Archive for October, 2009

Late October color, 10/09

When the trees at the Falls of the Ohio reach peak color, birders keep an eye open for avian rarities.  The Uncommon Bluebill may or more likely may not appear in the park.  Usually birders have to settle for glossy pictures of this bird in fancy magazines devoted to all things…birds.  Those images are usually taken in the bluebill’s northern haunts during the breeding season when the birds are a bit more distracted as they go through their courtship gyrations.  This post is about a personal stroke of luck as I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to record the Uncommon Bluebill at the Falls of the Ohio.

the Uncommon Bluebill, 10/09

And here it is!  As advertised, this bird does possess a distinctly blue beak.  It’s a little larger than the average wood warbler and has some of the same foraging behaviors.  Other distinct features for identification purposes include a white body and pink tail.  This bird is equally at home on the ground or in the top most branches of a tree.  I do confess that I wasn’t looking for this bird for that would be an excercise in frustration.  In a way, it has to find you and you have to be prepared to receive it when it appears.  That is why I bring my camera with me whenever I’m here.

Uncommon Bluebill with Milkweed, 10/09

I recall that a few Golden-crowned Kinglets proceeded the bluebill.  I was watching the kinglets and their hovering, mid-air investigations of the undersides of leaves when from the corner of my eye I noticed a bird that was distinctly not a kinglet.  The Uncommon Bluebill moved easily from a branch to the trunk of a tree ready to pounce on the insects it discovered.  Some of my best shots of this single bird were in association with a Milkweed vine that held its attention for a while.  It was so intent in its pursuit that it did not notice me observing it from behind a large willow.

Uncommon Bluebill and Milkweed, 10/09

I held my breath and hoped the digitally- produced mechanical camera noise would not frighten it away.  The bird hung around for a minute and no longer.  After that, it was gone.  I walked silently over the dropped willow leaves and back to my car.  I had just seen a creature so rare that it was essentially a ghost.  What could possibly top that as an experience today?

Autumn willows by the river, 10/09

Read Full Post »

Sycamore in Fall, 10/09

The American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is a large and familiar tree found primarily east of the Mississippi River.  Many people recognize it by its mottled bark revealing patches of brown and white color.  Usually sycamore trees are found close to water and that is the case at the Falls of the Ohio.  I have a favorite stand of these trees, but they are remarkable for reasons other than their size. 

Sycamores with open roots, 10/09

Sycamore trees, Falls of the Ohio, 10/09

I can remember when I first came across these trees, I had the feeling that they were trying to uproot themselves and walk away.  The exposed root systems in these specimens are elaborate.  I wonder if the riverbank was more extensive at some earlier point in the development of these trees and eroded away due to flooding?  Sycamores can be fast growing trees, but these examples don’t appear to be that old.

Sycamore roots, 10/09

Their roots snake across the riverbank nearly touching the water and are very picturesque.  I have used this location as a backdrop to photograph some of my sculptures.  I did this most recently for a work entitled “Audubon’s Apotheosis”.  Within the aggregate that makes up a sycamore’s seed ball is a small sphere that I have used for eyes in some of my figures.  I also like the yellow-green color of the leaves this time of year.  Here’s one last shot of a particularly “Ent-ish” tree, its dropped leaves swirling around its amazing roots.

Walking Sycamore tree, 10/09

Read Full Post »

Watchful Willie, top view, 10/09

As promised, the weekend at the river was gorgeous.  I spent the greater part of Sunday in the sun and being absorbed by my absurd art form.  The willow leaves that hadn’t already dropped to the ground were now more yellow than green.  Autumn is a fragile season at the Falls.  If you blink you can miss it and I wanted to place a figure in this setting before that happened.  I moved to my studio spot and created this guy from materials I had gathered previously and snapped these images.

Watchful Willie's head, 10/09

Here’s Willie’s head in my hand.  I started with an odd-shaped hunk of weathered Styrofoam and fished out some bobbers from my bag to use for eyes.  As you can see, they don’t exactly match, but they work with the form and make it more expressive.  The mouth is a piece of red plastic and I’m not sure what the nose was in a previous life.  Maybe you do?

gray squirrel, 10/09

While I worked on my figure, I wasn’t completely alone.  This handsome gray squirrel decided that I posed no threat and sat on the opposite end of the same log I was sitting on!  None of my movements seemed to concern it and so I kept doing what I was doing and it did the same.  I have had the feeling on more than one occasion that animals reveal their presence to me.  Connecting with life in those moments is a truly magical and intimate experience.  If that happened to more people regularly, there would be no question about falling in love with nature or the need to preserve it.

