Posts Tagged ‘context’

high Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb., 3, 2013

The Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio is even higher now since my last visit with the fishermen.  We have had some wild weather in the interim.  First it gets unseasonably warm and then a cold front collides with a wet weather system originating in the Gulf of Mexico.  The results of this can be very dangerous as this is the perfect recipe for a tornado outbreak which did occur south of here.  My family was awakened to the sound of tornado warning sirens at 4:30ish in the morning.  We began that day in the basement of our house which was a rude awakening even for the family dog.  Luckily, we didn’t experience any damage although it rained hard and was very windy.  And after the cold front blasted through it became extremely cold and was followed by snow.  I think we have seen the gamut of winter weather and I was glad to hear the “groundhog” did not see its shadow in Pennsylvania meaning that winter would come to a normal end this year.  That is if you believe animals can predict the weather?

floating trash in the river, Feb. 2013

I am certain this time that my outdoor studio under the willows is history by now.  The Ohio River has claimed the spot and my cache of art materials.  Unfortunately, there is a ready re-supply floating in the water.  It seems I begin many a post with what amounts to a weather report, but please bear with me.  My blog concerns itself with the local conditions which are the context that my adventures and stories are set in.  I’m also amazed and concerned that I can detect variations in our weather patterns having lived in this area for so long.  Much of the time I feel I’m bearing witness to events of importance to us all.  What is happening here is also occurring in other places in the world.  As I was walking through the woods on this day, I was surprised by the bird life I was encountering when I expected to see nearly nothing.  My Eastern Bluebird friends were still hanging around and they had company.  I saw White-breasted Nuthatches, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Brown Tree Creepers and many more especially near the river’s expanding edge.  I also saw and photographed another amazing bird which makes up the bulk of this post.

Snow Cock at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2013

Fellow bird watchers had put the alert out that an unusual visitor was seen hanging out at the Falls.  A young, male Snow Cock was seen near the Woodland Loop Trail which is a bird not seen in these parts since the late 19th century.  As you can imagine this is a northern bird used to the cold and snow…in fact it depends upon these conditions for its survival.  The Snow Cock (like some ptarmigan species) turns nearly white in winter.  The rest of the year it sports plumage that is more like leaf camouflage.  Regardless of the season, the Snow Cock is a cryptic animal and is shy and retiring.  Except of course when it’s time to choose a mate when the males make it a point to be as noticeable to their own kind as possible.  I was hoping the bad weather would cause this wayward Snow Cock to linger and I was rewarded by its presence.  I took as many photographs as possible.  I have a feeling that I won’t ever see this exact species out here again.

detail of Snow Cock head, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock in natural habitat, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock, back view showing tail fan, Feb. 2013

The Snow Cock is also called the “Snow Turkey” and “Styro-grouse” because of the large fan of tail feathers it uses for courtship displays.  That’s how I found this particular bird which wasn’t all that wary.  The young male was rehearsing his dance and song and establishing a lek or territory where he would fight other males for the attention of the females.  Although this bird wasn’t going to hang out at the Falls forever, it was nevertheless, practicing this important survival skill.  Other interesting field marks included a head crest, an unusual beard growing from his chest, and a long bill for seeds and insects.

Snow Cock at the water's edge, Feb. 2013

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I watched the Snow Cock look for just the right spot to strut its stuff.  It was frequently hopping from one vantage point (usually a tall stump) to the ground and back.  The call of the Snow Cock as you might guess is very chicken-like and not particularly beautiful in its own right.  To my eye, it seemed very interested in the water which was noticeably spreading over the land.  This might be the first flood it has ever experienced?

