Archive for April, 2009

view from Falls, 4/27

Managed to steal a few hours late in the afternoon and visited the Falls.  Bad weather is predicted for later in the week, plus the Kentucky Derby Festival is going on now making routine trips an occassional challenge.  The real reason I’m here today is to look for birds…it’s spring migration time and it seems to be happening a little later this year than last.  I will, however, enjoy anything else that I happen to come upon.  Such as these wildflowers…

prairie trillium or recurved trillium, 4/27

celandine poppy or wood poppy

I’m still learning the wildflowers…but I think the one on the top is called Pairie Trillium or Recurved Trillium.  I’ve never seen this one here before.  The bottom image is of a Celandine or Wood Poppy.  The latter’s stem and flower buds are hairy.  The trilliums were found along the Woodland Trail.

American Robin, 4/27

Okay…I know this is not the most exciting bird, but I found this pose to be interesting.  I came upon this American Robin on the trail and instead of flying away, he froze staring straight at me.  The most spectacular bird I saw today was a male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, but my photo of them is not great.  I hope to have other chances with that species.  Cedar Waxwings were still around and I saw several birds of prey.  The Turkey Vultures are back.  Here’s a recent image of another bird that I think is becoming a problem at the Falls of the Ohio.

brown-headed cowbird, male, 4/09

This is a male, Brown-headed Cowbird, ( the females are a duller gray).  I have seen more of this species than I have seen here before.  The curious thing about this bird is that it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds.  This species takes no care at all in raising its own young.  That job is given to the parasitized species.  The young cowbirds usually hatch first and either push out the other eggs or out compete the other young.  The victim species does not recognize that the cowbird is not its own offspring.

ice storm damage, 4/09

Perhaps one reason there are more cowbirds, may have to do with more accessibility in the wooded portions of the Falls.  The Brown-headed Cowbird is not a forest bird , but looks for breaks and clearings where it feels comfortable venturing in to look for other nesting birds.  We have had two extreme weather events in less than a year ( a major ice storm and winds from Hurricane Ike) that have damaged so many trees.  I wonder if this will impact the birds we will see this year and will the cowbird take additional advantage of them?

tent catepillars, 4/09

Tent catepillars seem to be more numerous this year as well.  The trees here are certainly being stressed by various insects.  Unfortunately, there are only a few bird species that will eat these catepillars.

wood car, 4/09

I could have used this image for my last post.  Hopefully, someday I will happen upon this person or persons who like to make “sculpture” from the found materials in the park.  Already I have come across several structures that are mostly driftwood.  This “wood car” is a little different in feeling from their past efforts.  For me, it’s fun to come across something like this.

fisherman, 4/09

Among the willows and fossil rocks was this single fisherman.  I don’t think he was having any luck.  Perhaps like me, just being outside and near the river is it’s own reward.  I am already looking forward to my next visit.

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Here are a few recent images illustrating the state of disorder as seen at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Let’s begin with…

abandoned atv w/figure, 3/09


This was once an expensive battery powered car for some lucky child and now its garbage.  I can imagine this dynamically going over the dam only to come to rest lodged in this willow tree.  I couldn’t resist adding the Styrofoam driver.  On Earth Day, I checked on this “piece”.  The car was still there, but the driver disappeared…a partial victory of sorts.


full size and mini gas containers, 4/09I come across and photograph enough of these gasoline containers that they form a subcategory of objects that I pay attention to.  Gasoline is such a sign of the times that it seems particularly relevant.  Where do these containers come from?  I have never found one that still had gas in it.  Because plastic is made from petroleum, as is gasoline, does putting gas into these containers become a redundant act?

plastic dump truck/4/09


Another vehicle this time a plastic toy truck.  No longer fueling a child’s imagination this object awaits being picked up, washed away, or buried into the sand.Trash midden, 3/09

 Exhaustion sets in and the wheels have come off.  Provided there will be archeology in the future, how would you like to render and interpret the artifacts in this context?

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Annie on Earth Day

It’s officially Earth Day and my friend Annie and fellow artist/standardized patient (a topic for a later time) went to the Falls today to be out in nature.  After several cold and wet days we received one that’s  a winner.  In the spirit of collaboration we combed the riverbank and brought our finds together to create this Mother Earth image and child.

