Posts Tagged ‘Lewis and Clark’

Ribbon cutting ceremony, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 8, 2016

On January 8 of this new year, the exhibits at the renovated  Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center opened to the public with a grand ribbon cutting ceremony.  The interior of the Interpretive Center had been closed for 13 months.  About 6 million dollars had to be raised to upgrade the 22-year-old permanent educational displays.  After a national search, Louisville-based exhibit design company, Solid Light, Inc. won this high-profile contract and solidified their growing reputation within the exhibit design field.  Judging from the enthusiastic response of the people attending the reopening it was worth the wait.  I played a very small part with a commission to create an assemblage from objects I found in the park and I was eager to see how Solid Light used it.

From "An Ancient Sea", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

video projection of the Devonian Sea, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2015

The displays are divided into four themes or sections beginning with “An Ancient Sea” that highlights early marine life during the Devonian Period.  The extensive fossil beds in the park date roughly to 400 million years ago and are the remains of an early coral reef ecosystem populated with many species of coral, brachiopods, and early fish which make their first appearance during the Devonian Period.  I was glad to see some of the older models that made up the original display were re-purposed into the new display.  The exhibit is interactive and there are hands on elements that children will enjoy.  Large, wall-sized videos help set the scene through many of the sections and in “An Ancient Sea” an animation depicting a shallow marine environment includes fish swimming through sun-dappled waters as trilobites search for food among the corals.

Reconstructed Native American house, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Signage about the Shawnee language, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

The second theme is entitled “A Changing Land” and covers all the geologic changes from the Ice Age to the appearance of the first Americans.  For me, the highlight of this area is the inclusion of the Shawnee language which can be heard spoken inside a reconstructed shelter.  It’s wonderful that the contemporary descendants of these ancient people were involved in the design of this display and acknowledges their presence at the Falls of the Ohio.

Archaic tool display, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Prehistoric tools on display, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan 8, 2016

Previously, the remains of prehistoric man’s material culture (primarily represented through flint tools) were a focal point in the old center’s displays.  For those worried that examples of the “real thing” would be replaced with virtual images and copies will be pleased that you can still explore original material through some inspired casework.  Be sure to peek inside many of the drawers in the different themed areas to see fine examples of specimens and artifacts.

From " Converging Cultures", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Frontier-themed video image, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

Blacksmith video image, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 8, 2016

The third theme “Converging Cultures” recounts the history of the Falls area with the arrival of the Europeans.  The Lewis and Clark Expedition is a key moment not only in the history of the United States, but of the Falls of the Ohio as well.  Many of the men that comprised the “Corps of Discovery” were originally from Kentucky and Southern Indiana.  Wall-sized videos in the Lewis and Clark Theater recount the biographies of many of the men who made this epic transcontinental journey.  The story of John James Audubon is also noted and forms a transition into the last themed area of the new displays.

Display within the "The Falls Today", Jan. 8, 2016

Virtual aquarium image from the "The Falls Today", Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2016

This last section is called “The Falls Today” and focuses upon the Falls of the Ohio as a rich contemporary ecosystem.  Some of the old taxidermy mounts have been reused to highlight some of the many species that live within the park.  Another large video display, this time a virtual aquarium, speaks to the richness of life in the river, particularly the species of game fish that are of interest to fisherman.  There is also a call to responsible and sustainable living and the need to keep pollution at bay.  This is where I come in.  I was commissioned by Solid Light to create an assemblage of found objects that is representative of what can be found in the Ohio River.  Here is the finished result that was placed within its own case with graphic elements added.

River Object Assemblage by Al Gorman, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Jan. 8, 2018

The panel within the case is 8 feet by 4 feet large.  I posted about the panel as I was creating it and showed many details of the more than 100 different objects that comprise it.  Of course, everything I’ve attached here was found within the context of the park.  The early reaction is that children in particular love looking at all the odd elements especially the found toys.  My panel is among the last things you see as you leave the exhibits area to exit the building.  I’m glad that there has been a greater emphasis in this new interpretation to include the current state of the world.  One could argue that as interesting as the past is…it is the present that is of the greatest concern. Further reinforcing this idea are the results of the minor flooding we experienced the previous week.  As the river has subsided, another massive new inventory of junk has washed into the park.  As I was leaving the ribbon cutting ceremony and walking to my vehicle, I could clearly see how much more work needs to be done.  Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Detritus on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio State Park, Jan. 8, 2016


Read Full Post »

The debris I find along the riverbank is an unfortunate sign of the times, but that pales to the ongoing debacle in the Gulf of Mexico now in its 58th day!  The signs that our way of life are overly dependent on fossil fuels and petroleum in particular have been in place for some time now.  The funny thing about signs is that after a while they become so familiar that they are also easy to ignore.  I decided to visit a place I feel I’m familiar with and learn what I could from the other more literal signs that are around here and this is what I found.  The further away from the park you are, the more likely you are to find signs that beckon or welcome you.  The Ohio River Scenic Byway sign promises an adventure complete with the possibility of steam boats and church steeples if you only follow the road that runs parallel to the river.  Next you come to a sign that alerts you to the historical significance of the town itself which is just outside the park.