Snow Cock sipping water, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock by large Osage Orange tree, Feb. 2013

I kept my distance from the bird and quietly followed it through the woods.  I observed it drinking from melting ice and I left it be hanging out near a large Osage Orange tree along the trail’s path.  The wind was beginning to pick up again and more flakes were in the air.  Despite wearing good gloves, my finger tips were cold and painful.  I decided that now was a good time to go home and I did.  I hope the next time I’m out here that the conditions will be more favorable for an extended visit.  I had one other small surprise waiting for me along the Woodland Loop Trail.  I passed the spot by the creek where I watched the fishermen catch sauger and was amazed and amused that the figure I had made from river junk that day was still there!  He was missing his nose, but otherwise he was intact.  I guess the fishermen appreciated him as I do you for tagging along on another adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.

Styro-figure along the loop trail, Feb. 2013

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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.

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Face of Abstract man, 7/09

There’s a spicy, herbal scent coming from the plants and a small garter snake crosses in front of me on the sandy path.  You can hear both the river and several songs from a variety of birds in the willow habitat.  It’s a cool day for July and relatively overcast.  Despite my little treasury of Styrofoam and sticks under the trees, I still walk my route collecting what I missed before and now find compelling and useful.  The “Abstract Man” I made just a couple days ago was started in this manner.  First, I found the little piece of foam with holes in it that was probably used to hold bullets in a box.  That goes into the collecting bag.  Later I find what would become the head.  Part of it is missing, but the bump that looks like a nose, more than makes up for what is lacking.  A bright yellow spray bottle without its label catches my eye and using what I already have on hand…is enough for a figure. 

Abstract man in studio, 7/09

This is the Styrofoam nursery where this sculpture came together.  I have been using this spot for weeks now and I’m really surprised that no one has messed with this site yet.  It’s shady here and there is the occasional mosquito to deal with, but overall, it’s a fairly private area.  There are, however, signs in the nearby driftwood that homeless people may have rested here before moving on.  I found an old towel and the remains of food packaging next to the ashes of their fire.

abstract man, 7/09

I found the quizical expression on this figure provoking and the bright yellow spray bottle lent a formal note.  I decided to photograph this piece in different contexts.  This image was taken not thirty feet away from where the figure was assembled.  Each image takes advantage of the attribute in the immediate area.Abstract man posed in the willows, 7/09


Abstract Man strikes me as being more formal and so I find myself looking for places that have a graphic appeal as seen through the camera.  In this image, it’s the diagonals of the trees leading to the spray bottle that are the key elements in this composition. 

Abstract Man by log, 7/09

Here, I like the way the curving wood of the willow tree behind the figure seems to frame and call attention to the head.  The yellow of the spray bottle holds its position in space and adds that extra artificial note.

Abstract Man with Liatris, 7/09

This image has the diagonal structure of the logs resting on the ground to lead your eye back to the figure.  The purple liatris plant lends yet another color note.  This plant only grows where it is wet and butterflies do seem to like it.  It’s not until I download my images onto my computer that I get to see the full effect of what I shot at the Falls.  With this figure, I can’t say which image and environment I prefer.  Do you have a favorite?

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Here are a few recent images illustrating the state of disorder as seen at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Let’s begin with…

abandoned atv w/figure, 3/09


This was once an expensive battery powered car for some lucky child and now its garbage.  I can imagine this dynamically going over the dam only to come to rest lodged in this willow tree.  I couldn’t resist adding the Styrofoam driver.  On Earth Day, I checked on this “piece”.  The car was still there, but the driver disappeared…a partial victory of sorts.


full size and mini gas containers, 4/09I come across and photograph enough of these gasoline containers that they form a subcategory of objects that I pay attention to.  Gasoline is such a sign of the times that it seems particularly relevant.  Where do these containers come from?  I have never found one that still had gas in it.  Because plastic is made from petroleum, as is gasoline, does putting gas into these containers become a redundant act?

plastic dump truck/4/09


Another vehicle this time a plastic toy truck.  No longer fueling a child’s imagination this object awaits being picked up, washed away, or buried into the sand.Trash midden, 3/09

 Exhaustion sets in and the wheels have come off.  Provided there will be archeology in the future, how would you like to render and interpret the artifacts in this context?

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