Archive for June, 2009

Mr. Hand Grenade Heart, 6/09

Yes, I proudly admit that I’m a tree hugger.  And, the harder it is to wrap my arms around a tree the better I like it.  I realize change is a constant, but somethings are moving so rapidly that this hand grenade of a heart of mine …sometimes feels like exploding.

Falls landscape, 6/09

You may not remember the chestnut trees, but I do. Once they were the dominant tree of the eastern forests.  They had really wonderful leaves and their nuts provided food for all kinds of animals.  Now they are all gone.   Today’s trees at the Falls of the Ohio are a little removed from what was first recorded here.  Now, we feel somewhat secure in the knowledge that what we have is what we have.  It’s always going to be there for us…but big changes are walking the land.

Mr. Hand Grenade Heart, 6/09

I’m out here by the river all the time.  It’s around the edges, the interstitial zones, where changes can be seen most noticeably.  The weather and climate of the last two years have been especially hard on our trees.  Paradoxically, we have had spells where we had too much rain at one time, and then not enough.  Those gentle rain showers also seem to becoming a thing of the past.  Today’s storms are more fierce with energy.

Mr. H.G.H., 6/09

Last year’s wind storm from Hurricane Ike was an eye-opener!  With gusts clocked at over 70 plus miles per hour, the wind clothes-lined our trees.  Some snapped in half at mid-trunk.  Others fell over exposing their root masses when their leaves and canopies provided too much resistance.  The ice storm that followed in winter didn’t help matters any.  Already it’s considered the worst natural disaster to hit Kentucky in modern times.

Head of Mr. Hand Grenade Heart, 6/09

Why are we in such a big hurry to go nowhere?  Is it we just can’t help ourselves?  Already we are introducing exotic pests and diseases that are destroying our indigenous heritage.  Ever heard of “bacterial leaf scorch” or the Emerald Ash Borer?  Succession will occur sooner than later because our trees are already in a weakened condition.  Every time the water gets high, the Ohio River deposits its washed away trees here.

Mr. H.G.H. and roots, 6/09

At the Falls…I can see the maple trees waiting in the wings along with trees introduced from other countries.  I don’t know what we can do about all that’s already put into play.  Perhaps we can try living more simply and do our part to reduce the causes of climate change?  When we travel, be vigilant about unseen invasive pest hitchhikers.  For now, I’m going to say goodbye to an old friend.  I’ve enjoyed the shade of this cottonwood tree for many years.  Treasure the big trees and keep them growing!

wood wreath with trumpet vine, 6/09

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Red-eared Turtle, 6/08

This is a very lucky Red-eared Turtle.  I first came across this old guy more than a week before this picture was taken.  Far from the river I found it stranded among the driftwood.  I thought that was unusual at the time, but dismissed it by saying to myself that the turtle got there without my help and could get away whenever it wanted to.  I turned and left it alone.

Red-eared Turtle, dorsal view, 6/08

Red-eared Turtle, ventral view, 6/08

When I returned to the site much later, I saw the turtle was still there.  It was then I realized that the last bit of flooding had in fact stranded it.  Looking to be in good shape, I picked it up and made these photos.

Russel Athletic Turtle, 6/08

Every now and then I come across some truly one of a kind turtles.  This is the Russell Athletic Turtle.  It’s carapace (the name of the top shell) in this case mimics the padding found in protective pads of football gear.  It’s usually found nearer the trees than the water, although it’s reputed to be a good swimmer when pressed.Russell Athletic Turtle, 6/08


The Russell Athletic Turtle is fond of grazing on the newest tufts of river grass found at the Falls.  It’s geographically limited and so is considered a threatened species worth conserving.

Black Softshell Turtle, 6/08

Black Softshell Turtle, 6/08

No where else on the planet can you find the spectacular Black Softshell Turtle, except for this park.  The above images are groundbreaking because this exceedingly rare turtle hasn’t been recorded in many years.  These are also in all probability the only known color images.  At the Interpretive Center a few, old grainy images of this softshell turtle are preserved in the library and the museum boasts a partial skeleton in its collection.

Black Softshell Turtle, 6/08

Like other members of the genus Trionyx, the Black Softshell Turtle lays it’s eggs in a sandy nest excavated by the female in a suitable riverbank.  I watched this specimen for several minutes before it returned to the river and hoped that I wasn’t watching the last of its kind slipping beneath the waters.  At least these images will help keep its memory alive. 