As you travel from east to west in our country you run into all kinds of markers that are a reminder of how arbitrary the “west” actually is…eventually you do run into the Pacific Ocean which was Lewis and Clark’s eventual goal.  There are several signs that lead you into the park starting with this rather modest example.  Eventually things do build up leading you to the Interpretive Center with its limestone sign.

The historical significance of this place not only to our country, but to the world’s heritage is well-marked.  I’ll start with the more recent sign that represents the effort to recognize the Lewis and Clark bicentennial.  This expedition of discovery was one of the great moments of exploration and deserves remembrance.  We had to remind the historians, however, that this area played a huge part in the overall trip and had to fight for the recognition which included lobbying on the highest levels.

At least the sign for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail includes two representations of the explorers.  I think it’s doubtful one of them wore a coonskin cap!  Here’s the bronze plaque under the “official” statue (a story for another time!) explaining some of the significance of the voyage to the history of our country.  And , one other plaque I found on the Interpretive Center honoring the fossil beds themselves.

Around the park are other descriptive markers that alert you to some of the attractions in the park.  This sign describes the rich bird life that has been recorded here dating back to Audubon’s experiences.

The oddest signs in the park, however, describe two piles of dirt and rubble that I think we can thank the listed corporation for?  They are used for educational purposes so kids in particular can have a fossil finding experience by sifting through this material.

Once you are in the park, however, one also encounters many signs that tell you what you can and cannot do.  The park and Army Corps of Engineers have many rules and some of them alert you to potential dangers and hazards.  Here are a few of those signs in the contexts in which they are found.

And if you break the rules…you better watch out because…

I can’t leave this post on this note, so just two more images.  The first photo is the sign that gives credit where credit is due…and the last image is what it is giving thanks for!  I know it is said that people no longer read, but if you pay attention to your surroundings, then you can learn all kinds of interesting things and ways to say them.

Read Full Post »

high Ohio River, 8/09

As a child, I can remember the moment when it occurred to me that recorded history doesn’t always measure up to the truth.  It happened in the third grade when we were reading about the discovery of North America by Christopher Columbus.  The teacher brought up the subject of Leif Ericson and his documented voyage to Vineland.  I remember thinking that if the Vikings were first…why were we making such a big deal out of Columbus?  Unfortunately at the time, the proprietary rights of the indigenous Americans didn’t figure into the discussion.  Later I learned that history is indeed fickle and subjective and usually supports the point of view of the victor or whomever was doing the recording.  That turned out to be a valuable lesson in life, although I didn’t know it at the time.

Prince Madoc, detail, 8/09

Among the many things I love about the Falls of the Ohio is the story of Prince Madoc and the Blond-haired, Blue-eyed Indians.  When Lewis and Clark began their exploration of the continent, President Jefferson asked Lewis to confirm their existence.  These people would be the descendants of a colony of Welsh travelers  that accompanied a Prince Madoc back around the year 1170 A.D.!  An even earlier date, five hundred years earlier, has been suggested as the time of the actual voyage and is connected with the descendants of King Arthur!  The most persistent stories, however, go back to the 12th century.

Prince Madoc, 8/09

After arriving in what is believed to be Alabama’s Gulf Coast…Madoc and his people eventually filtered into the heartland by traveling along the rivers.  In their wake, they left little evidence, however, a series of stone fortifications built by unknown hands is attributed to them.  According to a native American oral tradition, these blond-haired, fair-skinned people existed and were routed in battle near the Falls of the Ohio.  The survivors kept moving where they may have merged with the Mandans in the Dakotas.  Lewis and Clark did encounter the Mandans and found them different from the other Indians.  The artist George Catlin did the most extensive study of this tribe before they were all but destroyed by smallpox.  Those survivors later integrated with other native American groups. 

Prince Madoc at the Falls, 8/09

The physical evidence isn’t great.  There are the stone works… walls, fortifications, altered caves, a limestone slab from Kentucky with what appears to be runic writing in ancient Welsh on it.  A few unusual burials have been documented in our area, but nothing definitive has made the case.  Strangely though, there have been documented discoveries of Roman coins. One cache was turned up in the 1960’s during the construction of a bridge crossing the Ohio River at Louisville.  The coins’ discoverer gave two of them to a friend and kept the rest for himself and these were lost again?  The two surviving coins were eventually given to the Interpretive Center at the Falls where they were put on display with facsimiles to simulate the discovered horde.  Other coins have been found in other locations.  Usually, these finds are poo-pooed away as outright forgeries or instances where modern people just happened to lose Roman era coins!