Watchful Willie, 10/09

The chunk of Styrofoam I selected for the body was really flawed and split easily.  I was barely able to get the legs in before the whole piece started falling apart.  I picked a spot that had all these other “elements” to it and gingerly stuck the sculpture into the wet sand.  When I categorize my work as being “absurd”, it is meant to refer to more than just the figures.  Coming across a stretch of the Ohio River that has several tires, plastic barrels, and rusted-out water heaters along it is equally ridiculous.  The figures I make help create focal points at particular sites and remind people that this kind of callous treatment of a precious resource is something no other animal would think of doing.

Watchful Willie in the landscape, 10/09

I left this figure standing next to the debris and returned to my studio under the willows.  I have long come to the realization that try as I might, I just can’t take all this trash with me.  I have enough river-turned Styrofoam at home to continue this project for a couple of years.  By leaving a work every once in a while I hope that visitors will get the idea that some measure of creativity is required to address the pollution dilemma and that this creativity potentially resides in everyone.  And since I consider the river to be a co-creator in this artwork, there’s probably some karmic significance to letting the water have the last word every now and then.

Read Full Post »

Great Blue Heron in flight, 10/09

After last week’s excitement in the form of an exhibition and talk, life is returning to a slower pace.  Autumn is in full swing now.  When the sun is shining there are still enough leaves with great color left on the trees to make things seem magical.  On the other hand, after days of rain and overhanging clouds…it’s easy to get a case of the grays.  Following are a few images from last weekend.  I did come across an unexpected bird that is new to my Falls of the Ohio checklist.  I was able to watch a pair of Prothonotary Warblers for a few minutes and managed a couple of really  blurry images with my camera.  The park’s official checklist lists them as being only occasional for the spring season.  So, I’m feeling lucky to have seen them unexpectedly.

young groundhog, 10/09

The park’s woodchuck’s are busy putting on weight for the hibernation to come.  It seems this has been a decent year for them.  I’ve seen many and stepped into more than one unseen burrow entrance. It’s been a good year watching animals in general.  The mink sighting earlier in the year was a highlight.  It’s only a matter of time before I surprise a deer in the park.  Signs of them are starting to show up everywhere.

plastic model car, 10/09

I’m still finding unusual plastic stuff all the time.  Despite walking familiar routes through the park, I keep coming across items deposited here by past floods.  Here’s a plastic model Mustang car.  It was lying snug next to a log.  I have other images of shoes and plastic gasoline containers as well that I’ll use to eventually update those image collections on this blog.  With many of the willow trees losing their leaves, my secret studio spot is easier to find than ever.  Here’s what it looks like currently.  Prince Madoc is keeping a good watch over things!  According to the extended forecast, tomorrow is supposed to be the one sunny day of the week.  I’ve promised myself an extended outing at the Falls.  Whatever I make or document will be my posts for the upcoming week.

Studio in mid October, 10/09

Read Full Post »

Trick or Treater at Galerie Hertz, 10/09

After the Bluegrass Bioneers talk, I had works open in a group show at Galerie Hertz in Louisville.  The exhibit dates are October 18 through November 14.  Many of the fifteen sculptures on display were featured first in this blog.  It’s a night and day difference seeing them in a gallery context as opposed to their original settings at the Falls of the Ohio.

Rain Deer, 10/09

This space on South Preston Street is the latest incarnation of Galerie Hertz.  Billy Hertz and his partner Tom Schnepf are rightly credited for their work in revitalizing and rehabilitating old buildings and distressed neighborhoods.  Much of what exists as an art scene in Louisville, especially on Market Street, owes this unique pair a debt of thanks.  Whether lightning can be bottled yet again remains to be seen.  In addition to serving as a gallery, this large, high-ceilinged space is also home to the couple and serves as Billy’s painting studio as well.  Tom is a marvelous gardener and it has been fun to watch black top and concrete being transformed into a living space for plants.

Galerie Hertz, 10/09

Paintings by M. Van Pelt and W. Goodman line the gallery’s walls.  The opening was relaxed and informal and it was nice visiting with old friends.

Read Full Post »

Bioneer sign, 10/09

The live satellite feed from California of the national Bioneers conference was projected onto the domed ceiling of the University of Louisville’s Rauch Planetarium.  A nice cheer and applause followed the mention of the City of Louisville as being one of the participating cities in the 20th anniversary of this event.  Bioneers are people who are social and scientific innovators engaged in the tough challenges that affect us as a result of our rough treatment of the very Earth that sustains us.  I was honored to be asked to participate in the Bluegrass Bioneers which was a three day connection to the national event.

