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Posts Tagged ‘Styrofoam sculpture’

At last we have some respite from the dreaded heat of this summer.  Today is gorgeous!  The air feels fresh, and there is a nice quality to the light.  I decide to spend my time in the western section of the park on the Indiana side.  I heard that the butterflies were plentiful on the loosestrife flowers and that this could be a good time to take pictures.  First, I needed to find an officially sanctioned butterfly guide to show me the way.  He’s supposed to be somewhere over here…yes, there he is right on time.

The strange-looking character said “Hello, are you the one who wants to see the butterflies?”  I replied that I was and we met face to face.

And what a memorable face he has with his mismatched eyes and lavender lips!  He told me to call him the Butterfly Man and that I had picked a good time to come to the river because it was now agreed that 2010 was a good year for butterflies in our area.  He also said that the place we wanted to go was a short walk ahead to where the purple flowers were growing.  Many different kinds of butterflies would be there.

Along the way, the Butterfly Man told me tidbits about the environment we were experiencing and what we might expect to see.  He explained that the loosestrife flowers are an invasive species and quickly take over these shallow wetlands.  Around here small springs trickle water down the bank towards the river and keep this area moist. These are perfect conditions for the loosestrife which has spread from last year.  Butterflies and other insects love the nectar from these flowers and if we encountered bees and wasps…not to be afraid because if you left them alone, they would do likewise.  Soon we were among the flowers and it didn’t take the Butterfly Man long to spot a terrific butterfly!

With its slightly elongated forewings and intense orange color the Gulf Fritillary ( Dione vanillae ) stands out among the loosestrife.  As the name suggests, this is a mostly southern species, but does venture north.  The ventral coloring sports mother of pearl and orange spots.  Not to far away on a different flower, Butterfly Man spotted a nice swallowtail.

This is the Eastern Black Swallowtail, ( Papilio polyxenes ) and I have come across a few of these and other swallowtails as well.  I have seen, but unable to get a photo of some of them because they never slowed down!  I saw a Giant Swallowtail, our largest butterfly, fly over my head and towards the river.  The Zebra Swallowtail, same thing, it was flying too fast and never alighted.  The Pipevine Swallowtail I saw was so ragged that I decided not to take a picture of it.  I’m sure over time I will get other chances.  Here’s an image I like of a very common butterfly.

This butterfly was introduced into North America in the 1860’s and has now spread over the continent.  The Cabbage White, ( Pieris rapae ) is the most common white butterfly that most people are likely to encounter.  At the Falls, we also find another immigrant, the European Skipper, ( Thymelicus lineola ) which was accidentally introduced in Ontario about 1910 and has since spread across the country.  These tiny gold skippers can be very hard to identify and probably depends on having one in hand.  I like the idea of capturing a photographic image because no harm is intended.  With their folded wings, many skippers don’t look like butterflies at all. 

After a while, the Butterfly Man said we should take a break.

He said he found something special earlier in the morning and it was somewhere in this vicinity.  There is another creature here taking advantage of the butterflies.  Sure enough a couple of bushes away we found her enjoying a snack.

We found such a beautiful and large spider sitting on her web!  The proof she selected the right location was entombed in silk.  I have seen other Black-and-yellow Argiope ( Argiope aurantia ) spiders at the Falls before.  This is the first for this year.  She’s a big spider and soon she will produce her egg case and die.  The baby spiders will overwinter in the case and emerge in the spring.  These orb weavers have a characteristic zig-zag silk pattern on the interior of their webs.  This spider has had luck catching Orange Sulphur and Viceroy butterflies.  I noticed many loose wings below the web.  There is an element of risk out here among the flowers after all.

 The Butterfly Man spotted a nice pair of Viceroys ( Limenitis archippus ) basking side by side on the same leaf.  There are many of these species currently out among the willow trees.  With their smaller size and black line crossing the veins of the dorsal hind wing they can be told apart from the Monarch butterflies ( Danaus plexippus ) which are also in the area flying down on their long migration to Mexico.