Prince Madoc, in progress, 8/09

I’m sure that history must be full of forgotten stories and the discovery of this continent is among them.  This place has probably been “discovered” and “lost”  on a number of occasions.  With Madoc, whether his story proves to be fact is not as important as the tale itself.  What we remember frequently trumps the truth anyway and seems all the more compelling because there is a persistent mystery surrounding it.  In my own way, I enjoy working in this gray area between fact and fiction as I interpret life at the Falls of the Ohio.  If anyone is interested in the Prince Madoc legend…the links provided for the Falls of the Ohio State Park and the Falls archaeological society can be found in my web log to the right.

Read Full Post »

Collecting Bag contents, 7/09

I have been carrying this Lewis and Clark Bicentennial light canvas bag to the Falls since the beginning of this project.  Considering the years of use, its held up pretty well.  For me, this is one of the key artifacts from this experience.  Since 2003, I have filled and them emptied this bag several times with my river finds.  This is what’s currently in the bag.  Laid out… I was surprised how much plastic I gravitated towards in this batch.  The Donald Duck image was found last week.  The Rock-em Sock-em Robot head is from this year.  This is one of two seahorses I’ve found and this one is green.  Much of the rest is potential eyeballs, noses, or whatever part needed to embellish the foam and driftwood sculptures.  I’m about to make a major purge to lighten the bag.  I don’t want to carry anymore with me than I need to and besides…I will just keep finding more river treasure.

Lewis and Clark Collecting bag and contents, 7/09

Machine and Operator, 7/09

Here’s a good contrast in before and after pictures for you.  The machine and operator was made just a couple posts ago.  This is what it looks like now.  It exploded back into the parts from which it came…sort of.  The wreckage extended over a wide area.

Destroyed machine and operator, 7/09

Read Full Post »

Soul-sucking Machine parts, 7/09

Two hundred years later, I’m walking the very ground that Lewis and Clark walked in their exploration of this great land.  Our intrepid explorers and their men began and ended their voyage at the Falls of the Ohio.  Although my journey isn’t as grand, nevertheless it has been a process of discovery.  For six years now, I have been walking the length and breath of this park recording what I see, feel, find, and make.  If places have spirits (and I believe they do) I hope this project has been a worthy conduit.  The planet is speaking to us…it’s in our own interests to listen now.

The first image in this story, are some of the “raw materials” I found on my latest outing to the river.  Among the many parts are a Styrofoam cooler, a discarded vacuum cleaner hose, various plastic toy wheels, soda bottles, and well…just plain crap.  This is the stuff that I make my art from.

Motor-head operator, 7/09

You can pick up at any point in this blog and see that I use these poor materials to create my own brand of figurative art.  The basic idea is to create a compelling image that speaks to that sense of place as I interpreted that day from means found entirely within the park.  This project involves figuration because I want “people” (our species that includes and is not necessarily limited to the art-interested public) to relate to the work in a basic way.

The second image I’ve identified as being the “Operator” of a device that I’ve constructed from the other found objects.  With a bit of fishing line, I’ve tied a plastic toy engine part to the figure’s head.  Primarily, the figure is Styrofoam, bits of driftwood, plastic, and the eyes are coal.  It’s tough work dragging that hose across the sand, but what is it connected to?

Soul-sucking machine in landscape, 7/09

Soul-sucking Machine, 7/09

The hose is attached to a machine that extracts more from the planet than it gives back in return.  The Operator is always on the move looking for more resources to turn ultimately back into waste.  This is the second such machine I’ve constructed from debris.  The first was made at the tail-end of my analog days and exits only on print film and color negatives.  I called the first piece the “Nature Extracting Crap Making Machine” and it too had an operator.  In that device, the operator filled a funnel with fresh flowers which were converted into a polystyrene-like substance within the machine’s inner workings.  This is an improved version.

Soul-sucking Machine Product, 7/09

Reverse image of machine, 7/09

Here are two details.  One shows “product” being created and collected for… who knows what?  No doubt, it will be something we can’t live without.  The lower image is a look at the machine from the opposite side.  It sports some type of radiator to dissipate heat and unseen greenhouse emissions.  This is also the 40Th anniversary of the first moon landing and the machine has a little plastic astronaut on top of it as a tribute.  There were stories in the newspaper this week on how we are now able to see the junk more clearly that we discarded on the moon.  We can send a man to the moon and back, but we can’t….you complete the sentence with the challenge of your choice.

s.s.machine with landfill, 7/09

Every once in awhile, you produce too much product or need to clean the machine out.  Fortunately, there are enough holes around that need filling.  It’s a 24/7 job, but somebody has got to do it!

Soul-sucking Machine, 7/09

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: