Posts Tagged ‘found materials art’

I’m at the Falls of the Ohio again because the Ohio River has been priming my subconscious all week with the sound of running water.  I am also very close to finishing the piece I’m making for an invitational art exhibit I’m participating in which revolves around the issue of coal and mountain top removal.  This is a topic of some importance in Kentucky.  We have a love/hate relationship with coal.  On the one hand it is an energy resource we have in some abundance and it does provide much-needed jobs and revenue, however, the toll it takes on everything it touches is also well documented. Over the last few posts you have seen some of the process I’ve been involved with the coal the Ohio River has deposited at the Falls.  Today I’m gathering the last of the coal I need for my art.

The spring floods of 2011 washed a lot of coal into the park.  My “usual” Falls of the Ohio project touches upon another important issue which is the quality of our number one vanishing resource… fresh, clean water.  As is the case with most aspects of the environment, few issues stand in isolation from all the other problems out there.  Considerable overlapping is the norm which makes all these problems that much more complex and challenging.

The piece I’m making for this invitational exhibit isn’t intended to be a didactic one.  I’m not sure that screaming at people ultimately does much good when it comes to something as complicated as the coal issue.  I also don’t pretend to have the answers.  I’m hoping that the artwork I’m making with this coal will operate effectively just under the surface of people’s imaginations where it might linger long enough to resonate.  We will see.  In the meantime, I’ve “enjoyed” working with this material.  I have decided that it does have an odd beauty of its own especially when the river tumbles away its rough edges.  I have found simply creating small mounds of coal whether in old car tires or just by itself to be a reflective act.

After playing with the coal for a few hours, I decided it was time to do something else.  It has been a while since I last baited a hook and went fishing.  I got the idea when I came across a long willow branch that a beaver had gnawed all the bark off for food.  Looking around the riverbank, I also found a hook, lead sinkers, and enough waste fishing line to outfit my found pole.  Fishing floats are something I find in abundance and always have a few in my collecting bag. I also pick up the lead weights that other fishermen lose because this metal doesn’t need to be out here either.  Looking under rocks, I scrounged up enough insect larvae to use for bait.  Now I was ready to throw my line in the water…and wait.

I guess about twenty minutes passed before I got my first nibble.  I lost my bait several times before I was successful in hooking a fish.  The sight of my float going completely under the water was a thrilling one!

This fish didn’t give me much of a fight.  After a few runs in different directions I could feel it tire and lifted it out of the water. To be honest, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what species this was, but I know that I have never seen anything quite like it here before.  It’s coloration was unusual with its light blue body and bright red tail.

It’s eyes are large and I surmised that it usually lives in the depths of the river where light rarely reaches it.  I thought it had some similarities to the sauger which is a walleye relative and also found here, but it lacked the sharp teeth that the sauger has.  It’s gill covers or operculums were metallic and reminded me of the bottoms of aluminum cans that the river washes into the park.

I quickly took a few more photographs and then released this fish safely back into the river.  When I got home I tried to look up some information about my catch, but couldn’t find much about it.  Apparently, Rafinesque and LeSueur, two early naturalists who described many of the fish found in the Ohio River and Falls of the Ohio, were mum on this subject which was disappointing.  Until I can locate better reference material I decided to just call it something descriptive like the Red-tailed Goggle-eye.  Of course, any information that any of you out there might have would be welcomed! Seeing this fish I also had another more disturbing thought.  What if this is evolution in action and the continued degradation of the environment is shaping new species from older ones that can deal with the new reality?  Evolve or die. This brought the question of man as an agent of evolutionary change to mind since we are culpable for many of the changes going on in the larger world.  Well for now, I’ll just sleep on it and see what turns up tomorrow.  See you by the water!

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west section of the Falls, 11/09

Because the climate has been so spectacular of late, it’s been possible and desireable to hang out in the park to make and see what one can.  This is another bird post, but one that specializes in what’s possible here in the fall.  Some of these species are found no where else…and for good reason.  I start with a shot of the typical terrain one encounters at this time of year.  What is a bird without some context?  Naturally, the river predominates as the distinct landscape feature with mixed hardwoods flanking the shoreline.  I’ll start first with an American Coot.  Not a particularly rare bird, but one I always enjoy seeing at the river.  I came across this lone individual and snapped this quick image for luck.  The true rarities are ahead.