Mother Earth and Child, 4/09

Here’s the finished result which is colorful if not disturbing!  It was fun to make and includes various foams, plastics, driftwood, bark, grass to name a few of the found materials. We left the figures next to a driftwood structure (one of two we came across today) and it looks like home to me.  Here are the before and after shots.  Happy Earth Day!

found wood structure/4/09

Mother Earth, child, driftwood structure, 4/09

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Falls Colgate ClockWorking at the Falls of the Ohio is a reflective experience and thinking about the construct of “time” pops into my head a lot.  To reinforce matters even more, less than a mile from my “studio” is this giant clock ticking away in a grand, but conventional manner.  I once read  that the largest clock face in the world was at another Colgate Palmolive plant in Jersey City, New Jersey, but it was demolished in 1988. Our clock, the one in Jeffersonville, IN, I believe is  now the biggest.   At night it glows red.  The building was once a prison before the toothpaste factory relocated here.  Recently, it was sold to another interest and we aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen with certainty,  but it is everybody’s wish that the clock remain.  From downtown Louisville, you can tell time by looking across the Ohio River. 

fossil snail at the Falls of the Ohio

About a mile or so away from the clock is another landmark, the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, IN.   If it had nothing else, it would be one of the most important fossil sites in the world.  In the rocks here you will find more species  from the Devonian Age than anywhere else.  In the time line of life, the fossils here are the high point of life as it existed over 375 million years ago.  Essentially, this bedrock limestone is the bottom of the river.  The best time to see these rocks is in the late summer and early fall when the water level is low.

Horn coral, Falls of the Ohio

Although today’s park is a fresh water environment, back in Devonian times this was a shallow, marine reef ecosystem dominated by various corals.  When these now long extinct animals were alive, they existed somewhere in the latitude of the present day Bahama Islands.  The Devonian age is noted for the appearance of fish, the first animals with backbones, but here at the Falls their fossils are rare.  Contemporary fish bones, however, are not.  Here is a carp skeleton.

carp skeleton

There are many lessons about life in these rocks.  I often wonder as I stand upon them whether intelligence and sentience will prove to be an evolutionary advantage.  I think that’s why we are here.  So far, I think the book is still open on that one.  I found this faux-fossil (one of two such balls found over the years here) and couldn’t resist the juxtaposition.  Fossil collecting in the park is prohibited, but I did pocket this pink ball with its embossed trilobite.

faux fossil with real fossil

Presently, the migratory birds are feeling that rhythm to move northward.  The yellow-rumped warbler is the first warbler to arrive and the last to leave.  This male has staked out his territory and is singing away as his kind has done for thousands of years.  Last year was spectacular for warblers.  Here’s hoping for a repeat.

yellow-rumped warbler, male, 4/09

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Styro Hound, in process, 4/11Here’s a project from this April that shows some variation from my usual working process.  I started this dog sculpture, but wasn’t completely happy with it.  I did cut into the dog’s styrobody to inset the foam pieces that make up part of its legs.  I also started with small fishing bobber eyes, but later changed them to hickory nuts.

Styro hound on site, 4/09


Two shots from the river the day I made this sculpture.  The ears are pieces of thick bark.  I posed this work first next to a plastic gasoline container.   I find a lot of these and have a collection of photos of them.  I also plan to later post  a series of “Collections” that I have made of other river debris. The second shot was in an area where fishermen would see it.  I come across real dogs at the Falls on occassion.  People do walk their animals here.  I do remember being surprised once by three pit bulls running down the beach all unleashed!!  They had run ahead of their masters and found me.  Fortunately, they were all sweethearts, but I have had encounters with feral dogs running in packs in other woods.  Oh, there was one other highlight on this day.  I saw and poorly photographed an American Turkey walking along the tree line.  It was the first one I had ever seen at the Falls and is a bird strangely not on the park’s checklist.

revamped Styrodog at home,4/09

Last shot is of the revamped “Styro-Hound” at my home.  I saved this piece, because I knew I could improve it and make it seem more dog-like.  I switched out the ears.  One is the sole of a shoe and the other is a plastic, wing from a dove hunting decoy.  I also changed a few of the sticks forming its limbs.  All the materials were found at the Falls.  I can keep my project “pure” because so much washes up here.  “Styro-Hound” variation II, was unveiled at the park’s Earth Day observance.

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large piece of styrofoam,2/09

Since know one has asked me yet…”Why are you using that nasty Styrofoam to make your art?’…I thought I might say a few words and use this work from early February of this year.  The above image shows an especially large hunk of polystyrene about to be beached by the waves of the Ohio River.  Do you think the river, in its way is trying to tell us something?  Fresh water is such a precious resource that we should not take even what seems an abundant supply for granted.  I hauled this Styrofoam onto the beach which wasn’t easy since it was wet, very cold, and water-logged.  For years, my experiences in this park have been marred by the debris that washes up here from points north.  I had to wait about two weeks before I could do anything with this “prize”.

