in half takes its position at the end of the line.

Variation on an image, Western Park Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30,2016

detail of Western Park Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I hung around and admired all the bright colors as they revealed themselves in a setting sun.  I think this is the most complex plastic assemblage (as far as variety and number of individual pieces used goes) that I have made thus far.  I will go ahead and tell you that this work no longer exists except as digital images.  Over the past week, we had strong rain storms that went through the Ohio Valley resulting in a high river.  Although the rains didn’t affect us directly, all the water that was dropped into the watershed caused it to inundate many of the familiar places on the riverbank that I like to work.  The river has been unpredictable of late and I have had at least three new projects washed away.  As I walked home, I did find an interesting bottle that I walked over before.  I’m fairly sure this is Fred Flintstone based on the diamond pattern on his “garment”.  A quick inquiry over the internet yielded some results.  This find was originally part of a four plastic baby bottle set that featured Fred, Barney, and their kids Pebbles and BamBam.  This vintage baby product was more than likely manufactured between 1977 and 1984!  I wonder if its possible for my find to be that old?  Judging from the wear and tear and severe fading…that’s a distinct possibility.  Happy with my new find…I dropped it into my collecting bag.  I think it is the unusual items I come across that make this such a fun way to spend time at the river.  With the sun going down, the temperatures are getting cooler…time to go home.  Until next time from an ever-changing Falls of the Ohio.

Very faded Fred Flintstone character plastic baby bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Fred Flintstone baby bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

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Detail, Western Petroleum Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

Hot, sticky, and the humidity had me sweating the moment I entered the park.  Today’s outing seemed more like an extreme sport than an attempt at art making.  I decided to focus my efforts in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I knew the recent flooding we had experienced would more than likely deposit a lot of junk and debris along the driftwood cluttered shoreline.  I was right about that, but first I had to “earn it”.  To access the shoreline in this area of the park required going over, under, and around large trees that had either blown over by high winds or were undermined by the soil being washed away from the riverbank.

Driftwood on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

One thing I noticed being in this section of the park…was that all the purple loosestrife seemed to be gone.  Normally, one can expect to find a whole host of butterfly and other insect species sipping nectar from the colorful flowers.  On this expedition, I did not see one bloom from this admittedly invasive species.  I think the Ohio River’s recent bouts of high water must have affected them?  I find this somewhat unusual since I associate them with growing in very damp areas.  Perhaps in their case, too much of a good thing is actually a bad thing?  I will do some research to see if my hunch is true.  Regardless of no purple loosestrife, there were plenty of vines to snag and trip over making the footing tricky…as if the soft mud and irregular surfaces of the driftwood weren’t enough of a challenge!

My walking stick and found plastic items, early August, 2015, Falls of the Ohio

With the hot sun beating on me, I faithfully search the riverbank and collected the colorful discarded items that were first “gifted” to the river and then to me.  Walking from one promising area to another…I found enough plastic junk to make my next site specific piece.  Here’s another look at some of the objects that I found on this day.

River junk, Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

The really bright and colorful plastic objects virtually scream at you when you bother to pay attention.  Otherwise, it’s all just part of the material crap we create and dispose of indiscriminately.  Maybe because I’m looking for this kind of thing…I see it more easily.  I’ve trained my eye to spot the unnatural colors mixed among the gray and brown tones of the driftwood.  I decided to set up a display in a particularly promising area between two debris fields that was also close to the river.  I looked around and gathered some old milled boards and set them up on short, cut logs and before long had a table-like altar to lay my plastic treasures upon.  Following are several looks at the completed work.

The Western Petroleum Rainbow assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

Here’s a view from behind the piece.  You can see other bottles and junk mixed into the driftwood in the foreground.  I set this piece up on an area of cracked and drying river mud.

Western Petroleum Rainbow, early August 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Now a view from the front.  I placed this work here to take advantage of the sunlight which was beginning to set in the late afternoon.  I also wanted the verdant darkness behind all the colors to help create greater contrast.  There are three tiers of boards that I used for this display.  As is usual, I found less of some colors and more of others.  In this instance, I could have used a few more orange plastic objects, but just one small plastic bottle was all I found this time.

Angled view, Western Petrochemical Rainbow, early August, 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Detail view, Park West Petrochemical Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

In the late afternoon, all the various colors in this plastic are energized by the sun’s electromagnetic spectrum which causes this junk to glow.  It’s the “golden hour” and one of my favorite times of day for its ability to infuse and unify the everyday with magic.  I have stayed out on the river far longer than I first anticipated.  The gnats and mosquitoes have had their way with me.  Plus all my granola bars for energy have been consumed and my water ran out a couple of hours a go.