American Coot, 11/09

In the western section of the park a couple of late nesting birds can be found among the exposed roots of the great trees.  This is the home of the Styro-Grackle and the Fleur-de-lis Dovelette.  The next two images are of the grackle.  I stumbled upon a male with its great yellow bill displaying with the remains of a baby’s pacifier.  In this species, males vie for the attention of females by choosing objects they believe the females will like.  The Styro-Grackle is a large, and noisey bird, but wary to the extreme.

Styro-Grackle display, 11/09

Here’s a close-up image of its head, bill, and pacifier it found by the river.

Styro-Grackle head with pacifier, 11/09

Often found in association with the grackles are the gentle Fleur-de-Lis Dovelettes.  The female specimen I came across was sitting on a fresh nest.  No eggs were observed within it.  The dovelette is not particularly fussy about what materials it uses to construct its bowl-like nest.  This one was made from shredded plastic with hardly a trace of natural fibers interwoven into its structure.  First, a picture of the bird itself in its woody habitat.

Fleur-di-lis Dovelette, 11/09

The bird derives its common name from the unusual crest upon its head.  It is rumored that this was the inspiration for the symbol used by the City of Louisville on its flag, official letterhead, etc…  More than likely though, it’s just a coincidence.  Like many dove species, this one has tiny feet.  Here’s a good look at the unusual nest constructed in the fork of a tree root.

Plastic fiber nest, 11/09

And here is the bird and nest joined together.  I didn’t linger because I didn’t want to disturb the dovelette anymore than I had to.  If the conditions are right, she will lay three to four light green eggs.  The dovelette will have to stand guard against raccoons, but otherwise her young have a good chance of reaching maturity.  Wild prairie grass seeds make up much of its diet.

Fleur-di-lis Dovelette on nest, 11/09

Cane Run Creek, 11/09

Near the middle of the park, Cane Run Creek flows into the Ohio River.  It’s a spot that’s favored by fisherman and birds alike.  Large rocks and trees deposited by flooding line its banks.  Because of the vagaries of the larger river, the creek’s appearance is highly variable.  It was in this area that I came across a rare and unusual shorebird that I would like to share with you.  Here are two images of the Jet Piper.  It is so named because it evolved a distinct crest that is believed to stabilize it during its speedy flight.  One sees a similar structure on the tail of modern aircraft.  The Jet Piper never stays in one place for long.  It probes the mud along the creek bank in search of worms and other invertebrates.  Recent studies have shown that this piper will on rare occasions, take nectar from hummingbird feeders.  Here are two views.

the Jet Piper, 11/09

Jet Piper, 11/09

The last specialty I came across is one of the sweetest singers in the park.  In fact, that’s how I located the Styro-wood Wren first…by its optimistic, cheery song.  I was sitting in my usual spot under the willows when I heard it nearby.  I took a position along a path I thought it might take and with success, recorded these images of this rare endemic bird.

Styro-wood Wren, 11/09

On a sunny morning, the Styro-wood Wren was making its rounds in the underbrush.  Its singing has more to do with staking its feeding territory than it does with finding a mate.  That will change once Spring arrives at the Falls once again.  Among the interlopers that the wood wren is trying to discourage are other members of the family Troglodytidae.  Sharing its range at various times are Carolina Wrens, House Wrens, and the tiny Winter Wrens.  That’s a lot of competition to try and discourage.  This particular bird was in rare form and seemed to pose for my camera.

Styro-wood Wren singing, 11/09

It spread its fan-tail and with a shudder of its brown- wings burst into song.  The small feathers along its neck make an attractive collar.