Rauch Planetarium, 10/09

The Bluegrass Bioneers are people who are truly trying to make a difference globally by acting locally.  Several of the Kentucky sessions revolved around the issues of coal and the consequences that result to people and planet from relying on this fossil fuel.  Sustainability and wise land use were frequent themes among the dozens of presentations that were given by experts in their fields.  There was a creative mix of round table discussions, films and documentaries, lectures, music and more that kept things lively and interesting.  Despite the daunting environmental challenges that face all of us, there was an upbeat and optimistic attitude around this event as people networked and strategize on what to do next.

My art at Bioneers event, 10/09

Partly as a result of this blog, I was asked to show a few of my artworks and give a talk about my Falls of the Ohio Project.  Here’s an image of my absurd works in the planetarium that were temporarily relieved of their duty of insulating my basement.  I gave a PowerPoint presentation showing my art in its river context and was really surprised when 25 people showed up on a beautiful Sunday morning to check it out. According to my son Michael,  I probably had a few slides I could have done without, but each time I give this show it will get a little better as a presentation.  With hope, maybe a few people sitting in the audience might think to engage the world using their own innate creativity.  Of the sessions I watched, the plenary talk given by artist Lily Yeh was the most inspiring.  Her projects in Philadelphia and Rwanda demonstrate in the most positive way the transformative power of art.

Bioneer sign, 10/09

I would like to thank Ben Evans for inviting me, “Crow Holister” for the recommendation, and the University of Louisville, Rauch Planetarium, and the University of Louisville Center for Environmental Education for helping to organize and host this event.  I enjoyed the opportunity to share what I do and to make new friends!

Read Full Post »

blue-headed vireo

October and the Fall migration is underway.  One bird I look forward to seeing is the Blue-headed Vireo.  I have spotted them the same week in October for two consecutive years now.  I watched a pair working their way around the willow trees and observed one eating a fat, dark moth it caught.  These vireos are less wary and found lower in the trees than the other vireo species recorded here.  The official Falls of the Ohio checklist counts six vireo species.  I’m still looking for the Yellow-throated Vireo, which like the Blue-headed is considered uncommon for the park.  I like the bright white spectacles around this bird’s eyes.  Here’s a different view of this bird.

Blue-headed Vireo, 10/09

A couple weeks back I made another bird from Styrofoam and just didn’t get the chance to post it till now.  I think it turned out well and I call it a “White Jay”.  It’s about the same size as a Blue Jay.  Materials used to create this sculpture include:  polystyrene foam, sticks, lead (one eye), bark (for the wings) and plastic.  I later attached it to a branch, as in early ornithological prints, and is in the present Galerie Hertz exhibit.  Again, here are a  couple different views of this piece.

White Jay, 10/09

White Jay, 10/09

Read Full Post »

Downed tree at the Falls, 10/09

Another day of adventure at the Falls of the Ohio and made all the more memorable since I had company this time.  My good friend Jefferson, his son Holden, and my son Michael made the short trip across the Second Street Bridge to have fun and collect sticks.  Wood is something the Falls has in abundance and Jeff has a purpose in mind for his sticks.  He wants to support a net over his goldfish pond to keep out leaves and all the cleaning that results when they get in the water.  Jeff always seems to have a purpose or job to do.  The boys decided to collect wood and construct some kind of fort.  That has been their prefered activity at the Falls for as long as they have been coming out here.  I, on the other hand, prefer to play and I made a figure to accompany us.  I call him the Dancing Man and here are a few images from our day together.

Dancing Man, 10/09

Dancing Man, back view, 10/09

Here are front and back views of this figure.  He’s made from Styrofoam, sticks, plastic, and aluminum all found in the park.  Finding branches and roots that have the right gesture to them is what helps give this work some sense of motion.  I like it when I find a piece of foam that isn’t so static in form.  The body of Dancing Man has some torque to it that further enhances the implied motion and helps make it a more interesting sculpture in the round.  The limbs also help animate the figure and lead your eye to the head which has the most detail invested in it.  This guy looks surprised like he wasn’t expecting to get his feet wet!

Dancing Man with Tire, 10/09

Looking through the day’s images, this one is my favorite of the Dancing Man series.  There was enough moisture in the sand that it reflected the back light in this interesting way.  At the moment, it seems that there are more washed up tires along the shoreline than is usual.  One can always find a tire or two, but after the last bout of high water, it’s like sea turtles that have come along way across the river just to find this certain stretch of beach to haul themselves out on to land again.