Back view, Park West Petrochemical Rainbow

I’m fading fast and still have a long hike to make.  All the obstacles that were there on the way in will also be there on the way out of the park.  I took one last look back at my most recent project and decide that it is the best I can do at this particular moment.  I’m calling this one, the “Park West Petrochemical Rainbow” so I can remember what section of the park I visited when I assembled this piece.  I picked up my collecting bag and walking stick and made sure I wasn’t leaving something I might need behind me.  The rest is one foot in front of the other.  I let the fading beauty of the light distract me from my discomforts.  Food, water, and a nice shower are waiting for me at the end of the line.  See you later from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Sunset at the Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

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Winter view at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Feb. 2015

And just when we thought we were winter-proof…the cold descended.  Literally, one day it was near 60 degrees and a few days later came the snow, ice, and record-breaking cold.  Although it has been a mostly mild winter in the Kentuckiana area…it has also seemed like a longer than necessary season.  Everyone I know is winter weary.  Cabin fever has me out venturing among the frozen willow trees at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  From winter’s past, I know that when conditions are just right, I can expect to see some interesting ice formations near the river.

The Artist at Exit 0 in winter time, Feb. 2015

The right conditions are also cold conditions and you need to dress appropriately.  I find I’m in good shape wearing my vintage pair of Wind-Dodger goggles to keep my eyes from getting all watery.  An old treasured scarf across my face and an all wool, German, military surplus, submariner sweater add to the many layers I have on.  I bring along my trusty walking stick which I use frequently to test the thickness of the ice over frigid water-filled puddles.  Outfitted in my best polar garb I feel confident as I venture forth over a hibernating landscape covered in snow and ice.

Ice formations on the dam's wall, Feb. 2015

In the eastern section of the park, ice has formed on the dam’s wall.  This wall is all that separates the full force of the Ohio River from impacting the lower levels of the park that I am familiar with.  The true height of the river is many feet above my head.  The more swiftly flowing water keeps from freezing.  Debris of all description and the trunks of washed away trees build up on the upriver side of the dam.  More than likely, all the pent-up driftwood will find release when the spring floods come and even the walls of this dam can’t keep the river from rearranging this area once more.  It is a dynamic environment ruled by the river.  If I were to contrast the scene before me with the way this spot will look like in six month’s time…you would think you were on a different planet altogether.  I try to appreciate the variety before me which also has a way of keeping out the cold.

geese tracks in the snow, Feb. 2015

I find there is a surprising amount of life out here.  Although I’m the only person around, I have already spotted several species of birds that don’t seem to mind these conditions.  Geese have left there meandering tracks in the snow.  In the air, I watched both a Peregrine falcon and a nice flock of Ring-billed gulls engage in aerobatics over the river.  I come across other tracks in the cold mud that has me momentarily frozen in place.  I sort of recognize them, but there is also something not quite right here that I can’t put my finger on?

beaver tracks in the mud

To my eye, they appear to be beaver tracks, but they are too small.  I run all the possible candidates through my mind’s mammal filter, but I’m drawing a blank.  I chalk it up to my inexperience.  Try as you might, you can’t learn everything from books and there’s no substitute for doing the fieldwork.  I left the tracks and headed towards the spot on the river where I’ve seen good ice formations before.  Along the way, I find many chewed up willow branches and cuttings near a stand of willow trees.  Something has been dining fairly regularly in this area and with luck I may find other evidence identifying my mystery animal.  As you may have already guessed…luck was with me!

The Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

If it hadn’t moved, I doubt that I would have seen it and I would have missed the first recorded occurrence of the Polar Beaver (Castor arcticus) at the Falls of the Ohio State Park!  In size, this remarkable rodent is about the size of the common house cat.  I stood transfixed as this all-white animal concentrated its intentions on the ice-covered willow trees near the river’s edge.

Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

I wondered if the Polar Beaver could appreciate the varieties of shapes and forms that frozen water can take?  In the background, the Ohio River seemingly “smoked” as the surrounding air is much colder than the water.  This vapor or steam gradually coats the structures nearest the river.  As the condensation freezes it creates the many shapes that I like to describe as ribbons, sausages, and candles in this beautiful wonderland.  During these special moments, one can appreciate water as it exists in three different states of matter…gaseous vapor, flowing liquid, and rock solid.