There was time for one last butterfly before turning for home.  Earlier I had spotted a few large yellow butterflies nectaring on the small Jewelweed vines .  I came across this Cloudless Giant Sulphur in a characteristic position with its wings folded together like a yellow leaf and created this composition.

After one final look at the loosestrife fields, I was reminded of French Impressionistic painting and thought this landscape worthy of a canvas or two for the purple colors and nice cloud formations.  You can also glimpse the fossil beds beyond the trees.

I left the Butterfly Man standing where I first met him by his home next to a downed tree.  I thanked him for taking the time to show me around and hoped to run into him again in another adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.

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Vulture Boy hung out with me today at the Falls of the Ohio.  He’s a bit of an odd character and I don’t see him often.  He spends most of the summer observing the resident vultures of both species that live here.  He’s studying them. Vulture Boy also thinks of himself as being a bit of a survivalist and when civilization collapses…he will be able to fend for himself by mastering primitive weapons. 

He’s still a boy after all and seems to gravitate towards sticks and stones.  There must be some primeval aesthetic operating here that’s hard-wired?  Regardless, what I enjoy are Vulture Boy’s stories and encounters with the wildlife he sees in the park.  He tells me that he saw some Black Vultures feeding nearby and would I like to watch them?  I pick up my camera and follow him to the river.

Along the way we surprise two flocks of large birds!  It’s another very hot day and both the vultures and Canada geese are taking advantage of the shade under the biggest trees.  It’s cooler, but they are also vulnerable standing on the ground.  Some passing fisherman got too close and both flocks spooked and went airborne.  I could practically feel the whoosh of air pass my face as the vultures struggled to lift skyward.

Reaching the river, we find a few Black Vultures feeding on a fish carcass.  They were completely unconcerned about the people around them.  I wonder in some way if the vultures recognize the relationship between the people and the availability of fish?  Vulture Boy says that they are smarter than you think and adapt to situations that benefit them.

Slowly I move a little closer doing my best not to scare the birds away.  It’s tricky though because the rocks are very uneven and slippery in places.  With their all black bodies, I wonder if they feel hotter on a day like today?  That’s when Vulture Boy lays this factoid on me!  He says that Black Vultures (and other vultures as well) can excrete their waste onto their legs to cool them.  The process is called “urohydrosis”.  Charming! 

I asked Vulture Boy what else he liked or thought interesting about these birds and this is what I remember.  He said that they form strong pair bonds that are usually only broken upon the death of one of the partners.  Additionally, they do not build nests preferring shallow caves or protected rock ledges to raise their young.  Although Black Vultures may roost together, they do not like being near each other’s nurseries.  There is still that competition for food and a pecking order exists not only within the Black Vulture group, but with other species as well.  The shy Turkey Vulture usually surrenders his find to the more aggressive Black Vulture.

With their naked heads and necks…these vultures look more like the dinosaurs they are descended from.  The lack of feathers around the head helps keep things a little cleaner.  Still, I’m amazed that these birds are able to stomach most anything!  I’ve seen Black Vultures using their feet to help leverage a food morsel from the toughest meal.

After watching the river vultures for a few minutes, it was time to go home.  Walking back the way we came Vulture Boy and I could see that some of the vultures had returned to the shade under the trees.  A few individuals were nervously posted along the outskirts acting as look outs.  We walked around them and left them be.  Nearby, we came across roosting vultures  high in a tree.  Occasionally, one of these birds would sun itself by spreading its wings and it seemed almost a reverential act.  Or, at least…that’s what I like to think! 

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This past June became our hottest June on record breaking a mark that stood since 1952.  Before the month slid into history, there was time for one more adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.  Rising from the polystyrene and insulating foam, I constructed this little figure to be my guide and companion as we toured the sights together.  Here’s his very first picture.

The little Tour Guide’s hat is the cap from a deodorant stick, but it fits his Styrofoam head just right.  He offered to take me around to see what we could see on this sweltering day and I offered no resistance.  Following are a few of the marvels we came across as we walked the riverbank.  The fishing had been particularly good and our guide was able to land a fish of his own.  I’m not sure what he used for bait, but this fish is like no other I have seen before.  Looking closely, I could see it is made from green foam.

