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Posts Tagged ‘fossil rocks’

Falls of the Ohio State Park Interpretive Center

On November 24 the Falls of the Ohio’s Interpretive Center closed for renovations.  This is the first large-scale overhaul of the permanent exhibits since the center opened in 1994.  Since that time, the state of the art in terms of exhibit display has progressed by leaps and bounds.  According to an article appearing in the Courier-Journal, the Falls of the Ohio Foundation has raised six million dollars to pay for the new updates which are expected to be completed sometime in the fall of 2015.  Louisville’s respected museum design company, Solid Light Inc. will handle the redesign and installation.  The Interpretive Center will be employing the latest interactive technologies and refining its focus to better educate visitors about the significance of the Falls of the Ohio area.  Four new themed exhibits will take the place of the old static displays and are named “The Devonian Sea”, “A Changing Land”, “Converging Cultures” and “The Falls Today”.

Grand Hall of the Interpretive Center, 3/2010

I am looking forward to checking out the new exhibits once they open.  But if I may for a moment, pause and reflect upon the demise of the original beloved centerpiece that was once on display in the Interpretive Center’s main hall.  In style, it does harken back to a tradition when collections of natural history specimens and objects that provoked wonder were kept in Wunderkammers and cabinets of curiosity.  This eclectic display has never failed to fire up my imagination.  Yes, it is a mishmash of objects (both real and artificial) and it jumps all over the timeline.  This is actually one of the reasons I find this display so appealing.  My experience of the Falls is one where all this history and information exits simultaneously in the present and I felt that from this art-like installation.

old display at the Falls of the Ohio, birds above the mammoth skeleton

old fish display at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center

 

I love the scale of the mammoth skeleton and the taxidermed fish and birds lifting to and flowing from the ceiling.  With this display it was easy to adjust for scale and you received a truer sense for just how big the Devonian sharks were and how truly huge an Ice Age elephant was.  I’m not sure that a projection or video could convey this as much as something you could make a true physical comparison with that is sharing the same space with you?  A walk around the centerpiece revealed beautifully fabricated and delicate Devonian Age sea creatures inhabiting a coral reef.  The displays under glass contained specimens and relics that were a tip of the hat to many of the great 19th century naturalists that helped put the Falls of the Ohio on the map.  In essence, a lot of the information you needed to know about the Falls was contained in this single display.

Prince Madoc figure in the old display at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center

Of all the elements in this centerpiece, perhaps the most controversial was the inclusion of a life-size figure of Prince Madoc.  He was one of three figures presented which also included a representation of a Native American and a pioneer figure that might have also been a portrait of John James Audubon?  In case you have never heard of Prince Madoc…he potentially was a 12th century Welsh explorer and he and a band of his people may have been early European visitors to North America.  There is a persistent legend about a group of blonde hair blue-eyed Indians that may be descendants of Prince Madoc.  An old Native American story has this band being routed in battle near the Falls of the Ohio and is the connection to our area.  When President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark west to explore the continent…he asked that they keep an eye out for evidence of this story.  I have a good friend who couldn’t bear to look at the Prince Madoc figure and not because it wasn’t done well.  To him, it was a travesty to include this in a tableau that included factual elements.  To date, there is no convincing evidence, no archeological proof that Prince Madoc ever came to this continent.  I guess the veracity of the story never bothered me and I just liked the tale because of its association with the Falls.  To me, this is what history is about…some parts fact and some parts myth.  The Prince Madoc figure was there to add an extra dimension of imagination I could appreciate.

underneath the mammoth's ribcage

Prince Madoc may have been banished from future displays, but the mammoth skeleton was kept.  It was taken down and repositioned so that you have to pass between its legs and under its ribcage to enter into an auditorium.  I’m sure the new displays will be incredible, but I do hope they will also inspire visitors to use their own imaginations to some degree.