Wondering what happened with the Red-eared Turtle I started this post with?  I carefully picked up the turtle by the edges of its shell, being sure not to get my fingers in harm’s way, and placed it at the river’s edge.  At first, the water washed over the top of his shell and the turtle’s head and legs remained tight within.  Slowly, the water revived this turtle and I watched it disappear into the Ohio River.

Red-eared Turtle, 6/08

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plastic ball, 6/09

Another collection of images has been added to my Pages section.  Check out some of the balls I have come across at the Falls of the Ohio.  This is another in a series of unusual collections of images and objects courtesy of man and the Ohio River.

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Falls facing west, 6/09

On Father’s Day I got up early and headed to the river.  I had a three hour window of opportunity before the family gatherings began.  Those close to me know how special these excursions to the river are for me.  It’s part of my mental health maintenance ritual.  I need to come out here, see what I can see and make an object/image from what I find.  Here’s this day’s post.

King's head in studio, 6/09

This is where I sit surrounded by the materials I use to make my particular form of art.  Whatever that is happens to be open for debate.  Where exactly does the art occur?  Is it in the process of walking the river and selecting materials?  Is it in the sculptural models I make from them?  Is it located in the images I photograph of those models in their unique site specific contexts?  Could it be in some of the great conversations I’ve had with people intrigued by what I do?  Is it in trying to build awareness of our inherent creativity and connection to the planet?  Does it reside in the activity that is this blog?  Maybe someone out there can help me out?

Falls looking south, 6/09

I’m not deterred by weather…unless lightening is involved.  I’m out here when it’s 100 degrees or below zero.  Today it rained off and on.  Where I sit under the willow trees you can mostly stay dry.  The activity of making something causes me to forget my physical discomfort.  The Ohio River has been a little higher than usual because of all the rain that fell east of here.  The little bit of wind was generating waves that forced the driftwood to tumble over the debris and collect along that day’s shoreline.

King's Rain, 6/09

I imagined this figure as being some kind of “king”.  I think that comes from his head gear.  You can’t really see this, but there is a plastic rose under the “crown”.  His nose is a burnt out Christmas lightbulb.  The ears are some rubber object I broke in half.  The mouth is a plastic bottle cap.  His eyes are waterlogged nuts.  I liked posing this figure near the water’s edge…just out of reach of the waves.  The green ring could be his symbol of office.  I later lost the ring, but found a green wiffle ball that took its place.

Facing east, 6/09

This shot gives a good view of the willow habitat as you look east.  I didn’t see this until I got home, but the tree lying in the foreground connects with the bridges beyond it.  Very few people came out today.  I did see the mink again which delighted me.  I hope it hangs out for awhile and calls this place its home.  It’s a little bit of unexpected, but welcomed wildness.  Last shot is of the “King” set up in a different location.  The smudge to the right is rain water on the camera’s lens I didn’t notice at the time.  I left the figure standing at the Falls and went home.

The King's game, 6/09

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Figure with River Sun Disk, 6/09

Today was the first classic hot and humid day at the bottom of the river.  It can be amazing how much can change in a week.  All the vegetation was approaching it’s greenist and the waves were rolling across the sand.  Another river sweep occured today and I did my part by making this sculpture.  I found the foam, sticks, plastic, etc…along a walk I did Saturday morning.  This post is as much about the power of context…same figure, but different backdrops within the park’s confines.  Different possible narratives are suggested by changing the locations.  The first picture is one my wife said I should put in.  She likes that yellow disk I found and set up for the photograph.  I found it on the water’s edge and equate it with the sun.  Moving right along…River Sweepers, 6/09..  …. .   ..  .    .    .


A scheduled river sweep brought a dedicated group of concerned citizens together to pick up trash around the interpretive center.  I intersected them at the fossil rocks.  I wonder what they think when they trip across my studios with their caches of polystyrene?  Bless them for their labors, but try as you might…you just can’t get it all.  I know because I looked over the other side of the dam!

Fish Dance, 6/09

Alive this was a really impressive fish.  Probably one of the larger Freshwater Drum I’ve seen here.  They are kind of common and considered more of a trash fish than table fare by the local fishermen.  I put the sculpture next to the drum…it’s one way to get the river’s fish in the picture.