The last high water incident deposited a lot of wood and junk upon the bank and there is plenty to discover.  Among the more unusual finds was this wooden Easter Bunny who offered our guide an egg.  I’m guessing that this was originally a seasonal yard decoration used in pagan celebrations?  With a pink dress, this is obviously the female and it made me wonder what the male looked like and was he carrying an egg too?

Near the rabbit was a truck tire.  I know what you are thinking…what could be so special about that?  I feature them in this blog all the time.  Well, this tire is also a record breaker being the largest one that I have come across in the last seven years I have been working this project.  I bet this thing was originally very expensive and now it’s apparently worthless.

It’s usually a treat to find artworks made by others out here.  This time our guide showed me a series of sand drawings he came across.  I think the one where abstract wavy lines are coming out of a drum is my favorite one.  The sand drawing featuring the head with open mouth is a bit naughty and so I’m only showing you part of it.  Here are three images in succession.

We moved off of the sandy bank and headed towards the Interpretive Center.  The little guide told me that the day lilies were looking especially colorful and I couldn’t wait to see them.  I snapped this image of the guide by some very intensely orange blossoms.  These flower beds are just past their peak and I’m glad I saw them when I did. 

This Fourth of July weekend is shaping up to be cooler and so I’m anticipating being able to work out here a bit longer.  Thanks for coming along with us on this outing…we enjoyed showing you the sights.  I’ll close for now with this nice image from the day lily garden overlooking the Falls of the Ohio.

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I love this photo!  This Swainson’s Thrush seems so happy sitting on its berries.  At the Falls the migrant birds are around and our trees are flowering or fruiting.  I have been doing my best to come up with some nice bird photos in between other river activities like making art.  Most of the warblers are proving to be tough subjects.  The difference between getting a nice image and nothing is a thousandth of a second.  Warblers are very small and constantly moving.  There is a lot of thrush and catbird activity around the sweet mulberries and squabbles are frequent.

These pink and red mulberries will be ripe when they turn dark and black.  That’s when the wildlife particularly go for them.  This is a prolific tree and seems to be on the rise.

This bird atop a willow tree is a bit of a head scratcher for me.  I like that I was able to get such a relatively clear shot among the foliage, but what species of bird is this?  When I first took the photo, I thought I was photographing one of the seasonal vireos.  However, there is a suggestion of light-colored wing bars and perhaps a slightly streaked breast too which is an unusual combination.  That’s what I like about bird watching…it can be challenging even when you think you have a good image.

Wafting through the air were the tiny, cottony seeds of these black willow trees.  Many of these will land upon the sand and germinate.  Only the fittest can thrive in this tortured soil and manage the periodic flooding that helps define this place.

There were birds that I was able to photograph and identify like this pair of Mallard Ducks.  They were away from the river and more than likely have a nest nearby.  This Mourning Dove is showing a little of the iridescence on its neck that comes with the breeding season.  It’s hard to believe now that Audubon’s first drawing of the extinct Passenger Pigeon was made at the Falls of the Ohio.  That is certainly a bird I would have loved to add to my list of living species in the park.

I was able to add a new bird to my list on this trip and it’s an unusual one!  It’s called the Ohio Valley Rail and is usually heard more than it is seen.  It is not typical to run into one during the daylight hours.  So, when I came across this female near the river…I got real excited!

This bird is in transit to the marsh habitats that exist around the lakes in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Since the Ohio Valley Rail is believed to travel at night…it is a mystery why this one isn’t sleeping in a secluded spot.  Originally discovered and named within the river valley by early 19th Century naturalists, it would be many years before it’s true northern haunts would be known to science.  The males are slightly smaller but have more developed plumage which they use to their fullest glory when they leap and dance into the air trying to win the favors of a female.  Successful dancers will pair up producing a clutch of two eggs usually in a nest located on the ground and made from cane leaves.  One last image of this rarely seen oddity with the big head and bright red bill.  Bon voyage!