My collection of found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Having touched base with the Interpretive Center, I decided to connect with my own peculiar low-tech universe.  On this day it was sunny and windy and I made my way under the willow trees which provided some shelter from the breezes.  My larder of river-polished polystyrene chunks as white as the recent snowfall was there waiting for me.  I got an idea to make a particular figure from other items I found that day, but the piece I started crumbled to pieces.  A rare but not unheard of temporary setback.  I will return to it when I find the right form for this figure’s body.  On to improvised plan #2.  I looked around my pile and selected two new pieces and joined them together as head and body.  The addition of beaver-chewed willow stick limbs and some stones for eyes and plastic for the mouth and you have the basics of a figure.

Benchmark figure in the Falls landscape, Nov. 2014

This is the second piece I made and he is decidedly less complex than the sculpture that fell apart.  I kind of like this guy as an abstracted representation of a figure out in the landscape.  I walked him through the land and stopping here and there for different photo opportunities.  Here are a few more pics from this day.

Benchmark figure posed near river trash, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

To me, this figure has a sort of benchmark quality to it.  Here it’s posed next to some typical river trash.  There are places out here that “bleed” red from some oxides that originate beneath the sand.  I did keep the plastic wheel I found and added it to my ever-growing collection of toy wheels.  I have several hundred of them now and hope to create a grand piece with them.

Figure in a hole on the fossil cliffs, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Up on the fossil cliffs that overlook the river, I found a nice hole for my figure to stand in.  I tried to set the figure up by positioning the legs in a naturally occurring crack in the stone, but the wind was just too strong to allow this to happen.  A single fisherman shares the scene with my latest creation.

Styro-figure posed next to a nice piece of driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

For this image, I simply liked the piece of driftwood my Styro-figure is posed next to because of its worn and polished sculptural qualities.

Styro-figure posed next to anonymous improvised driftwood shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

Here, I’ve set up the figure under an anonymous driftwood construction.  I liked the way the propped up driftwood defined and framed a space for my figure to exist in.  On this particular day, there wasn’t a made up story that came to mind.  For most of my Falls forays…this is the typical way the day goes.  It’s about being outside and reacting to the elements and conditions I come into contact with on the river’s edge.  This is how I interpret what is happening at the Falls of the Ohio.  I am already looking forward to my next visit and sharing it with you.

The Interpretive Center as seen from the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Softball core river pearl from the Falls of the Ohio

It started with one.  I had been picking them up for years…odd, yellow ocher orbs that the river marooned in various sections of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Initially, I was intrigued by them because I knew they had to be something, but what?  Early on I formed this association in my mind that these balls were giant pearls and they were gifts to me from the beautiful river.  Made from a lightweight yet solid, hard foam, these balls weathered in very individualistic ways.  Many of them had acquired a nice patina from their river journey perhaps floating long distances for many years.  For a while, each time I would go on one of my excursions to the Falls of the Ohio, the river made sure that I would stumble upon one or more of these balls.  Into the collecting bag they would go.  Eventually, I found out what kind of balls they are and in case you haven’t guessed yet…here are a couple more images that will reveal what they originally looked like.  I’ll start with one of these balls in the process of transforming, followed by one that is more intact.

softball with covering coming off, Falls of the Ohio

softball in the river

My river pearls are the cores of contemporary softballs.  How did all these softballs end up in the river?  When I was a kid, a softball had a hard rubber ball in the interior which was surrounded by what seemed like miles of string wrapped tightly around the rubber ball.  A two piece leather cover was then sewn over this “string ball” which completed the softball and was now ready to be played with.  For those who might be unfamiliar with softball…it’s a game similar to baseball, but the ball is about twice as large as a standard baseball.  I collected these softball cores for years, but especially during the early phase of my Artist at Exit 0 Project.  After each river trip I would dutifully fill up boxes in my home’s basement with my found balls and then forget about them.  Over time, I started picking up lots of different objects and using them in various ways as materials for my sculptures or as offbeat collections of odd items I was creating.  I guess I always knew that I would return to these balls and make something interesting with them someday.  That day arrived last week.

