Archive for January, 2010

It snowed today, it’s cold, and the river is rising.  I’m imagining that my studio site is in danger of getting swamped.  In all the years I have done this project,  I have only once been present at the moment the river carried my work away.  It was wierd watching the water inch slowly but surly towards my feet.  I had a couple of Styrofoam figures that the river just gently lifted away.  It looks like I won’t be making it to the river this weekend and so I put together a few recent and related images to present to you.  It’s all just river stuff I came across at the Falls of the Ohio.  I especially like the image of the log set on its end.

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Sometimes the river looks made of light more than water.  I thought of that many times on this day.  I had already made two figures and it was time to turn for home.  I posed my latest creations next to each other and in the same area I have worked in for months.  I found a child’s life jacket and placed it around Penguin Boy.  For his taller uncle, I secured him to a willow tree using a stringer to hold fish.  This will keep him from falling over.  I also found a blue plastic container and placed that in his hand.  The contrast between the orange of the vest and the blue of the jug added a colorful note on an otherwise somber day.  I’ll be curious to see all this in brighter light if “they” make it that far.

And the two together…

Working around in my studio site with its odd assortment of Styrofoam chunks and wiggly, expressive sticks and roots… I came across the gift left by a visitor who commented here, several posts a go.  I found the squirt gun and will have to think of a way to incorporate it in something interesting!  Thanks for the tokens!

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The big-nosed figure had a nephew, a child of the high river.  His name is Penguin Boy and he was assembled on the same day as his much taller kinsman.  Once you see the pictures, it might begin to make sense?  This story continues my last post.  With the Ohio River rising again, the creeping waters would eventually filter through the driftwood and lift my studio away.  It is bound to happen, does so most every winter before the change of the seasons.  I’m using the biggest pieces of Styrofoam I have collected from the river, before the water takes it all back again.  Here’s the second foam figure I made from river finds this day.  He’s considerably smaller and a little odd-looking.

For months, Penguin Boy existed as junk I found along the shoreline at the Falls of the Ohio.  I spontaneously assembled its elements and tried to create an image with it before the short winter light diffused into tomorrow.  The figure’s eyes and nose are three different fishing bobbers.  The ears are two plastic lids from snuff containers.  Penguin Boy’s mouth is a squished bottle-cap and the name came to me because of the shape of the body.  I don’t know what the yellow “T” is on top of the head, but it is hard plastic.  Here are a couple close-up views of the head.

That certain demented look comes from the eyes which are two different sizes.  I have always been fascinated by the fact our faces are not completely symmetrical.  I remember from art history how the northern renaissance painters had noticed this and used it in their early portraits.  I always thought this helped psychologically charge their likenesses and gave them personality.  I moved Penguin Boy around and added a deflated soccer ball which gave one arm more of a sense of purpose.

While I’m photographing this figure, the river is just pushing logs into the shallow water.  One of my feet is already wet and the knowledge that the other foot is dry is of little comfort!  I added this piece to the ensemble I have going back at my studio.  I changed Penguin Boy and took a few snapshots with his larger uncle, gathered my stuff and left.  I’ll show you images of this duo the next time around.  One last image before I go.

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 It’s a 50 degree day in mid winter and the river is rising.  I tried to make the best of the few hours I had to work outdoors this weekend.  It could have been sunnier, but at least it stayed warm and dry.  I made two figures and photographed them at the Falls of the Ohio.  Here’s the largest of the two in progress with a couple of old friends over wintering in the background.

I decided to try to use two of the bigger Styrofoam chunks I had stored at the studio site.  Eventually, the river is going to cover this area and so it’s use it or lose it time.  I have enough stuff in my bag to make quick decisions and there’s lots of driftwood to use everywhere around me.  The Ohio River seems restless and the constant waves have driftwood and logs pinned to the shoreline.  To make the features on this head I used mismatched fishing bobbers for eyes.  The asymmetry in the eyes makes for a more intense effect.  The large nose is the plastic head off of a toy golf club.  The ears are pieces of Styrofoam.  The mouth is suggested by a broken toy sand shovel I stuck into the foam.  I found some plastic collar to transition the head into the body and the rest is driftwood sticks.