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On May 6, the Oldham County History Center had a members’ opening for their Oldham County:  Life at the River’s Edge exhibit…which was actually several exhibits in one.  My sculptures played a part in the overall display and were integrated among the other exhibits.  I really liked the idea that my work (which included objects and images) would find a home among other examples of our material heritage.  Here are a few images from the event.  Once I got home and looked at the pictures, I realized I didn’t have any with people in them!  Yes, there were indeed people present and I enjoyed meeting and talking to them all!  Thanks for the beer and bar-be-que too!

Nancy Stearns Theiss, the center’s director, lives on by the Ohio River and so she recognizes the materials I use and where they come from.  She gathered up her own debris and put it in context with my work.  Nancy has a strong background in environmental education and recognizes what my project is attempting to do in a way that I must say gets overlooked in the usual art gallery context.

This was also the first time I have been able to show my Falls images, sculptures, and collected objects in the same exhibit.  I have always imagined that this would create the most interesting display.  The photo above is an example of this and includes my “Fake Food Collection” that I have gathered on the riverbank over the years.

Become a Trash Artist!  I guess there’s no denying that I’m one.  As an activity, materials were on hand if anyone felt the urge to make something that was encouraged.  My “3M Wasp” is hanging from the ceiling with fishing line.  This piece gets its name from the protective mask I found that looks to me just like an insect’s face.  Later during the summer, I will participate in a workshop making art from found materials.

Also on display was a Living Stream Touch Table, essentially an aquarium with native creatures that one might encounter in the local fresh water environment.  Among the animals in the tank include several species of native fishes, crayfish, frogs, and a small water snake.

The exhibit will be up until August and I look forward to returning and participating with the center again.  This final image is located on the center’s grounds and right next to an example of a root cellar.

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The Kentucky Derby happened 24 hours a go, but the bigger regional story was all the rain we received.  I’ve said this before in this blog, the gentle spring rains of yesteryear seem like a thing from the past.  Now every storm is charged with energy and abundant water.  In the Louisville area totals for the last two days are 5 to 7 inches ( 12 to 17.75 cms).  In Nashville, TN there is wide spread flooding.  There was one period of a few hours on Saturday that things were just misty.  That was as good as our luck ran this weekend.  I took that opportunity to get my river fix and it was good for my peace of mind!

Since I fully expected the rain to just pound me at any moment, I kept my eyes open as I moved along the river.  I had the place nearly to myself which helped make the Falls seem larger.  The willow trees were in bloom and there were even a few nice birds around.  I quickly made a figure from available Styrofoam and sticks and I will now turn the narrative over to him.

Yeah…we moved as fast as my beaver-chewed willow legs would carry me over the wet and packed sand.  We checked out the various debris fields near the river and took pictures of the things that caught our attention.  We came across a lost arm lying next to a plastic bottle and I wondered who would lose an arm and not miss it?  I picked it up and examined it.

It’s a perfectly good arm, but I don’t want to carry it around and so I left it where it was found.  If I find out later that I have a need for it…I think I can remember where this spot is provided the river doesn’t rise and rearrange things again.  Certainly looks a lot greener now than the last time I dropped by.

Of late, I’ve taken an interest in the remains of old fires and camp sites.  It’s a test of observation and I like to learn what I can from the charcoal and ashes, but this one has been hit hard by the rain and we learn little.

A colorful, but ruined soccer ball lay before us. The leading edge of the river usually has a few balls of one kind or another in the mix.  We stopped for a few snapshots than went our merry way.  There were more things we could see laying on the sand a head of us that looked worth checking out.

I traded the blue ring around my neck for a larger one I could wear around my waist.  It could be used as a flotation device if necessary!  Walking the shoreline we came across this vignette…a still life of tulips.  It’s a partially buried plastic watering can and the river has revealed this picture for us!

Oh man!  We found that awful jar of baloney again.  Even the river doesn’t want this thing and keeps casting it back upon the shore.  The thought crosses my mind that this might make good catfish bait if I could stomach running a hook through this mystery meat.  I wonder if that giant bug-thing is around?

Like I mentioned earlier…we saw a few birds too!  Some of our warmer weather birds have returned.  I thought we had some better pictures, but I guess there was just too much water in the air.  We did come across a pair of Canada Geese with three goslings doing the same thing we were…namely investigating the riverbank.  Their young are very cute!

