Archive for July, 2012

I confess that I like the word “plush”.  In my mind it evokes a sense of luxury and well-being.  I roll the word around my mouth like a fine wine and I also get overtones of comfort, safety, warmth, softness, and abundance.  I feel similarly about the word “verdant”, but that’s the subject of another post.  Returning to “plush”…it is also a word used to describe a variety of soft, sewn toys usually made with polyester fibers.  This includes most of the teddy bears and stuffed animals that one is likely to come across today.  In my own family, plush toys are and were among our most beloved and trusted playthings and misplacing or losing one was like losing a member of the family itself.  Which brings me to this portfolio of images taken with found plush toys in situ that I stumbled upon at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Each toy was probably loved by some child and if these images hold any power it probably derives from feelings of separation and loss.  I’m also interested in them as aspects of our material culture that manifest themselves as more junk for the environment to try to absorb.  All these plush toys were deposited by the Ohio River and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some of these objects probably floated hundreds of miles to reach my camera’s lens.  Here are some of my “favorite” images in this “genre” and I’ll start with the object I’m holding in the first picture.

Once upon a time this was an impressive toy.  I think this is “Pink” from the famous Pink Panther cartoon series.  Lifting it from the mud took some effort because its stuffing has been replaced with impacted mud.  This toy had effectively merged with its muddy matrix.

I also found this cute plush dinosaur embedded in the mud.  Later I set him up on a log and took his portrait in the context of where he was found.  He’s a friendly tyrannosaur photographed against a fossil landscape that predates the real dinosaurs by millions of years.

This was an unusual find.  Later I identified this as a  child’s slipper featuring a Rug-rats character, but it fits my plush category nevertheless!  Now let’s look at some teddy bears.

This was once a member of the Care Bear clan.  Here’s a different kind of bear minus his stuffing.

I came across this unfortunate bear in the sand.  Somehow he lost all his stuffing and was essentially just a hollow skin which I salvaged and used as a costume for one of my Styrofoam figures I later entitled “Cubby”.

This bear was still in the process of arriving by water when I came across him.  The black background is coal gravel and dust while the white dots are the remains of broken clam shells.  I’m sure you will recognize my next find.

My eldest son has the exact sized Pooh bear that he has treasured all his life.  Even though he’s now a teenager, I noticed that Pooh still occupies a prominent place in his room.  Here’s one last bear and its a little different and may not “technically” qualify as a plush toy.  Nevertheless, I found it appealing and I include it with the others.

Let’s try a change of pace and include a few rather small stuffed toy objects I’ve found over the last couple of years.

This looks to be some kind of flamingo head.

I’m not really sure what this might represent…it could be a moon or a vegetable?

Here’s another object I had trouble identifying.  I like how the cockle burrs are hitching a ride on its knitted surface.  Here are few toys that either are or were inspired by Beanie Babies.

The purple reindeer was photographed against the blackness of coal dust and gravel.

I believe this is another beanie baby-styled toy in the form of a purple cow?

I believe this tiny plush toy is meant to represent a killer whale.  Here’s an image that came out of the floods from two years a go.

This guy is clearly an elephant.  When I was a child I had a Dumbo character soft animal toy.

Another hard for me to identify figure, but the destroyed aluminum can help give you a sense of how large this plush toy is.  Could this be some type of Halloween toy?

Over the years I have found many surprises buried in the sand.  When I spotted the above object…I had no idea what it was until I lifted it up.  This is what I found.  I remember staring at the blue eye!

To my surprise emerged the form of this friendly and shaggy green parrot.  I placed him upon a branch for others to find and moved on.  We are getting close to being done!  Here are a few more found figures.

A sharp-eyed observer identified this as the Magician character from the Frosty the Snowman cartoon.  Makes sense to me because I found him right after Christmas of that year.  Could have been some child’s gift that wasn’t properly appreciated and in to the river you go?

I don’t know why I remember this now, but I believe this figure was once used to advertise a barbecue restaurant?  Could have had additional info on the back of the shirt, but I also could be completely wrong about this.  It might simply be a birthday wish novelty.  I think you will recognize this next one.

This isn’t the original Raggedy Ann doll, but a similar conception.  I found it face down in the sand and flipped it over for this photo.

I live in a basketball crazy region, but this is the first time I’ve encountered this object.  I know it references basketball, but what else is it intended to do?  What purpose do the white cords serve?   It definitely has plush elements.