The Polar Beaver, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

Historically speaking, the Polar Beaver is a fairly new animal to be described by science.  Although its beautiful snow-white pelt has been a valuable and prized trade item by the northern indigenous people…it was thought these rare white furs were taken from albino morphs of the common beaver.  Ironically, crypto-zoologists looking for the legendary Sasquatch, instead brought to light the existence of this very rare rodent.  DNA testing confirmed that the Polar Beaver is a truly unique species.  Some of the first observations about this animal documented that this beaver’s coat turns white as autumn transitions to winter.  This is a trait it shares with other polar animals like the Arctic hare and Stoat.

Polar Beaver with willow branch, Feb. 2015

During this time at the Falls,  I was able to observe the Polar Beaver feeding.  Deftly, the beaver chose just the right willow twig and with a quick bite, severs it from the parent tree.  Holding the stick with its front paws, the beaver than carefully chews away the surrounding bark revealing the ivory warmth of the wood.  “Tool marks” left behind by the beaver’s teeth are recorded in the wood.  Willow makes up a significant part of this animals diet, but it is now known that other tree species and plants are eaten “in season” as well.

Polar Beaver feeding in its ice shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

Polar Beaver feeding on willow branch, Feb. 2015

If the Polar Beaver noticed me at all…I couldn’t tell because it seemed so intent upon feeding.  I watched this animal carry a willow branch to a small “ice shelter” where it focused on the task on hand.  The muddy Ohio River gently lapped the shoreline.  When the beaver finished its meal, it continued to explore the immediate environs with its many ice formations.

Polar Beaver at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

I noticed the beaver sampling willow it had already chewed upon as it moved down along the river’s edge.  I stood transfixed by this nearly mythical animal.  I finally lost sight of the beaver when it went behind an ice formation and unseen by me…slipped back into the water and disappeared.  I searched around for a couple of hours hoping to have another glimpse of this Polar Beaver or any others that might have been around, but ultimately was unsuccessful.  I returned during the next two days, but this beaver apparently moved on for good.  I was lucky to have seen it, but can you blame me for being greedy and wanting more time with this magical animal?  Wouldn’t you wish for the same if you were me?  When my reverie lifted, I realized that I could no longer feel my toes and my digital camera was also feeling the cold and not operating properly.  It was time to go home and I will leave you with one final image from this trip.  Here is a view of a favorite old willow tree as it appears during the heart of winter.  Spring will soon be around the corner and I will see you again at the Falls of the Ohio.

Old willow tree in winter, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2015

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Our dog Cory, Feb. 2015

Many thanks to all who have wished me well in my new position at the Carnegie Center for Art and History.  The people I work with are wonderful and the “old dog” that is me is enjoying learning new things.  I noticed on the internet, Facebook in particular, how much people love posting about their pets.  I’ve decided to take a page from the animal lovers of the world and try to post something both dog and Falls of the Ohio related and here goes!  I start with a picture of our family’s dog.  This is Cory and she will soon be eight years old.  She is named after the town of Corydon, Indiana where she is from.  Her mom was a pedigreed beagle and her father was…a one-eyed, black and white spotted Chihuahua/farm dog who took advantage of an opportunity that presented itself.  Such is life!  Regardless, the puppies were beautiful and Cory seems to have inherited the good qualities of both breeds.  My youngest son, Adam, did the choosing and I recall she was the only female in the litter.  In appearance, she looks like a miniature beagle and I love her coloring which is black and tan with little white feet.  Cory has warm, brown eyes.  She is smart, alert, playful, and devoted to our family to the point of being rather possessive.  When I come home from work or the river, she is by far, the most excited to see me!  Over the years her greeting me at the front door continues to be something I look forward to with deep fondness.

Dog-inspired, found character collection, Jan. 2015

I decided one cold winter’s day to sort through some of the items I’ve found at the Falls of the Ohio over the years and classify them into more coherent collections.  Out of my large and ever-growing toy collection, I determined that I had enough dog-related pieces to form a stand alone collection.  I gathered the items up and here they are reassembled on the riverbank for this “class photo” of dog characters.  This is just the stuff I decided to pick up and put into the collecting bag and does not count all the pet bowls, balls, and chew toys I’ve encountered.  I might have picked up all these other items as well, but there is a certain threshold of plastic fatigue that is reached that is hard to move past.  There is just so much needless stuff in the world and a lot of it seems to find its way into the Ohio River.  The sheer over-abundance of our material culture has certainly shaped my personal direction as an artist.

Detail of Dog Character Collection, Jan. 2015

While this is all just kitsch, some of this is fun and has endearing qualities that recall good moments from childhood.  It’s amazing how much a tiny piece of crap plastic can have these other associations attached to it.  I do recognize some of the characters portrayed, but not all.  It’s actually become part of the challenge to try to identify what some of this stuff refers to?  In this photo I recognize good old “Snoopy” from the “Peanuts” cartoon strip.  There looks to be a pair of “Weeble” dogs and a couple of others (including a Dalmatian with a fire hat) that are from children’s play sets.

Two "Clifford the Big Red Dog" plastic items, Jan. 2015

Here are two items from the “Clifford, the Big Red Dog” series.  There is “Clifford” in the form of a juice bottle cap with a black patina from being in the river for a long period of time.  I believe the other character is “T-bone”.  Originally, when you pulled the bone on the string it would cause the dog’s body to vibrate.

Sad-eyed puppy plastic keychain, Jan. 2015

I don’t recognize this guy?  He’s kind of cute in a bug-eyed way.  I’m sure there was a lot of time and effort that went into the myriad decisions to produce this item from beginning concept to finished product.  That also includes extracting the petroleum from the earth and other ingredients that went into this exact plastic recipe.

Bowtie dog with paw raised, Jan. 2015

This cutie seems old.  I tried looking on a few toy sites, but could not identify this specific piece.  I wonder if in fact it is made of rubber that has become rigid over time?

found, earless, plastic dog head, Jan. 2015

This earless, body-less, squashed, brown, plastic dog head was probably once part of a child’s pull-toy.  That’s my best guess here.

"Huckleberry Hound" as found on Goose Island

This photo is from a few years back and shows a plastic “Huckleberry Hound” toy as I found it on Goose Island.  I remember this character from my childhood and was shown along with “Quick Draw McGraw” cartoons.  I later used the blue dog for a story I posted.  Here’s an image from that story entitled “Lost and Found Hound”.

Huckleberry Hound as the lost dog.

I wrote this story in 2010 and was inspired by the lost and stray dogs I sometimes encounter in the park.  Sadly, plastic is not the only thing that gets disposed of out here.  I did have one adventure at the Falls where I was menaced by a feral dog, but usually, they are very wary and difficult to approach.  In my story, there is a happy ending and owner and dog are reunited.  I guess it was kind of touching or at least as much as putting Styrofoam, plastic, and sticks together can be.  I’ve never taken Cory to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  For one, dogs are supposed to be on a leash…not that everyone adheres to that.  I guess I fear I would lose her if I let her run loose.  Her nose would soon be overcome with “scent joy” and that would get the best of her.  There are so many intriguing smells out here that make up a vast language that we have forgotten about that dogs still remember.  Although she usually comes to me when I call her…out here, she could be gone in a blink of an eye and it’s not worth that.  We will just stick to our neighborhood’s park.  I have a couple other “dog” related projects I’ve made over the years.

Styro-dog playing with a Ball

Here’s an early project I created when I was less interested in stories and more interested in images and objects.  You can’t tell from this picture, but I also made an “old woman” figure to accompany the dog.  This piece is made from Styrofoam pinned together with little wooden pegs.  It also incorporates plastic, driftwood, and nuts in its fabrication.  The yellow ball is the core from a contemporary softball which gives you a hint for scale.  I think the working title I had for this piece was “A Game of Fetch”.  I enjoy the challenge of creating some sense of motion using such static materials.

Tiny dog sculpture with walnut

Despite looking large in this image…this dog is actually very small.  You can tell by the walnut I’ve added for scale.  It’s “playing” in the shed, dried leaves of a willow tree.  I think in this one, the eyes are bits of found coal.  I used this same figure for an image that became one of my Christmas cards.

Tiny dog with tracks

The dog is on the trail of a very large bird.  In this case, the tracks were made by a Great Blue Heron and partially frozen in the sand.  Well, there you have my tribute to dogs and the Falls of the Ohio.  I dedicate this post to our beloved dog Cory.  On a daily basis she teaches us that we are more fully human when we give our hearts to members of another species.  See you next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Cory, the Wonder Dog, Feb. 2015

 

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