Dancing figure, 6/09

With a foot wedged into the crack along the fossil cliffs…the figure becomes a graceful dancing character.  The leaning tree adds another point of interest in this design.  It still needs a little more light on the figure.

Head in hand, 6/09

The milk jug cap folded in two made a great mouth.  The nose is a cap of a pen or marker.  One eye is a fishing bobber the other is a round piece of plastic with a hole in it.  I added the blue insulation foam crest to increase the presence of the head.  One last image…from what proved to be fruitful day on the river.Sun Dish and River, 6/09

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Jug Man, 6/08

We are going back in time now to June of 2008.  It’s this time…last year.  The Ohio River had just gone through a cycle of high water and there was lots of junk everywhere.  If one can be inspired by plastic containers and Styrofoam what would you make? 

Jug Man, 1st phase, 6/08

Here’s one potential response…make the world a “Jug Man”.  This was one of the larger figures I made that year.  Just a little shorter than me, still the body was a large hunk of polystyrene foam.  Talking with other river folk, there is agreement that these larger pieces are broken away from temporary boat docks.  I found all the colorful plastic containers in the immediate area of where this figure was constructed.  The big news going on in the world at this time was the rising cost of gasoline and how everybody was freaking out over it.  We knew it was “bound to happen” sometime soon didn’t we?  This is the figure during Phase I.

Fallen Jug Man, 6/08

I came back a few days later and discovered that “Jug Man” had either fallen over or was knocked over.  I noticed that the shoe prints in the sand didn’t match my own.  Since all the pieces were there, I decided to move the sculpture to another location closer to the river.

Jug Man, 2nd Phase, 6/08

I’m guessing that the wooden structure was part of some train trestle, anyway it was left here by the river and I liked its form.  It had a nice way of defining a space that seemed particularly sculptural and graphic enough for a photographic image.  I carried the body of  “Jug Man” across the sand and moved the plastic containers with it.  The yellow barge rope was an added bonus of this site.  I set everything up and walked away…Phase II

Falls of the Ohio, 6/08

A few more days passed and I returned to see if “Jug Man” was still standing.  He was there, but a bit battered.  Granted he wasn’t the most handsome guy, but he was jaunty in his own way.  The clown-like bingo dauber nose was snapped off, an eye was missing, the smile on his face and his blue vest were missing.

Jug Man damaged, 6/08

As long as most of him was here, I was committed to setting him back up.  I found another fishing bobber as a replacement eye, but the blue vest was gone for good.  The next images are of the last shots I have of him.

Jug Man, Phase III, 6/08

Phase III was relatively short lived.  Eventually, everything including the wooden structure was reclaimed by the river.  From beginning to end, the whole process took nine days.  Here’s one last look of last year’s gas-crisis messenger as he faces the river music…gone but not forgottan.

Jug Man, back view, Phase III, 6/08

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Fruit Seller

So far, everything I’ve featured on this blog was made on site at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I do, however, make independent art works from the same materials collected in the park.  Over the years, I have removed more than may fair share of junk off the riverbank and to my wife’s chagrin, brought it home.  I do prefer working on site, but making more conventional art objects from the same found materials comes in handy for other purposes.  I have made, exhibited, and yes, sold work through various shows and galleries.  I have also given as gifts many of these sculptures to family and friends.  And I wonder if this is true in other places as well, but I do get many requests from not for profit groups to donate items to fund raising auctions.  Among Louisville artists there is ongoing conversation as to whether this is a good practice if you are seriously interested in establishing a market value for your work.  For the most part, I don’t worry about this and feel it’s up to the individual artist to do what works best for them.  When I can, and when I have a personal connection to the organization and or believe in their mission…I’ll give them an artwork.  The above piece is such a case in point.  I call this work the “The Fruit Seller” and it’s made from 100% found materials from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s the second piece I have donated to the park to support their “Rock the Rocks” fundraiser. The sculpture from last year did pretty well in the auction.  Materials gathered and incorporated include Styrofoam, driftwood, mussel shells (the ears), various plastics, fishing bobber (nose), and walnut shell (mouth).  Of course, all the plastic fruit is from the river as is the reflectors and beaver-chewed sticks used for the legs and even the painted base was found.  If anyone is interested in learning more about the park, here is their website’s link:  www.fallsoftheohio.org  The event is scheduled to occur on August 22, at the park’s Interpretive Center.

Fruit Seller, back view

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Fixed wier dam, 6/09

After several days that featured heavy thunder showers, Saturday morning opened clear and bright.  I had a feeling that this would be a special day and it didn’t take very long to be proven right.  In less than five minutes I had my first memorable encounter of the day below the fixed wier dam.

Mink, 6/09

Running along the shoreline,  investigating every nook and cranny was this mink!  Please excuse the exclamation mark, but this was the first one I had ever seen at the Falls. It’s been over twenty years since I first visited this place.  There have been times I thought I came across their tracks, but I’m no expert in this area.  This mink kept moving which made it difficult to photograph.  It ran right up the sloping concrete wall of the dam and I lost it in the underbrush! 

Black-crowned Night Heron, 6/09

Bird life was plentiful today.  I was scolded by wrens and laughed at by chickadees as I sat in my outdoor studio surrounded by the materials I have gathered to make my sculptures.  I watched orioles and blue jays, catbirds and grackles, and a pair of eastern kingbirds courting and chasing away every other bird to enter their territory.  I also watched the herons and decided to try to make one from my poor materials.  The bird above is the Black-crowned Night Heron and there were many out fishing today.

Foaming Brain's head, 6/09

When I reached my “studio’, I could see that the site had been visited.  Most of the sculptures that I had made over the previous weeks had been damaged or destroyed.  As I have mentioned before, this is an experiment in human nature…albeit one without a hypothesis.  For the most part, I want to believe that people are good…until I’m proven wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt.  One of the many services my art seems to perform is as an outlet for unfocused aggression.  Naturally, I would have liked it better if instead of destroying these figures, new ones were created by other hands than mine.  I leave all the materials I’ve gathered on site for others to use if they feel so inclined. I’m also alright with the idea that if someone liked a piece…they can take it home with them.  Whatever is left behind nature eventually claims anyway.  I remind myself that it’s also okay to let this stuff go…it’s liberating and besides, I’ll just make more.

Styro-heron, 6/09

Styro-heron, 6/09

Since today’s action was happening near the wier dam, I photographed the Styro-heron I made near this area.  This bird is primarily polystyrene foam, driftwood, plastic and that’s it.  I have no idea what the object serving as tail feathers is, but it’s made from Styrofoam too.  The eyes on my bird are tiny, plastic fishing bobbers.  The blue herons around the Falls are very difficult to approach, but they do love it here.  Through spotting scopes, I’ve seen as many as fifteen birds fishing together from the fossil rocks on the Kentucky side.  World wide, this is a very successful species.

Styro-heron, 6/09

An alternate shot and one that shows the other side of the sculpture.  I’ll end with an image of a real Great Blue Heron taken at the Falls a few weeks ago during a time of high water.

Great Blue Heron, 5/09

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Bottle Collection

I posted a new collection in my pages section.  Comprised of images instead of objects, this “portfolio” features plastic bottles, some with contents, that have washed ashore at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  This collection documents a family of objects we rarely pay attention to and yet comprises a noticeable addition to the river’s flotsam.

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River Neptune, 6/08

Recently, I started a new job and so my trips to the river are extra special.  I do, however, have  years of digital images to draw from and so these works can live again.  Many of these were originally seen by few if any people.  This is the Ohio River Neptune from this time last year.  He’s holding what’s left of a toy trident…probably from a Halloween devil costume.  The head is Styrofoam with some waxy residue coating it.

Canada Geese with young

While making the Neptune figure I recall seeing Canada Geese parading their goslings around the creek mouth that feeds into the Ohio River.

Ohio River Neptune

Here’s where I left Neptune standing on an old railroad tie.  His body was a nice portly chunk of Styrofoam.  This was sited in the park’s western side near a favorite stand of cottonwood trees.  This little grove has amazing exposed roots that support these trees and form overhanging canopies that you can sit under.  Fewer people venture out this far from the parking lot.

Groundhog Head

This post promised a groundhog’s head…and here it is.  I snapped this image of a young whistle pig poking its anterior out of its burrow.  Around here, you do need to pay attention to where you walk because it’s very easy to twist an ankle or break a foot stepping into one of their holes.

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