Refrigerator Man,detail, 2/09

Here’s a detail of the completed figure.  I augmented the large piece with a smaller chunk that could serve as the head.  Fishing bobbers, parts of shoes, driftwood, assorted plastic, and a lost life vest are the materials in this work.  Because I consider what I do as a collaboration with nature, I respect the forms the river gives me by not carving or altering them to any great extant.  I always marvel at how the river’s processes shape the Styrofoam, in ways that I couldn’t easily replicate.  This figure is able to stand because one of its arms is hooked around a tree.

Refrigerator man, in situ, 2/09

Refrigerator Man, back view, 2/09

Here are front and back views of the “Refrigerator Man”, so named because of where I sited this figure.  The refrigerator washed up a couple years ago…at least someone bothered to remove the door.  The thing about polystyrene is that although it is organic by definition (think of the carbon rings) it doesn’t occur without our help.  The resins used to make this material are extracted from petroleum…which itself is an extract of life.  Polystyrene has this out-of-sync quality to it that I feel increasingly characterizes us and our relationship to the world that sustains us.  You wonder how it is even economically feasible to make this material from what also seems a limited resource?  On this day, the river was icy and especially cold.  My nose ran constantly and my toes were getting numb.

Refrigerator Man, aftermath, 2/09

About a week later, I went back to “Refrigerator Man” to see how he was faring.   As you can see…not too good.  Some person or persons tied him up to a tree using a yellow, nylon rope and I’m guessing used him for target practice and beheaded him.  What happens to my projects is usually interesting .  In their own way, they become little experiments in human behavior.  I did untie “Refrigerator Man” and stashed his body away to be recycled into another art project for future use.

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Thirsty for Green, 2009

Using two very eroded pieces of Styrofoam, driftwood, hickory and walnuts, and plastic I created this figure in a cache of plastic green bottles.  Just another example of conspicuous consumption found in the context of nature. 

Thirsty for Green, side view

Here’s a side view.  The sad part is this wasn’t all the plastic bottles (much less the green ones) found in the immediate area of this figure.  Yes, there are river clean-ups several times a year, but with normal high water “fresh” material is deposited.  You just can’t get it all.   People please dispose of your garbage properly!

Thirsty for Green, alternate view

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Earth Day sign, 2009

Around here Earth Day was observed a little early!  In the Louisville area our social calenders begin to reflect the influences of the Kentucky Derby Festival.  Next weekend is “Thunder Over Louisville”, which each year is usually the largest fireworks display in the country.  This is the second year in a row I have been invited to present my project and art at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center.osprey at Earth Day                                                                         


Seeing this Osprey so close to the center was a good sign for me.  You don’t usually see one perched on a branch so close to where people are.

Earth Day, 2009

Presenters set up both inside the center and outside on the grounds.  Artists, business people, and environmental advocates talked and handed out literature on how to make our area more sustainable and Earth friendly.  The center’s staff and volunteers were very helpful.

Earth Day, 2009

These folks are working on a peace-themed totem pole made from red cedar.  The symbols carved into the wood represent many cultures.

Log Man at Earth Day

I saved “Log Man” for this event and here he is posed next to one of the interpretive center’s displays.  The response to my work was very positive.  Most people were curious about the Styrofoam and asked many questions about my process and reasons for doing what I do.  By the end of the day, I was a bit hoarse from talking so much.  Usually, when I’m in the field I may talk to a couple brave souls curious about what I’m doing.  At this event, I get to converse with dozens.  I enjoy talking to kids because they understand what it is to be creative and that everyday should be Earth Day.

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Log Man, detail

Working on this project has brought home to me how absurd our world really is.  For example, take this recent sculpture from early March of this year.  While walking on and over large driftwood logs, I found a smaller one made of plastic!  I’m assuming it’s part of some toy?   I gathered some nearby Styrofoam and other plastic elements and created this figure.  I think it registers feelings of surprise and alarm.  Below is another view of this figure on site.  I did save this piece for potential later display.  Other objects used include acorns, walnuts, and the sole of a shoe.  Of course, the chief absurdity is that none of these artificial elements has any business being in the watershed!

Log Man

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yellow-bellied sapsucker, male

Working at the Falls of the Ohio, I think of what I do as an experiment in relational thinking.  And so, when I can I try to include the animals and their images whenever possible.  I especially enjoy birds and look forward to spring when the migratory species return.  Even though I don’t have the best camera for this…I do enjoy photographing the species I encounter.  Like many other birders I also keep a list of the species I see or hear in the park.  The above image is of a male, yellow-bellied sapsucker about to feed from holes it drilled into a sweet gum tree.

Styrobird with real beak

 Here’s the latest of many Styrobirds I’ve made.  Created from found blue insulation foam, plastic, wood, coal, and bone gathered on that day’s walk.

eastern towhee, male

Scratching and hopping through last year’s leaves, I came across this male, eastern towhee looking for a meal.  His eyes are a blood-red in color.

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