I recycled the big Styrofoam piece from an earlier work made last spring.  It’s a little more battered the second time around.  When I added the head and legs, it made this figure taller than me.  I posed it around the studio site and then photographed it near the water to see if I could find more light.  Eventually, I moved the figure back to my studio area and posed it next to the second figure I made today.  I will show you that one next time around.

I had two people approach me while I was working who are also Falls enthusiasts and had seen my art out here before.  One young woman, an art student at the University of Cincinnati, was looking for driftwood.  She planned to pull a mold from the wood towards the goal of creating a bronze sculpture of her own.  After exchanging first names, the second conversation had a turn of its own.  The gentleman told me that he too had come down to the Falls for years and had seen other projects of mine.  For awhile, he said that a picture he took of one of my Styrofoam heads was his image of himself on his Facebook page!  I wonder which one it was and don’t know why I didn’t think to ask him at the time?  Imagine, having a face good enough for Facebook!

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A pox on the weatherman for lying.  Today did not turn out sunny and in the 50’s.  It was foggy, cold, windy, and gray.  I started the morning by misplacing my trusty pocket knife.  You never realize how much you need something until you miss it.  It was given to me by my friend James, who is a potter and blogger.  I hurriedly threw another knife into the bag and headed out the door.  Among the other items I could have used, but didn’t have included:  a hat, a warm coat, and gloves.  I was carried along with the idea that eventually the sun would burn away the fog.  Two days later…I’m still waiting.  One way to stay warm is to keep your mind occupied by other things like taking pictures and making art.

I stayed out until the tips of my fingers were getting numb and my nose was dripping.  I would have gone home sooner, but I was finding stuff to work with and soon had enough for a figure.  Here are most of the pieces before assembly.  The materials I used included:  Styrofoam, beaver-chewed willow wood, bits of plastic including the red cap from a marker, a reflector, coal, glass, and a bit of twine.

You find the creek by walking west along the Woodland Trail.  This is where this sculpture and these pictures were made.  During the last high water incident, driftwood and logs were deposited along the high banks of the creek.  Some of the logs will conform perfectly to the contours of the hillside while others remain a jumble of giant pick-up sticks.

Here’s the figure in progress.  The knife I’m using is for filleting fish and I found it out here about three years a go.  This is the first time I have ever used it for anything and it is sharp enough to sharpen sticks and poke holes in the Styrofoam.  In the cold, I tried to work as quickly and as surely as I could.  By now, I have worked with these materials and forms so many times that there is little wasted motion.  I’ve learned to create within many limitations. 

In the springtime, I look for migrating waterthrushes in this area.  And in the summer, as the logs dry out, I may try to walk across the creek on top of  one of them.  For now, things are damp and slippery and not worth the risk.  I finished the figure and took one last shot before heading home.  Finding the branch that looks like a bird’s foot was the inspiration for this guardian figure.  In the background, the creek joins the Ohio River marking the territorial boundary for the Birdfoot Clan.

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Presently, the ice and snow are gone at the Falls of the Ohio.  A warming trend the past few days has pretty much taken care of that.  Over the last several years, snow at the Falls has been a relatively scarce event and we have been limited to a couple dustings now and then.  It will be interesting to see how this winter plays out.  Will there be more of the white stuff or was that it for this year?  Certainly, there is this love/hate relationship with snow.  In Kentuckiana, we really don’t receive much snowfall, but when it’s in the forecast there is all kinds of anxiety that manifests itself in bizarre behavior.  The suggestion of an inch or two of snow can cause a run on certain grocery items and the local school systems fret about whether they should close or not!  I confess that I like the snow.  I appreciate its transformative power in an otherwise drab and dull season.  I also like that it can cause you to pause and reflect on what’s important and that’s beneficial.

My last few posts have shown some of my artwork in relationship to ice formations at the Falls.  Following are some other shots I made out here that I thought were interesting images.  Water defines this planet and to see it behaving in its frozen state is a beautiful experience.  Many of the best formations occur closest to the river and hang on the smaller willow trees that exist there.

Don’t these shapes look like ice “jellyfish”?  I marvel at how these formations build up.  I’m guessing that these shapes are created from several things happening in quick succession.  Melting that occurs from the sun shining on the ice higher in the tree causes a drip to run down these narrow branches.  At night, the fog and mist generated from the warmer rivers coats the terminal end of the branch and then refreezes.  The ice finds it easier to build up on preexisting ice.  Anyway,  I like the way it plays with light!