Styro-wood Wren, 11/09


I made these birds from materials I found in the park.  All the plastic and Styrofoam elements were once in the Ohio River where they interact with the natural ecosystem.  Among the other materials used include:  tree bark (for wings), coal (for eyes), and rootlets and twigs (for the legs).  I make these artworks to call attention to the condition of the land and water, to draw attention to the unique qualities of this place, to celebrate creativity, and because I love birds!  All the photos are mine and shot on location at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

While I was making my faux birds, the real articles were busy in the tree tops above my studio.  Among my favorites to watch are the Golden-crowned Kinglets.  These tiny birds are ever in motion and hard to photograph!  Here are a few more real bird pictures.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

upside down Golden-crowned Kinglet, 11/09

Golden-crowned Kinglet in action, 11/09

Lastly, the nest featured with the Fleur-de-lis Dovelette is in fact a genuine bird nest.  I found it in the branches of a downed tree.  I have no idea which species created it.  I have seen within the park, the nest of a Northern Oriole that used cast-off fishing monofilament in its construction.  I do, however, think I located a source for the plastic fibers.  Near the discovered nest, a large barge rope was slowly unraveling and its threads look identical to the ones in the nest I came across.

frayed barge rope or cable, 11/09

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under the willows, 10/09

Under the willows the trap has been set.  With mask on and gun drawn the Trick or Treater isn’t waiting for the end of the month.  Halloween is now.  Soon a victim will appear and it will be “your candy or your life”!  Sugar can do that to a fella…even one made from Styrofoam.

Question Mark butterfly, 10/09

Waiting requires patience and so the Trick or Treater stays hidden.  Insects are plentiful today.  Fresh Question Mark butterflies flit through the zone demarcated by shade and sunshine. Can you see the small question mark sign on the hind wing that gives this butterfly its name?  Small tiger beetles chase each other across the sand and a hundred small grasshoppers are making lace from the wild grapevines.  Sooner or later, someone is sure to come by and then the trap will be sprung.

mask of the Trick or Treater, 10/09

Today is warmer than it has been for a few weeks.  The bear mask starts to get hot and with that a change in tactics is required.  Rising from his hiding place, the Trick or Treater begins to stalk the margins along the willow habitat.  Do you hear voices or is it just imagination playing tricks?  Carefully, he follows a line of driftwood towards the sound in the woods.

Trick or Treater, 10/09

Trick or Treater, 10/09

The ambush is set and everything is ready.  The trusty squirt gun is armed and the Frankenstein-head candy bucket is eager to find fulfillment.  The prey has been spotted next to a pile of Styrofoam and sticks that look vaguely familiar.  Inching closer, the Trick or Treater is aided by the noise his potential victims are making and the crunch of sticks and leaves is unheeded until total surprise is achieved!

the Trick or Treater's surprise, 10/09

The idea for this figure came from a destroyed teddy bear I found at the Falls last March.  Either some child or dog came across it first and knocked the stuffing out of it.  The bear was still damp having been carried by the river to the spot where it was discovered. The empty bear’s head would make a perfect mask and I waited until now to put it together.  There is a face I made with acorn eyes and pink plastic mouth under the  disguise.  Every now and then, I find Halloween related items and I decided to put a few together to create this figure.  I’ll probably use it for a decoration this year where it will greet fellow tricksters in their quest for candy.

destroyed pink teddy bear, 3/09

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"You are Loved", 10/09

It’s been four weeks since I was last able to visit the Falls.  Between a badly twisted ankle ( turned the same ankle twice in one day) and work and family obligations, I have had to remain close to home.  In just such emergencies, I have an ample supply of Falls materials at home.  I prefer working in the larger context, but home will do in a pinch.

I made this small table-top piece last night for a work colleague who recently lost her mother.  My friend had expressed a wish to own one of my works and since her mother was an artist, thought this might be a nice way to offer my condolence.  This work incorporates found wood, Styrofoam, coal, plastic, and the shells from Asiatic clams. 

Over the years, I have made many smaller pieces ( my family calls them “Foamies”) and I have sold and given them away as presents.  I get asked to donate to many not for profit art auctions and I usually give these smaller works all made from materials gathered in my walks at the Falls of the Ohio.

Now that I have scratched my itch to blog and published another image, I can move on!  The ankle is getting better, the cool fall weather with its great light quality is here.  I have a few opportunities (including work in an exhibition) coming up soon and I’m feeling upbeat!  I promise another post soon.

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