And, we saw three of our favorite bird species!  The Yellow Warblers have returned and we tried like crazy to get a decent shot of this bird singing away, but the images were kind of gray.  Also saw a Spotted Sandpiper (but missing its spots) heading north.  We will see those spots upon its return migration from near the Arctic circle.  Indigo Buntings seem plentiful and we were fortunate to watch Baltimore Orioles chasing one another through the trees.  Here’s a picture of a male oriole who was watching a female among the branches and not intent on us. 

With hope, the Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will be passing through soon.  I decided to hang out longer while that artist-guy went home.  I’ll be right here, unless someone else finds me first.

Well, that’s how our Derby Day went.  The rain stayed away long enough for the race to be run and by all reports the festival was an overall success.  I’m glad people had a good time, but I’m getting a little event weary and feeling the need to be more contemplative…and dry!

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Just heard from Nancy Theiss, Executive Director at the Oldham County History Center that the opening for my part of “Life at the River’s Edge” is scheduled for May 6, from 6 till 8 pm.  I’m looking forward to meeting new friends and folks who live by or are interested in the river.  I would be out at the Falls today, but we have a “small event” happening in the Louisville area that all but makes that impossible.

Every year we kick off two weeks of Kentucky Derby festivities with one of the largest fireworks shows in the world.  It’s called “Thunder Over Louisville” and it also includes an air show during the daylight hours.  Some years, crowds of over 600,000 people would line the riverbanks to get a good view.  The picture of so many people gathered in one place reminds me of images of seal rookeries or seabird colonies where innumerable individuals are jammed onto every available space on the beach.  You can imagine the automobile traffic especially when the event ends!  Today’s weather will be on the cool side, so we will see if that affects attendance.

The image starting this post is one of my favorite Falls sculptures that I have made and it will be on display at Oldham County.  I call it “Pelvis has an Heir”.  In the dim recesses of my mind, I think this piece has something to do with how life succeeds life in the guise of this imagined king who with luck will be followed in his footsteps by his tiny heir.  There are (or were) living elements to this sculpture.  The masks worn by these figures are animal hip bones found at the Falls.  In the case of the larger piece…I think it’s from a small deer.  The other tiny pelvis…I have no idea.  Both figures have coal elements which were created from the remains of ancient life.  And both sport Asiatic Clam shell ears which are the most common freshwater mussels I run into at the Falls and are also a non-native species.  The found wood parts (including the base) are of course from trees.  That brings us to the Styrofoam and plastic parts, but these are also created from petroleum by-products that are also distilled from ancient life.  The Styrofoam, polystyrene bodies and heads are just as I found them shaped and formed by the river.

There is also a sidebar to this work that came out of various readings and conversations with fellow artists and has to do with the notions of fame, permanence, and immortality.  I know artists who have chosen to work in particular materials because the objects and by extension the artist’s name will supposedly last forever.  I don’t derive much peace of mind knowing that a ceramic vessel I made could survive a nuclear bomb!  And how many bronzes were melted down to make cannon balls anyway? 

I’m going to hedge my bets and say that when I’m gone, I probably won’t care very much about anything especially what happens to my or other people’s art.  Does Praxiteles care that his “Hermes and Dionysos”  is missing an arm and coat of paint?  Athough I do take care in how I make things, if what I create has value and is ultimately worth preserving, than someone will find a way to conserve it if necessary.  Isn’t that something we are running into with much contemporary art on a regular basis now?  Aren’t many of the concerns about permanence more about ego than anything else?  Through these Falls projects, I have come to emphasize what happens in the living moment more than I used to.  I think this happens when you work out in nature.  I’ve read that the only form of immortality that matters in life is that little bit of genetic distinctiveness that was you that gets passed on to your children.

Since this post has fewer images than usual, I’ll end with another favorite Falls project.  I call this image, “The Sound of Running Water is Music to My Ears”  The figure is made from the usual junk I find by the river and photographed at the Falls of the Ohio State Park and will also be featured in the Oldham County exhibit.

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