Here are a few pictures of ice-covered willows near the river’s edge.  It’s been awhile since the river itself was frozen and is something I’ve witnessed only a couple of times.  It’s not a routine event.  If memory serves me, the last time that happened was 1996?  Maybe someone out there remembers?

That car tire has been half-buried in the mud for over a year!  Here’s another tire I came across.  This one, however, is coated in ice creating a frozen circle.

There are a few months more of winter a head of us and so if it snows again…I will be sure to come back out here with my camera.  I’ll end with this last image of snow covering the driftwood at the Falls of the Ohio.

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Not much remains of the season’s first snow at the Falls of the Ohio…except for these images.  I shot these last weekend as well as another figure that I’m unveiling today.  I call him (or her?) the Skater and originally posed this figure on ice before moving on to investigate other locations.

Skater’s head is made from some odd bit of insulating material covered in black paper.  The facial features join a variety of materials including found plastic, wood, a clam shell, and a small acorn.  I had to chip a tiny hole in the ice in order for this figure to stand up.  I zigged-zagged across the park imagining this small guy visiting the sights with me.  Here are a few of the other scenes we came across.

I’m always on the look out for bird life.  During this time of the year duck watching can be very productive.  Although on this day, all I came across were these Mallards, it’s not unusual to see during winter other species including Common Goldeneyes, White-winged Scoters, and Canvasbacks.  Ring-billed Gulls, Great Blue Herons, Carolina Wrens, Song Sparrows, Canada Geese, and Northern Cardinals were among the other year-round residents seen on this day.

The temperatures are somewhere in the high teens, but luckily there is no wind to really make things cold!  After checking out the water’s edge with its ice formations, I moved back inland to check on my studio site and the few sculptures that are still in place.  Skater trudged along with me to say hello.

Among the past projects we came across were Pot Belly and Cross-legged Lorraine holding their positions.  Since the really cold weather, there haven’t been as many people out here to potentially mess with them.  A quick look around the snow didn’t show any human footprints.  There were, however, loads of various kinds of animal tracks now generalized by the elements.  Next I visited my Styrofoam cache, but couldn’t see much of it due to the snow.  Three figures from this past year were still on guard.

After a couple hours, I started to get hungry and the thought of a fresh cup of coffee seemed blissful.  I headed back to my car enjoying the sound of icy snow underfoot.  Skater decided to stay at the outdoor studio and I went ahead without him (or her).  I walked past that mysterious object that my son Adam dubbed in the spring, “…that giant plug at the bottom of the river”.  It will take a mighty flood to float this thing away.  I wonder who will eventually inherit it?

I still have some nice ice images to share with you from this day and perhaps I will put that post together in a day or so.  As I was walking home, I saw this object sticking out of the snow and it amused me and so, I’ll end this winterland adventure with it.  Might go good with coffee and pie!

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The snow we had several days a go hung on over the weekend.  It’s still cold, but that is due to change as temperatures begin to climb again this week.  Experiencing the Falls of the Ohio during these conditions is one of my favorite things to do because the landscape is transformed so evocatively.  The snow changes sound quality.  I feel as though I hear things better.  Even the notion of time seems different, but that’s harder to explain.  It is more of a feeling of rearranged priorities and participating in something elemental and ancient.  Fewer people are out and the park feels like it’s mine.  I have materials in my collecting bag and I’m going to make something today.

Near the river’s edge the ice formations are wonderful.  I spent a good part of my visit just admiring the many shapes that frozen water can take and the way it can bend light.  I took many photographs and plan a future post on just ice formations.  The willow trees serve as armatures for the ice to build upon.  Mist generated from the constantly moving and warmer water from the river seems to coat the willows in successive layers of ice that get bigger and bigger the longer the days stay below freezing.  Ice stalactites and stalagmites, frozen candlelabras, and what I describe in my mind as ice sausages, candles, and ribbons hang from the delicately thin branches of the willows.  Everything seems dipped and coated in glass.