This is me standing in my beat up Falls shoes next to a found plush “dog bone”.    My dog makes short work of any plush toys she comes across.  She knows how to get her teeth around their seams and split their contents open.  This makes me wary to think that this orange bone might be a dog’s toy…but what else could it be?  The Ohio River is always presenting me with such conundrums, however, I enjoy putting on my thinking cap and trying to puzzle them out.  I hope you liked some of the images and I will leave you with this final one of the parrot in the place where I left him for others to find.

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The record warm spring we experienced in the Kentuckiana area is being followed by the extreme record heat of this summer.  Twice I have ventured out to the Falls when the thermometer had passed 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 on the Celsius scale.  My youngest son told me (without prompting) that he  thought this heat was evidence of global warming.  The idea that we could alter the climate in some way has reached our children’s consciousness and changed their awareness of what kind of world they will inherit.  Kids get it…why don’t politicians and business leaders do the same?  This should be a global priority because the quality of our environment makes everything else possible.  I’m at the river today to continue this role I’ve created for myself as witness/participant in this historic place.  Here’s a brief record of what I found and made on a particularly brutal day.  I’ll start with more coal flakes that I made at the water’s edge.

Walking around the park at its eastern edge, I collected the river-polished coal I came across and with these black rocks created two designs.  Because of the heat, it doesn’t take long for my clothes to start sticking to my skin.  For relief, I splash water over my face and arms. At first, I left the interior of one of the flakes open, but later decided to change it.  I did scout around for the other coal projects I had left here previously, but they were either missing or deliberately destroyed.

Here is the second design with the interior filled on the first coal flake. Why some people find my “art” to be more offensive than the trash that is ordinarily found here is puzzling to me?  Why more people don’t find all the random trash to be an eyesore and do something about that is another mystery.  My best answer is that “art” has a way of focusing and concentrating energy that stands above the ordinary.  To be noticed is not always a good survival strategy.  My work gets hammered because it sticks out and there is something in the human condition that would rather break things than fix them.

It’s still morning and I see the resident Black vulture colony is also at the river’s edge looking for dead fish or fishing bait.  There’s nothing like coming across a partially opened pack of chicken livers that some fisherman brought for catfish bait.  The flies and the vultures say thank you.  I’ve come to think of these vultures as familiars and part of me likes to believe that they even recognize me and allow me to approach a little closer than usual.

A couple of hours later and the vultures have done what I’m about to do…namely seeking shade and relief under the willow trees.  I find a few vultures standing on the ground with their wings outspread trying to catch the slimmest of breezes, but there is none today.  Reaching my stash of Styrofoam I look around and everything appears as I left it.  It’s just been too hot for most folks to want to be out here.  Rummaging around the polystyrene, I chose a few pieces and construct a new figure.  This piece has remained nameless, but if you out there in the wide world want to name it…that’s fine with me.  It’s also been too hot to think of titles and names.  He is another in a long line of absurd figures I’ve created with the collaboration of nature.  Here’s the head made from Styrofoam, coal eyes, fishing float nose, some kind of plastic piece for the mouth, and wooden ears.

As you can see from the last image…I have lots more Styrofoam to use up before our next big flood.  I began my latest figure with the body.  I came across a piece that suggested a sitting pose and so that is what I made.  Upon completion, I moved my new “friend” to various locations and tried him out in various contexts.

In the end, I decided to pose my figure in the remains of a private  outdoor party that was held out here since my last visit.  This must have been no ordinary “celebration” based on all the spray painted graffiti now on the logs and stumps surrounding their camp fire.  Take a look.

I’m more accustomed to seeing graffiti in an urban setting where tagging trash dumpsters and buildings is common place.  I’m still sorting out how I feel about coming across a scene like this?  Has anything actually been harmed…it doesn’t appear so.  When lovers cut their initials into the bark of a living tree, those cuts are there for the life of the tree.  All this spray painted wood is dead.  Still, this hardly seems like a nature loving act especially since the “artists” left their large beer bottles behind.  I think they did it because they could.  Their handiwork to my eye also lacks an aesthetic dimension, but now I’m sounding like an old-fashioned art critic.  I guess here is as good a place to say that I’m taking a hiatus from visiting the park to recover from my impending knee surgery.  I’ve been stomping about out here with a bad left knee for over a year and it hasn’t gotten better on its own.  An MRI showed two tears in my lateral and medial meniscus.  With hope, I won’t be down long and I will continue the riverblog with other stuff probably from my various collections. I’ll end this post with a small piece of plastic I found on this hot, hot day.  Since I started this post with some perceptions from a child about the environment…perhaps it is even appropriate?  It may take something akin to divine intervention to improve the condition of the world.

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