Archive for November, 2009

Just to help pad a month of posts shortchanged by computer woes…I’m publishing some recent finds of mine at the Falls of the Ohio.  I found these objects (and more) the last three times I visited the river across the way from Louisville.  Something about the lay of the land and the prevailing currents push all sorts of floating stuff onto the park’s shoreline.  I found the colorful gourd above about two feet away from this neon yellow-green softball that was losing its cover.  Here are more recent gourd images.

First, here’s a round, variegated gourd…followed by a knobby, elongated, variegated, squash.  Perhaps they are Thanksgiving decorations?

Although it looks like it could be some kind of strange seed pod, the “laces” give it away.  It’s a novelty American football…with “French ticklers”?  Definitely, one of the oddest balls I’ve come across and worthy of being added to my “Balls of the Ohio Collection”.

I came across this tiny smiley-face ball lying face up in the sand.  Another tiny find was this toy hat.  I added a walnut to give you a sense of its scale.

I kept the hat and don’t be surprised if you see one of my Styrofoam figures wearing it someday.  A few months a go, I did a post about “sea life” in the Ohio River.  Well, I recently came across another candidate for that story.

The pincers on this sand toy crab pivot back and forth.  My last image is a flattened inner tube.  Usually, I find tires, but this believe it or not is a rarity.  The way it is just laying there all sphincter-like in the light, caught my eye.  I’m working on new categories of objects seen in the Falls context and I will include them here as they develop.

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It’s a sad but true fact that people abandon their pets at the Falls of the Ohio.  I have come across many stray dogs and cats in my wanderings around the park.  Of course, it’s hard to excuse this behavior when there are organizations that will care for and find new homes for unwanted animals. 

This is a story about a recent encounter I had with a most peculiar “dog”.  I came to call him “Rat-Dog” because of its diminutive size.  I was walking among the willows on a day that felt so much like winter.  I even heard the calls of Sandhill Cranes migrating, but the clouds were low and I couldn’t spot them.  As I was walking past a certain willow with a cavity at its base…this little white animal came running towards me.  For about an hour the little dog tagged along with me and I photographed it in various places of interest.  Rat-Dog would not let me touch it, but it was nevertheless playful.  Following are several images of this remarkable animal.

He seemed to like to play fetch.  I gathered a few walnuts and pitched them into the brown, curling leaves and Rat-Dog was very good at finding them.  I wondered how long he had been out here and what was it eating?  I surmised that like other strays, it probably ate garbage and handouts from fishermen.  I regretted that I had nothing to feed it.  Usually, I have something to snack on, but on this day, I hadn’t planned to stay long.

Along the sandy trail, we came to a patch of yellow Horse Nettle fruits.  I photographed these plants months a go when they sported lovely purple and yellow flowers.  I have since learned that these fruits are very poisonous.  They look like little tomatoes.  Rat-Dog fortunately did not eat any.  He seemed content to just run between the clumps of plants.

As another good indicator of scale, I shot this image of Rat-Dog by a plastic bottle.  It was at this moment that the little animal heard some distant sound and ran as fast as it could towards it.  I thought to myself that perhaps this was the dog’s owner who feeling twinges of guilt, came back for it.  Maybe he wasn’t abandoned to begin with and had become lost during an earlier visit?  Either way, I hope he finds his way home.

Rat-Dog was made from bits of found Styrofoam, coal, sticks, and pieces of plastic.  The collar around his neck is the top from a disposable salt shaker.  The dog is held together with little sharpened pegs.  He was created and photographed at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  The part about pets being abandoned here…is sadly true.

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This is my 1ooth post!  I was really looking forward to writing this about two weeks a go when my computer crashed!  The real horror was that many of my Falls of the Ohio project images weren’t backed up.  I do have stuff on flash drives, CDs, memory cards, and yes, this blog, but the hard drive of my computer has the majority of my pictures.  That’s about three years worth of this project.  I still have another three years that’s completely analog-based that I could scan at a future date.  I’m not certain I have saved all my digital work, but I think it may still be there.  I’ll find out tomorrow, because it was a bit of an ordeal to get the family computer going again.  In the meantime, I was visiting the river and making sculptures and images from them.  Here is one story that takes place after the willow leaves have fallen and turned brown on the sand.  Winter’s chill isn’t far behind.