softball cores in my backyard, Oct. 2013

I had no idea how many of these balls I had collected or passed up over the years?  This recent photo taken in my Louisville backyard shows about 110 out of the 160 balls I did save.  I decided to act on my river pearls idea by making an impractically large pearl necklace.  I carried all the balls I had to my friend Tom’s sculpture studio and used his drill press to drill a hole through each ball.  That was a bit more of a technical challenge than I had first conceptualized.  Most of these spheres are not perfectly round. In fact their imperfections (which I really like as evidence of wear by the river and elements) made each drilling a unique experience.  Eventually, I got the job done and laid out many of the balls on the concrete pad in my backyard.  Just as I was beginning to thread and knot braided nylon cord through the balls…the sky let loose a monstrous rain storm.  By day’s end, nearly seven inches or 17.5 centimeters of rain fell and flooded parts of my backyard and basement!  It was like being visited by the river in an interesting way.  I had initially “graded” each ball by condition and color to form transitions in this giant strand, but the water and now mud from my backyard changed the color of each ball.  I decided to make my first piece one hundred balls long.  There is a knot tied with the cord that keeps each ball from touching.  At my local hardware store I found a brass hook that I could use for a clasp to close my giant necklace.  All that was left to do was to return to the river…to the place that I found all of these balls and inspiration and find a way to give thanks for these many gifts.

river pearl necklace in plastic bucket, Oct. 2013

Loading the necklace into a large red plastic tub I carried my artwork down to the Ohio River.  One hundred balls became surprisingly heavy and I was concerned about twisting an ankle or tweaking my knee as I walked over the driftwood.  I came to a sunny place under the railroad bridge and laid the necklace out upon the sand for the first time.

weathered softball cores, Oct. 2013

Here’s a look as some of the weathering that occurred with a few of the balls.  And here is one of the first images of the necklace joined together.

one hundred ball necklace in the sand, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2013

This was okay for a trial run, but I had other images in mind.  I have always loved the willow trees in the park and I chose one of my favorite ones to “wear” my river pearl necklace.  Yes, it’s a hopelessly romantic gesture, but I felt like “celebrating” this tree in a special way.  Here are a few more images.

amazing willow tree wearing my river pearl necklace, October 2013

willow tree "wearing" my river pearl necklace, Falls of the Ohio, October 2013

detail of willow tree necklace, Oct. 2013

Moving closer to the river, I stopped by an old willow that was barely alive.  I draped my necklace over its old exposed roots and created a few more images.

Old willow roots and necklace, Oct. 2013

Once in a while, a park visitor would walk by and look in my direction and continue on as though I was engaged in a most ordinary activity!  If I had stumbled across this scene…I think curiosity would compel me to say something.  Next is another detail from my eccentric strand of pearls.

detail, slightly elevated river pearl necklace, Oct. 2013

With the river within sight, I lifted my bucket of balls and headed towards the fossil rocks.  It was a sunny, but windy day and my next idea was to put the necklace into the water.

"La Belle Riviere", softball core necklace, Falls of the Ohio, October 2013

I found a pool of water surrounded by Devonian inspired limestone that would prevent my necklace from being carried away by the current’s flow.  Still, the wind kept changing the configuration and blowing the balls against the rocks.

"La Belle Riviere", softball core necklace, Falls of the Ohio, October 2013

I used a beaver-chewed willow stick I found on the bank to guide my necklace into shape between photos.  The necklace which I now had named “La Belle Riviere” was the name originally given by French missionaries upon encountering the Ohio River for the first time.

"La Belle Riviere", softball core necklace, October 2013

It seems appropriate that the river which played a large part in bringing these balls to this shore…would continue to influence how this piece would be perceived.

detail, of "La Belle Riviere", Oct. 2013

I enjoyed how the gourd-colored balls harmonized with the surrounding riverine landscape.  I felt some sense of accomplishment in creating this piece and being able to return it to the Falls environment to create this site specific work.  It was also a fitting ten-year anniversary artwork since “La Belle Riviere” began with that first found ball a decade a go.  I will see how well it holds its own in a gallery environment since I want to include this piece in a two person show I’m participating in this January.  After these river photos…I loaded the necklace back into its container and began the slow walk back to my car.  While making this work, I did have one admirer that found the work irresistible and I will end this post with its image.  So long…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Butterfly with detail of softball core necklace, Oct. 2013

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