Posts Tagged ‘Julia Oldham’

About sixty miles away from Louisville and the Ohio River is the small central Kentucky village of Nerinx.  It’s smack dab in the middle of an area renowned for its bourbon distilleries, but it also has an older, interesting history.  I brought my friend and video artist Julia Oldham with me on one final adventure before her stint as artist in residence at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest comes to an end.  On Memorial Day, Julia will be back in her familiar Brooklyn and far from bucolic Kentucky.  We started the day by listening to National Public Radio’s story about SETI and the search for intelligent life in the universe.  After fifty years of scanning the heavens for “intelligent” radio signals, only once was a signal received that had promise and that was back in 1977.  That search for promising signals became a theme for the day and dovetailed nicely into Julia’s latest videos from the Possumhaw Plant Electrics series.   I was honored to see her latest artworks which walk the fine line between art and science.   It should be fun to see how the rest of the world receives them post Bernheim.  After that, it was breakfast at Mammy’s Kitchen in nearby Bardstown, of my Old Kentucky Home fame.

Although Nerinx and The Loretto Motherhouse (which we were seeking) isn’t that far from Bardstown, I managed to get the vehicle turned around on a few occasions.  Julia discovered that her global positioning application didn’t really work very well out in the country.  Still searching for intelligent signals!  Eventually, we just stopped and asked someone and we were set upon the right road.  Some of America’s oldest Catholic roots are found in Nerinx.  The name is actually a variation on Nerinckx which is the name of the priest who helped found the Motherhouse.  We thought his image on his statue looked somewhat like the young Beethoven.  Nerinckx was joined by Theodore Badin who would become the first ordained priest in America (1793) and it was they who helped found the Sisters of Loretto in 1812.  There is a statue of him too! With the help of sisters Ann and Mary Rhodes, the order set up a school for girls since education in the frontier was often neglected.  No statues for them, but there needs to be!

Two hundred years later, the Loretto Motherhouse operates a farm and infirmary.  Julia and I were also in Nerinx seeking out an artist friend of mine that is also one of the Sisters of Loretto.  Her name is Jeanne Dueber and she is an accomplished sculptor with a wonderful studio and gallery.

Jeanne and Julia share a common friend and so it was nice that we were able to connect.  Jeanne’s studio and gallery is called Rhodes Hall and it is a wonderful old structure filled with the artist’s work.  It’s practically a retrospective of Jeanne’s life work as an artist.  There are more traditional ecclesiastical figurative works, but what I really enjoy are her abstract wood sculptures that just reach for space in all directions.  Here are a few views of the installed artworks.  Jeanne is not a big person, so it’s all the more amazing she has the energy to wrangle these larger works.

There is literature relating to the Loretto Motherhouse for sale and Julia and I found the donation box to be really charming.  The reading glasses are a nice touch.  We found little hand-painted signs all around the art works and must be Jeanne’s handiwork as well.

After parting company with Jeanne, Julia and I took a stroll around the grounds.  There were beautiful birds singing all around us.  It was a beautiful, warm, Kentucky late spring day that made you feel as if you were far away from the concerns of the rest of the world.  And we were!  Plastic bottles in a small garden caught my eye and I went in for a closer look.  Perhaps they were frost protection no longer needed?

The cemetary on the grounds was really interesting!  The first few rows of stones remember some of the contemporary, longer lived sisters.  It seemed that was quite a string going of people who lived into their 80’s, 90’s, and there were a few 100’s too!  This contrasted sharply with the early years where many of the women only lived to be in their 20’s and 30’s.  Tuberculosis and various fatal influenza outbreaks during some particularly bad years spoke of the difficulty of life during the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s formative years.  Interestingly, there were two large stone slabs set upon the ground that recorded the names of perhaps 30 or so (?) sisters who donated their bodies to science!  After the walk through the grounds it was time to return to Bernheim.  I said my farewells to Julia and wished her a good trip home.  She will be returning to our area in August for a solo show scheduled in New Albany, IN and it will be great to see her again!  Julia also wrote up a Loretto Motherhouse story which can be read at her blog, “Bee Sting Brose”.  It’s on my blogroll for your convenience!

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Continuing a streak of good luck, I was able to catch up with video artist Julia Oldham and show her a little of my stretch of the river.  I first became acquainted with Julia’s work through Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest’s Connect event from last summer.  Several of her videos were being projected outdoors and I was frozen in my tracks by them.  I later learned she would become an artist in residence at Bernheim during the months of April and May of this year. We “cyber-met”  through each other’s blogs, leaving occasional post comments back and forth.  With considerable interest,  I anticipated meeting her in person for the first time.  Julia was kind enough to give me a sneak peek of the work she is creating at Bernheim and will formally “unveil” at the arboretum later this month.  Her newest works are as she is…smart, funny, and engaging.  I looked forward to sharing a river adventure together.

We arrived at the Falls in time to celebrate Earth Day…sort of.  It was two weeks late, windy, cool, and the muddy-colored Ohio River was still very high but receding.  The park was full of cars and people participating in the festivities.  Evidence of the high water was all along the shoreline and to be truthful, I felt dismayed by the sheer amount of crap present.  Happy Earth Day everybody…let’s celebrate this liquid landfill we call a river!

Pretty much all the spots I like to inhabit were still underwater or inaccessible and muddy.  I wondered how much of a bad impression this was making on Julia?  Quietly, it affected my mood and I tried to distract myself by making a quick sculpture from this junk.  But it fell apart and I didn’t manage to even get a picture of it!  The sight of so much river born garbage was repellent and I felt like a rubber-necker at the scene of an accident.  This is also part of the fascination that I have with this place, but rarely have I seen it this bad.  Where we could, we touched base with the river.  In places, there were immense logs and washed away trees driven against the bank.  Who knows what I will find once the river returns to a more normal pool?  Definitely, there won’t be a shortage of art making materials…maybe for years.

We visited the Interpretive Center and Julia was able to see some of the displays.  I have wanted the chance to photograph the large replica of the Permian Age amphibian among the ginkgo leaves and here it is.  I got down on my belly to get eye to eye with it!  From this angle it looks like a big frog, but it is a four-legged giant salamander-like critter and lived in the swamps that millions of years later became coal deposits.  It was maybe 3 1/2 feet long in life.  I wondered if it had a long tongue?

Several birds of prey were on hand as part of a raptors rehab program in our area.  We talked birds and I photographed this really pretty male American Kestrel.  I see wild and free kestrels in the park all the time.  This small falcon is our most colorful bird of prey.  I once observed a kestrel catching a Killdeer plover on the fossil beds.  The hunt was over in seconds.

Julia and I hiked around the park where we could and then we returned to my vehicle.  I had brought with me four clean, glass pint bottles I had found earlier at the Falls as well as materials to write notes or make drawings.  After sharing a Blue Dog peanut butter cookie and a couple of pears…we set to work.

I’m frequently asked if I have ever found a note in a bottle and I have to disappoint by saying no.  The ones I would make along with Julia are in fact the first notes I have ever put into bottles.  I have, however, been interested in doing this for some time and this seemed as good a moment as any.  The notes are written with permanent ink on Tyvek and paper.

I have no idea what Julia wrote in her notes and she doesn’t know what I put in mine.  We did, however, include some contact information just in case by some stroke of luck someone should find one of these bottles.  I hope that someone does.  It would be cool to see where it went!  I placed small fishing bobbers in each bottle to give it some more visual “pick me up” appeal and then Julia and I took photographs of them in front of the skyline of Louisville.  Since the river at the Falls wasn’t conducive for launching our bottles…we drove to nearby New Albany, Indiana.  In August, Julia will be having a solo show at the Carnegie Art and History Center and I thought Julia would like to see the space.  After a few beers at the New Albanian it was time to launch our bottled notes.  We went down to New Albany’s expansive waterfront and while Julia videotaped, I threw the bottles as far as I could and they landed with a splash to begin their journeys to destinations unknown.  The setting sun reflected on the glass of the floating bottles and I lost sight of them as they drifted towards the center of the Ohio River and points west.

The day went by so quickly and then it was time to go home.  We talked about our very different experiences in the art world, but in the end, felt like we had much in common.  The following morning, I opened the local paper and was surprised to discover an article about Julia in the art section.  It was a nice way to continue our first meeting.  If you are interested in seeing Julia’s work, her blog ” Bee Sting Brose” is on my blogroll.  A click there will take you to several links featuring her videos and articles written about her and her art.

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