In my collecting bag were several small bottles the size used to serve alcohol aboard airline flights.  I decided to use them together on a single figure.  I found a piece of Styrofoam that could serve as a head and a few elements to create features.  Acorns become eyes, a plastic bottle cap serves as a mouth, the nose is some plastic electric insulating cap, the ears are Asiatic clam shells, and that tuft of hair is part of an old broom.  Those bottles mentioned earlier…I decided to string together like charms on a bracelet and I wrapped them around my polystyrene figure.

I conjured up this figure and imagined that he was a magic person with the power to intercede between worlds.  He wears the small bottles as amulets and as symbols of his office.  Bottles are important vessels because they mediate between exterior and interior realities.  The JuJu Bottleman comes to the Falls of the Ohio because he knows this is a really good place to find bottles of all kinds.

Strewn among the driftwood are plastic bottles that rode the last high water to this spot.  To the JuJu Bottleman, this is exactly what he is looking for.  It is uncertain what he intends to do with these bottles, but they serve some kind of important purpose that we may never know.  You can, however, feel a certain kind of power emanating from the collective energy of similar objects being grouped together.  Perhaps they serve as a battery for the imagination?  If one is good then more might be better.

Yes, I’m going to ask Santa for an external hard drive this year.  I have always intellectually known how fragile this data is, but my recent computer problem has accentuated that.  Pixels are like tiny beads of Styrofoam that are subject to fragmentation.  The notion that what happens to images in the electronic world finds a correspondence with the objects I’m manipulating and photographing in the physical world is an idea of interest to me.  The internet is a river that abrades and changes images as they appear in different contexts.  If I’m unable to retrieve my images from the old hard drive…I will accept that and think of it as a lesson learned.  I have other new discoveries and images from the Falls that I will post soon.

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west section of the Falls, 11/09

Because the climate has been so spectacular of late, it’s been possible and desireable to hang out in the park to make and see what one can.  This is another bird post, but one that specializes in what’s possible here in the fall.  Some of these species are found no where else…and for good reason.  I start with a shot of the typical terrain one encounters at this time of year.  What is a bird without some context?  Naturally, the river predominates as the distinct landscape feature with mixed hardwoods flanking the shoreline.  I’ll start first with an American Coot.  Not a particularly rare bird, but one I always enjoy seeing at the river.  I came across this lone individual and snapped this quick image for luck.  The true rarities are ahead.

American Coot, 11/09

In the western section of the park a couple of late nesting birds can be found among the exposed roots of the great trees.  This is the home of the Styro-Grackle and the Fleur-de-lis Dovelette.  The next two images are of the grackle.  I stumbled upon a male with its great yellow bill displaying with the remains of a baby’s pacifier.  In this species, males vie for the attention of females by choosing objects they believe the females will like.  The Styro-Grackle is a large, and noisey bird, but wary to the extreme.

Styro-Grackle display, 11/09

Here’s a close-up image of its head, bill, and pacifier it found by the river.

Styro-Grackle head with pacifier, 11/09

Often found in association with the grackles are the gentle Fleur-de-Lis Dovelettes.  The female specimen I came across was sitting on a fresh nest.  No eggs were observed within it.  The dovelette is not particularly fussy about what materials it uses to construct its bowl-like nest.  This one was made from shredded plastic with hardly a trace of natural fibers interwoven into its structure.  First, a picture of the bird itself in its woody habitat.

Fleur-di-lis Dovelette, 11/09

The bird derives its common name from the unusual crest upon its head.  It is rumored that this was the inspiration for the symbol used by the City of Louisville on its flag, official letterhead, etc…  More than likely though, it’s just a coincidence.  Like many dove species, this one has tiny feet.  Here’s a good look at the unusual nest constructed in the fork of a tree root.

Plastic fiber nest, 11/09

And here is the bird and nest joined together.  I didn’t linger because I didn’t want to disturb the dovelette anymore than I had to.  If the conditions are right, she will lay three to four light green eggs.  The dovelette will have to stand guard against raccoons, but otherwise her young have a good chance of reaching maturity.  Wild prairie grass seeds make up much of its diet.

