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Posts Tagged ‘giant necklace’

bent over willow tree, July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Last weekend I visited an old friend and was shocked by the state that I found it in.  In this case, my friend is a favorite Black Willow tree (Salix nigra) that grows within the Willow Habitat in the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  We have just come out of a particularly wet June and July that saw the area this tree grows in being mostly underwater.  Record amounts of rainfall have kept me on the very fringes of an encroaching Ohio River.  Of course, I rushed back into the park when opportunity presented itself and things looked like they were returning to “normal”.  Usually, lots of water is something that willow trees can appreciate.  In this case, however, the willow trees near the old railroad bridge were submerged twice this year  by the flood waters.  In addition, floating and semi-submerged logs batter the stationary trees when strong currents push against them.  Spreading willow roots do their best to maintain their hold upon the land.  To add injury to insult, receding river levels often strand their floating driftwood loads in what’s left of the branches and crowns of these willow trees.  The weight of this wood is a big burden which then further shapes the living willows.  This is what happened to my friend.  I found the formerly nice arc of its main branches and trunk now growing nearly horizontally with the ground.  I decided to put together this post of images of this particular tree to see if I could detect other changes over the years.

Black Willow, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2010

Looking through thousands of images, I found this shot from November of 2010.  Looks to be a cold morning.  I’m not certain when this particular tree caught my attention, but it must have been around this time.  I’m sure, however, that the processes that shape these trees were already at work.  I can imagine this willow growing straight and tall if circumstances were different.

Willow Tree, Falls of the Ohio, June 2011

The next image dates to early June of 2011.  This is the same tree with its long, narrow, and slightly saw-toothed edged leaves out in full.  Already you can see an impressive and exposed root mass anchoring this tree in position.

Willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, March 2012

Here’s an image from March of 2012 showing water encroaching upon our willow tree.  I wonder how large the root mass actually is that keeps this tree alive in what seems an unpromising place?

Willow tree at the Falls, 2012

A month later, April 2012, and the waters have returned to their seasonable pool and the tree is beginning to leaf out.  From the way the three main trunks of the tree are all leaning west…I suspect that the weight of deposited driftwood? helped “train” the tree to grow in this position.

Willow Tree, September 2012, Falls of the Ohio

September 2012 and the leaves are beginning to show hints of autumn yellow.  Soon the willow will drop all of its leaves which will eventually gather around the base of this tree.

Two shots of one of my favorite Falls projects.  For over ten years I had been collecting the hard, yellow foam cores of contemporary soft balls that wash into the park minus their leather coverings.  I decided to make a large necklace from my special river pearls that I named “La Belle Riviere” or The Beautiful River which was the name the French missionaries gave the Ohio River very early during its exploration.  I posed my “necklace” and photographed it in many different places and positions.  The images I made while it graced this willow tree were among the best.

Black Willow, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

The following images are from 2014.  This one was taken in June.  And, the following two are from August of the same year.

Willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Willow root ball, Falls of the Ohio, August 2014

Now for some winter images.  These more stark pictures were taken during February of 2015.  We had some decent snow falls this year.  I like getting a good variety of images showing the park during all the seasons.

Old willow in winter, Feb. 2015

willow tree in winter, Feb. 2015

That leads us to my most recent photographs.  For parts of June and a lot of July, this tree was submerged from view.  I never did get a good look at it with the driftwood that rafted onto it.

Willow tree leaning over badly, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

Bent over willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, July 2015

The willow tree has bent completely over and is “resting” on some of its branches.  The tree is still in leaf, but turning more yellow, (perhaps due to all the stress it has endured?)  So far, this tree has been a survivor and I hope that it can somehow “bounce back” from this turn of events.  We shall see.  I will make a special attempt to record what happens to this tree from here on out.  I will close this post and the month of July with one last image of this remarkable willow tree.  Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Black Willow root mass, July 2015, Falls of the Ohio.

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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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