Because the snow is covering up my usual sources of Styrofoam, I reach into the old collecting bag and begin the first of two figures I made on this day.  I usually start by matching shapes.  For example, this hunk of Styrofoam seems like it would make a good head to go on this chunk of Styrofoam which will serve as the body.  I look for expressive sticks or branches that will become the limbs.  I also spend more time on the details of the head since it will act as a focal point.  On this figure, the eyes are pieces of river-shaped coal, the ears are wood chips, the mouth is the cap from some tube of something, the nose is off of a fishing bobber. I topped him off with a plastic toy element I found that features what looks like a man blowing air from his mouth.  I imagine he’s a zephyr or old man winter.

As beautiful as these conditions can be…there is also a very real hint of danger.  You don’t want to get wet.  I remember last year stepping through the ice of a snow-covered puddle that was maybe 8 inches deep.  There was that initial rush of incredible cold followed by a painful, burning sensation!  I immediately started walking back to my vehicle and by the time I reached it, my shoes and the lower part of my trousers were frozen solid.  My feet, however, felt oddly warm, but I didn’t want to take any chances with frost bite.  I took a nice shower and changed clothes once I reached home just six miles away over the 2nd Street Bridge.

When I was a boy, one of the short stories that impressed me for its realism was Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”.  It’s a winter tale of life stripped bare to its essentials.  For me, it was an early inkling of what I would perceive as nature’s indifference towards man.  I remember the character in the story who also became wet,  struggling valiantly to build his fire to warm his frozen body, and just when he was on the verge of success, falling snow from an overhead tree limb dooms him, his fire, and the last of his matches.  Back in grade school, reading stories about people who didn’t make it seemed especially profound on my impressionable mind.

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From the world of sports, have you ever heard the expression describing an accurately thrown ball as being a “frozen rope”?  I believe that means it was hurled in as straight a line as possible?  I know in the old days, that to make rope, often a space designated as a “rope walk” was necessary to braid the individual strands together.  In New Harmony, Indiana ( one of my favorite places and the site of two 19th century utopian community attempts) a rope walk is preserved.  On a recent walk around the Falls, I came across several frozen lengths of rope, photographed them, and now I’m splicing them together in this post.  While being frozen, none of them was found in a straight line.  The first rope, pictured above, is your average clothes-line quality rope.  There is something interesting to me, about how the rope meanders from solid water and back out into the air.  Then again, I’ve been accused of finding something interesting about nearly everything!

Frozen rope #2 was located stuck to the riverbank.  It’s a relic from the last bit of high water we had.  On many instances of visiting the park, I will come across something or group of somethings that then become a theme for that day.  So it was with these ropes.  While pursuing other interests, these ropes inserted themselves into the day.  And now, frozen rope #3.

This bit of barge cable is wound around the base of a small willow tree.  Unless someone removes it from this context, it will slowly unravel over the years.  Or, as I showed in my last post about bird nests, it might disappear strand by strand and become something else!  I like the ice formations on the right.  Here’s another ice shot I think looks like a miniature set design.

More willows have snagged a bit of plastic netting and I like the way the grid affects the way the ice looks.  It appears that ice and cold will be on the agenda for the near future.  The temperatures are in the single digits, but I’m hoping to go out tomorrow to experience a place I love during one of its extremes.  One last ice shot to go.  Stay warm everybody.

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On my last expedition to the Falls, I spotted this oddity about twenty feet off the ground on a terminal branch of a cottonwood tree.  I had a feeling I knew what this is, but clicked-off a couple more close-ups for more information.  The day was very cold, but bright and clear.

I believe this to be a hanging basket nest from a Northern or Baltimore Oriole.  I had seen one other similar nest years ago at the Falls that incorporated waste fishing line and long-stemmed grass.  This one is different in that it is made mostly from synthetic fibers teased out of a discarded barge cable along with fishing line.  These cables are very large, thick ropes that are used to tie-off and secure the barges used in commercial river traffic.  Here is a recent picture of just such a cable that was lost and wound around willow roots.  This one has blue and yellow fibers instead of orange like the oriole’s nest has.

As these ropes slowly break down, it’s interesting to think of nest-building birds preferring to use this material as opposed to strictly natural ones.  I know of other birds (more in an urban environment) that will use other bits of artificial litter in their nests.  A month or so a go in the western section of the park I came across another synthetic nest created by a different species and featured that in a post about rare birds.  Here is that nest reproduced again along with a close-up of the oriole’s nest.

Since a nest made of these materials will last longer…I’m wondering if the oriole or another bird will attempt to reuse it?  I will have to wait until spring to find that out.

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