Fleur-di-lis Dovelette on nest, 11/09

Cane Run Creek, 11/09

Near the middle of the park, Cane Run Creek flows into the Ohio River.  It’s a spot that’s favored by fisherman and birds alike.  Large rocks and trees deposited by flooding line its banks.  Because of the vagaries of the larger river, the creek’s appearance is highly variable.  It was in this area that I came across a rare and unusual shorebird that I would like to share with you.  Here are two images of the Jet Piper.  It is so named because it evolved a distinct crest that is believed to stabilize it during its speedy flight.  One sees a similar structure on the tail of modern aircraft.  The Jet Piper never stays in one place for long.  It probes the mud along the creek bank in search of worms and other invertebrates.  Recent studies have shown that this piper will on rare occasions, take nectar from hummingbird feeders.  Here are two views.

the Jet Piper, 11/09

Jet Piper, 11/09

The last specialty I came across is one of the sweetest singers in the park.  In fact, that’s how I located the Styro-wood Wren first…by its optimistic, cheery song.  I was sitting in my usual spot under the willows when I heard it nearby.  I took a position along a path I thought it might take and with success, recorded these images of this rare endemic bird.

Styro-wood Wren, 11/09

On a sunny morning, the Styro-wood Wren was making its rounds in the underbrush.  Its singing has more to do with staking its feeding territory than it does with finding a mate.  That will change once Spring arrives at the Falls once again.  Among the interlopers that the wood wren is trying to discourage are other members of the family Troglodytidae.  Sharing its range at various times are Carolina Wrens, House Wrens, and the tiny Winter Wrens.  That’s a lot of competition to try and discourage.  This particular bird was in rare form and seemed to pose for my camera.

Styro-wood Wren singing, 11/09

It spread its fan-tail and with a shudder of its brown- wings burst into song.  The small feathers along its neck make an attractive collar.

Styro-wood Wren, 11/09


I made these birds from materials I found in the park.  All the plastic and Styrofoam elements were once in the Ohio River where they interact with the natural ecosystem.  Among the other materials used include:  tree bark (for wings), coal (for eyes), and rootlets and twigs (for the legs).  I make these artworks to call attention to the condition of the land and water, to draw attention to the unique qualities of this place, to celebrate creativity, and because I love birds!  All the photos are mine and shot on location at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

While I was making my faux birds, the real articles were busy in the tree tops above my studio.  Among my favorites to watch are the Golden-crowned Kinglets.  These tiny birds are ever in motion and hard to photograph!  Here are a few more real bird pictures.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

upside down Golden-crowned Kinglet, 11/09

Golden-crowned Kinglet in action, 11/09

Lastly, the nest featured with the Fleur-de-lis Dovelette is in fact a genuine bird nest.  I found it in the branches of a downed tree.  I have no idea which species created it.  I have seen within the park, the nest of a Northern Oriole that used cast-off fishing monofilament in its construction.  I do, however, think I located a source for the plastic fibers.  Near the discovered nest, a large barge rope was slowly unraveling and its threads look identical to the ones in the nest I came across.

frayed barge rope or cable, 11/09

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sycamore leaf, 11/09

On a warm Kentuckiana weekend I spent as much time along the river as I could “safely” justify doing.  Days like this don’t stick around forever.   Before you know it, the chill in the air will hang there for months until it is relieved by Spring.   On Saturday, there was the street wide clean-up with the family and neighbors, but after that I was gone for a few hours.  The following couple of posts are the things I encountered and made during these golden moments.

Figure by wild grapevines, 11/09

This was the only humanoid-type figure I made over the weekend.  He has a decidedly happy expression on his face that comes from being created on a perfect day.  I moved this piece all over the place, but decided that I liked it best posed next to this glowing wild grapevine.  The glasses on his head lend an additional carefree attitude to this work.  His eyes are plastic fishing bobbers and his nose is a corn cob.  The ears are the bottom of an aluminum can I split in two with my pocket knife.  The mouth is a red piece of plastic I found.  I embedded a yellow reflector into his chest for added visibility.  The rest is Styrofoam and sticks courtesy of man and the Ohio River.

Figure with glasses on head, 11/09

I found a couple of other “happy” objects along the western section of the park and photographed them in place.  The first looks to be a green, bouncy, child’s toy and I wondered how far this thing floated to get here?  The second image takes me back to my childhood.  Isn’t it interesting that we can recognize all things Kool-aid from this fragment of a child’s canteen?  Of all the ways there are to render a face…this one remains distinctive.  Perhaps it’s in the comma-shape eyes and eyebrows?

green bouncy toy?, 11/09

broken Kool-aid canteen, 11/09

I lost myself noticing how much things change in the park depending on the season.  With the leaves off of the trees, all of a sudden the view gets large again.  I spent a few hours collecting materials that washed up here last week including four large Styrofoam sections tumbled by the river.  I had hoped to be able to make something from these in short order, but realized that they were out of scale to my ideas.  So, I hauled them up to my studio site where they look like big piles of snow melting in the woods.  I figure I have probably till January’s high waters to make something from them.

