Posts Tagged ‘dolls’

On a recent expedition to the Falls of the Ohio I came across a small section of the Ohio River within the park that surprised me because of all the coal I found.    Over this warmer than usual January, the Ohio River has fluctuated due to the rain and snow that have fallen upriver from us.  While it made for interesting photographs, the contrast between the muddy waters and the blackness of the shoreline was also disturbing.  It made me wonder if this would become part of the new normal conditions that I would keep encountering upon each visit to the park?  As I walked along with my camera and collecting bag in hand I kept wondering why all this coal was showing up here? I kept looking for witnesses that might provide clues and insights into this alarming situation at the river.

The first potential witness I came across was this toy reindeer who was staring up at the sky with eyes as black as coal.  I asked it if it knew what had happened…but the plush toy with matted fur said nothing and just looked at me.  I shrugged it off and continued down the riverbank looking for answers.  Soon I came to another toy and posed the same question to it.

I asked, “Do you know what happened here?”  The small plastic monkey just laughed and told me to keep walking.  What I was seeking was just ahead.  He then nonchalantly rolled over on his side with this bemused look on his face.  At least that was something to go on and I continued walking not knowing what to look for but trusted I would recognize it when I saw it.  Before long I came to another toy and thought it might know what had happened, but first I had to do a little bit of work.

Poking out of the driftwood was this doll head and at first I thought that this was all that was left of this unfortunate toy.  I began to walk away when the head spoke to me and said that if I would help it out…in thanks it would help me too.  It took a bit of doing, but I was able to move the branches and small logs that were covering it and soon the complete doll saw the light of day again.

The doll was water-logged and dirty and I noticed that one of its arms was broken.  After recovering for a moment, the doll said the reason the beach was black had to do with the hand of man.  If I kept walking east that this would become clearer.  I thanked the doll and left it where I found it and moved on.  Soon I would find other evidence that would support what the doll told me.

About ten minutes later I came upon this old rubber glove and figured I was getting nearer to the “hand of man”.  As I continued down the river’s edge  I began to find bits and pieces of discarded machinery along the way.  The first find was an old generator and this is how I found it in the sand.

Near it was another buried machine that was being washed over by the waves of the Ohio River.  I took this photograph and kept walking.

I figured I was getting nearer my quest when I saw this monstrous truck with immense tires  parked in the coal dust, wood chips, and mud.   Was this vehicle somehow involved with the coal?

The truck was still functional and I surmised that its operator was probably near by.  It didn’t take me long to locate him.  He was taking a break and having a meal in a section of the park that had experienced a fire a few months a go.  I decided to approach him to ask about the coal.

With one jaundiced eye, the truck driver looked me over and took another bite from whatever he was eating.  He asked me what I wanted and I posed my coal question to him.  The driver admitted that he indeed had played a hand in this environmental destruction, but wasn’t willing to take full responsibility.  He said it was part of the cost of keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer and that it provided much-needed jobs during these economic hard times.  He further added that if I truly was looking for someone to blame I didn’t need to go any farther than the person I saw staring back at me in a nearby pool of still water.  Of course, what I saw was my own reflection and I understood the truck driver’s point of view.  I left the driver to his meal and started for home.  I resolved then and there that I could at least do the little things to reduce my own demands for energy.  I would start by looking around my house for ways to save electricity.  Now where are those funny shaped light bulbs?

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We have had a warm and mostly dry autumn thus far at the Falls of the Ohio.  I’m taking advantage of another lovely weekend to go exploring along my favorite spots on the riverbank.  I usually begin by going down to the water’s edge to see if anything new has washed up.  Here are a few of the objects I came across and added to my ever burgeoning collecting bag.  Some of my finds I will use in my sculptures while the more interesting objects will enter one of the various river collections I have been assembling.   As usual, I find some doll or doll element along the river’s edge .  Aside from plastic balls…dolls are the toy that I find the most which has always struck me as being odd. First, I came across this tiny doll with purple hair.  If you look closely you can see burrs that are snagged in her hair-do.  Later, I found this larger doll that was buried in the sand.  I flipped her over and took her “portrait” and then walked away.  It’s very possible that I will find her again in a different context. My most interesting find of the day was this plastic ax-head.  I’m always on the look out for any real artifacts from the Indigenous people who lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived, but I have never found even the slightest fragment of pottery or the flakes left over from chipping projectile points.  I think the river here is just too dynamic for those kind of discoveries.  Nevertheless, this plastic ax-head says a lot about the time in which it was made.  First, it is made of hollow plastic which is of course not nearly as durable as flint.  Second, it clearly says where it was made which in this case is Hong Kong.  Lastly, it promotes an inaccurate characterization of who are native people are.  Here are the images that are on this souvenir tomahawk.

After scoping out the river’s edge…I move up the riverbank with the larger pieces of Styrofoam I have found and submit to my own urge to make something.  Here is this day’s figure starting with the head in progress.  You can gauge its size from my feet which are intruding in the bottom edge of the frame.  As I walk along, I’m also looking for expressive sticks to use for arms and legs.  The only tool I’m using here is my pocket knife.

After putting all the pieces together…I move back down to the river and try to capture another portrait in the context of this day.  Usually, I take several images and a few of these capture how active the river was.

The sunlight was bright on this day and cast strong shadows which I like.  One difficulty of photographing polystyrene is that it is so relentlessly white that it reflects the light so strongly often washing out my images.  Sometime’s it is if the light is emanating from the figure itself.  I’m sure photographing some of my sculptures with infrared film would yield interesting results.

The last picture I snapped is where I left the figure before heading home.  I came to call him “Wedgehead” because of the shape of his noggin.  He was last seen standing in what looks to be tall grass, but is in fact young willow trees that sprouted since the last flooding.

Soon, all the leaves will be down and the bare bones of the Falls of the Ohio will show itself.  The sense of space will also greatly change creating another stage for the drama that is the Falls of the Ohio.  Have a great week everybody!

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Of the many objects that wash up upon the shores of the Falls of the Ohio, few have the visceral effect that these found dolls produce.  For as long as I have been doing this project, I have been amazed by how many of these toys I have come across.  The various toy balls are the only other playthings that surpass these lost dolls.  The wayward balls I can understand getting into the river because most of them are round and inflated with air!  It would be very easy for a lost ball to become washed or even blown into the river, but what is the story with these dolls?  I came across an especially interesting doll recently and thought I would introduce the lost doll topic.

I came across this doll laying face down in the soft earth.  Several pieces of driftwood partially obscured a full view.  Recognizing what it was I reached down and lifted the doll up and was amazed that several plants clinging to the body had used this decaying doll as a substrate and were in fact growing on it!  I have seen many abandoned dolls, but this one was unique because nature was so actively intertwined with it.  I eventually placed the doll in a sitting position on a log near the place it was discovered, took my pictures and walked away.

The moment of discovery always produces a double-take for me.  There is a slight hesitation before the brain registers the scale differences and I recognize what this really is…just a toy.  I have come across little hands sticking up out of the sand that have sent fearful jolts of adrenalin rushing through me.  People are always asking me if I have ever discovered a human body before?  Fortunately, I haven’t, but these things come a close second.

No doubt about it…these objects are psychologically charged like creepy clowns are and stumbling across a lost doll is like viewing a mini crime scene.  The idea that we would intend a representation of an infant as a plaything strikes me as an odd idea.  So what are these dolls doing in the river so far from home and the people who care for them?

At first I thought it was plausible that many of the hundred or so dolls I’ve found in six years simply washed off or accidently fell off recreation boats.  And then I thought that perhaps the world is just full of mean prankster boys who think it’s fun to throw sister’s doll into the river.  There is that scene in the first Toy Story movie where the boy next door, Sid, engages in this kind of behavior.  And then another idea occurred to me that also seemed possible.

What if it’s not little boys, but instead little girls that are tossing out the baby with the bath water?  What if even on a subconscious level, these girls are rebelling against gender stereotypes they don’t fully understand?  Aren’t many of the baby dolls intended to reinforce the notion of girls becoming mothers?  I have had conversations with female friends who said that they never could relate to dolls and prefered other toys instead.

My wife reminded me that boys play with dolls too and that’s certainly true.  I had a G.I. Joe action figure “we” (me and the other boys in the neighborhood) eventually blew up in the sandbox…ala Sid.  The truth about the river dolls is that every possible way one can imagine these objects getting into the water can and does happen.  I have this other mental image of the dolls that missed the Falls, continuing on their long watery journey until they reach the Gulf of Mexico and then its open ocean from there as the currents circumnavigate the globe with them.

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