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Posts Tagged ‘La Belle Riviere’

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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Black Robe, 5/09

Had a few hours to play around and so I constructed this small figure fairly quickly.  It’s just a reminder that among the first Europeans to venture down the Ohio River were French missionaries who called these waters La Belle Riviere…..the Beautiful River.  This piece is constructed from Styrofoam, sticks, acorns, plastic, and what appears to be a rubber-like material (neoprene?)…that’s the material that makes up the robe.

mallard eggs, 5/09

I was walking by a hollow log and a female mallard duck burst out and scared the “heck” out of me!  I wondered what this duck was doing a few hunderd yards away from the water and when I poked my head inside I found her nest with eggs.  I took this quick photo and retreated.  I think we both gave each other a good fright!

beaver skull, 5/09

Even with the incissors gone, I identified this as a beaver skull.  It’s a fairly heavy and dense assemblage of bone.  The rest of the skeleton is nearby, but it still has some decomposing to do.  I photographed a beaver sitting on its tail during high waters last year.  I think of this animal as being one of my collaboraters because I love to use beaver-chewed willow sticks in my art.  As they nibble the bark off, their teeth leave marks in the wood that add a subtle pattern.  The beaver are making enough of a comeback here that in places they are considered a nuisance.

Beaver, Spring 2008

Here’s the beaver photo from last year.  He was drying his fur on the bank when he heard my camera and dashed for the water.  Sitting on its tail, it seems almost contemplative.  I like that the French word for river and reverie sound similar.  Here’s one last image of “Black Robe”. 

Black robe, 5/09

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