studio back view with large Styrofoam, 11/09

Figure with Glasses on head, 11/09

I left this piece standing to await whatever fate has in store for it.  The other found object pieces I made are all birds.  My gallery representative requested a few to use for a small show in a hotel I believe?  As I made them, I photographed them in different places at the Falls.  I have also been busy trying to mount these sculptures onto bases made from driftwood.  The experience of seeing my “faux” birds in the woods is totally different from seeing them as more formal art objects.  By now, I think you know which I prefer seeing.  I’ll show them to you, later this week.

young maple tree's first autumn, 11/09

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Cooper's Hawk, immature, 11/09

Cooper's Hawk, 11/09

So often it has been the case that I would see a really special creature shortly after arriving at the Falls.  I surprised this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk resting in a Cottonwood tree and it let me approach quite close before flying onto the railroad bridge.  As this bird matures, the brown streaks on its breast will take on a reddish hue and the feathers on its back will become more gray.  Even the eye color will turn red over time.  They are fearsome and effective hunters and routinely take the pigeons that roost along our bridges.  This bird has caught one of its tail feathers on the branch it is resting on giving it a somewhat awkward look indicative of its youth.

Cooper's Hawk, immature, 11/09

Here’s a larger image of this bird. I have photographed other Cooper’s Hawks over the years including one that was devouring a garter snake.  I have seen several juvenile birds here, so there must be at least one nesting pair that call this park home.  On the day I snapped this hawk I also came across a Canada Goose that was walking the shoreline.  It paid no attention to the Styrofoam gathering on the beach.  Wish I could do the same!

Canada Goose and Styrofoam, 11/09

Several large chunks of Styrofoam washed ashore this time.  I struggled to get these larger pieces up higher on the beach.  If they are still there when I next visit, I will make something with them.  I will end this time with a couple other images from this day.  Here’s another Little Deer image that shows its glowing eye a bit better.  And, last but not least, here is a nice picture of the railroad bridge just before sun down.  This is the one that the hawk flew onto after I spotted it.

Little Deer, 11/09

Railroad bridge at the Falls, 11/09


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Ohio River at the Falls, 11/09

In the week since I last visited the Falls of the Ohio, we had enough rain for the Ohio River to rise once again.  The willow trees nearest to the bank were a few feet underwater.  I found the remains of Watchful Willie from a couple of posts ago as well as “fresh” polystyrene scattered all along the shoreline.  I only had a few hours to work this day, so I tried to make the best of it.  Feeling the sunshine again was alone worth the trip, but I saw and made enough stuff to allow me several posts for the week.  Here is my latest Styrofoam creation made spontaneously as the sun was setting.

Little Deer, facing left, 11/09Little Deer, facing right, 11/09

Rummaging around my studio cache of materials under the willow trees I improvised this Little Deer.  It turned out more naturalistic than I anticipated.  Its head is a triangular-shaped piece of thin insulation foam, while the rest of its body is more found Styrofoam.  As is my habit, I have not tried to carve or shape the foam the river has given me.  It’s more about being choosy about what forms I use to begin with.  The work is held together with sharpened pegs.  I did, however, shorten the sticks I used for the legs with my pocket knife.  I attempted to create “eyes” by piercing the blue foam with a small wooden pin, but it left the hole you see and I liked it and left it as is.  The ears are made of pine bark and the tail is another piece of wood.  What’s different this time is that I didn’t try to incorporate another plastic element into the piece.

Little Deer on riverbank, 11/09

Little Deer, 11/09

I walked west along the Indiana side of the river stopping every once in a while to record an image in situ with Little Deer.  The way the light plays with the “eye-hole” causes it to glow and gives it another spark of life.  It made me recall the Henry Moore retrospective I saw at the Guggenheim Museum in New York years ago.  How Moore was able to use a hole as a form in his sculptures remains amazing.  The waves coming ashore threaten to sweep the deer away, but I placed it just out of reach.  Still, the sense that the work is vulnerable comes through the photographs.

Little Deer with Osage Orange, 11/09

One last image with the Little Deer.  This time I set it down next to the fruit of an Osage Orange tree to give it some sense of scale.  Some folks know these as “hedge apples”.  Since today is my sister Pat’s birthday, I would like to dedicate this piece to her.  I hope you had a nice day!  The parting image is something I’m beginning to see with more regularity now.

deer tracks in the sand, 10/09


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