Michael, Dancing Man, and Holden, 10/09

Dancing Man ventured too close to Michael and Holden’s fort and was captured.  This image does a good job of giving you some idea of the scale of my Styrofoam figure.  Michael’s in the 8th grade now and Holden is a year behind him.  I’m glad they are good friends and I know it pleases Jeff as well.  I first met him when we were undergraduate art students at Murray State University.  Our families have remained close.  Jeff is a wonderful artist in his own right and has become a middle school art teacher in a neighboring county.  I am going to use Dancing Man for an exhibit I’m participating in this weekend.  I’m also looking forward to my Bluegrass Bioneers talk the same day.  Two separate events both involving my art.  It must be serendipity because it sure wasn’t planned out that way!  Final image is of the guys by their improvised fort.  I’ll catch up with everyone later in what will prove to be a noteworthy week for me.

Michael, Holden, Jeff, and Dancing Man, 10/09

Read Full Post »

willow trees and water, 10/09

Last week’s rain means that the river is high.  The once exposed fossil beds are now covered by swiftly flowing water.  Along the shoreline, new layers of driftwood have been mixed up, added to, and then deposited on the Indiana side of the Ohio River.  This is usually a good time to see if anything new has washed up.

Yellow Boat, 10/09

I found many of the objects that comprise this blog such as bottles, shoes, balls, Styrofoam, driftwood and more.  Among the more fun discoveries was this toy yellow boat.  I came across it adrift in a puddle and judging from how dinged-up it looks…must have survived a fierce storm.  The boat’s occupant looks like he has a case of sea sickness.

toy boat in puddle, 10/09

Here’s how it looked at the moment of discovery.  After a few snapshots, I pocketed the boat and set out on a quest to find more waters for it to float on.  It was nice taking this break from the last few days.  I have about a dozen Styrofoam sculptures opening in an exhibit at Galerie Hertz next Sunday.  I’m also giving a talk the same day on my art for the Bluegrass Bioneers event.  More on both events later in the week.

Yellow Boat in fallen tree, 10/09

In a fallen tree I found a water-filled hole and a safe harbor for the yellow boat.  So far, it’s still a bit hard to gauge how small the boat is.  That’s what I like about photography…you can’t always judge scale.  To settle it in your mind, I offer this last image that will give its size away!

Yellow Boat in hand, 10/09

Read Full Post »

Willow habitat at the Falls, 10/09

The slightest hint of yellow is tinting the willow leaves at the Falls of the Ohio.  Picking my way through the driftwood, my legs brush against the occasional clump of ripening Cocklebur.  This time the bur’s tiny hooks stay fast on the parent plant, but in a few weeks my shoes’  laces will collect all they touch. 

Black-and-white Warbler, 10/09

As far as birds go, I’m in luck today.  Small groups of mixed warbler species are passing by the Falls on their way south.  I saw Magnolia Warblers, American Redstarts, and Black-and-white Warblers moving through the willows.  I watched the Black-and-white Warbler pictured above harvesting drab-colored moths from the fissures in the tree bark.  It seemed that everything happened at once.  The warblers would appear along with Eastern Wood-Peewees, Blue Jays, and a Northern Flicker made the scene.  There would be a brief flurry of activity and then the birds would be gone.  Is there security in the numbers or does the sound and motion confuse the small insects they flush out?  If allowed, I could spend all my time just trying to figure that out.  Here’s a picture of the flicker with his yellow tail.Northern Flicker, 10/09 


I’ve walked these same driftwood piles for months, but I still find river-polished Styrofoam and odd bits of plastic that I can use for my sculptures.  I have removed a lot of artificial junk from this place and made art out of most of this stuff.  As far as sculptural processes go, I use both additive and subtracted methods.  The additive parts are apparent in the sticks and such I attach to the polystyrene chunks.  The subtractive part is less obvious and is represented in my mind by the unwanted materials that I remove from the natural beauty of the park.  I rarely do any other carving to the foam chunks themselves.  This needs to be something anyone can do and not be some brilliant example of technical hand skill if I want others to try.

Alien Ballet, 10/09

Here’s what I came up with on this early autumn day along the Ohio River.  I call it the Alien Ballet and I amused myself by making it and the digital images that resulted from the experience!  Recently, I read that the estimated number of potential planets that could harbor life just increased greatly because our ability to see into the universe’s deep places keeps getting better.  This is also based on life as we know it and needing just the right conditions (water, distance from the right type of star, etc…) in other words, other Earth-like planets.  It is interesting to speculate that in the vastness of creation, those conditions that result in life may not be as rare as we currently think.

Alien Ballet, 10/09

My aliens have traveled from that other dimension that is my imagination.  They are revelling in their individuality and dancing together with the light and shadow on the edge of three different states of matter.

Alien Ballet, 10/09

There is value in being in the present moment, right here and now.  Despite the chance of there being other similar worlds in the cosmos, I can’t imagine they would be as conducive to life as we live it than right here on Earth.  We need to celebrate this place while we can.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: