Posts Tagged ‘pollution’

The Crying Indian, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

I touched on this briefly with my last post, but it has taken a couple of weeks to return to the story of “The Crying Indian”.  This post is both about the figure I created from found Styrofoam and the true story about one of the most successful Public Service Announcements of all time.  A few months back, I accepted the invitation of Bob Hill to show some of my river creations at his Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden in Utica, Indiana which is just across the river from my home in Louisville, KY.  After the high water we had in late winter and early spring, I had the opportunity and collected several large pieces of Styrofoam off of the riverbank with the intentions of making a few large figures that I could use for the Hidden Hill show.  I was successful in accomplishing this goal and the first figure I made was to become the piece I call “The Crying Indian”.

Basement studio view with the Crying Indian in progress, May 2016

I really don’t have a proper studio.  Just a basement at home that I hoard all the materials that I bring home from the river and the few finished works that I keep.  I really do prefer working outdoors at the Falls of the Ohio where I can work relatively quickly.  On occasion, I have a need to create work that is a little more formal or ambitious and requires more time to put together.  With a deadline approaching for a May 21 opening and weather unpredictable…I set about creating what I could in this cramped space.  There are some advantages like being able to listen to music or moving the laundry along and snacks are just a short staircase away.  Sitting at the foot of those basement steps, I weighed my options and introduced elements that may or may not become a part of the finished work.  The large chunks of Styrofoam that I had brought home from this year’s flooding were outside leaning against my house.  I selected the third largest piece and brought it into the basement.  It was time to go to work.

In progress image of the head of the Crying Indian, Louisville, KY, May 2016

Going into this sculpture, I knew that I wanted to keep it fairly “classical” meaning that most of the elements I used were white in color in “imitation” of marble statuary. I chose a river-polished hunk of Styrofoam for a potential head that felt somewhat in proportion to the figure I envisioned.  I sifted through bags and boxes of river collections and chose two hollow, plastic, and crushed fake golf balls for eyes.  The nose is a piece of polystyrene that is cone-shaped.  The mouth is a plastic and foam element from an old football helmet and the ears are pieces of Styrofoam.  The element that would become “the feather” in the Indian’s headdress was a broken plastic kayak? paddle that I had recently found and thought would look great in this context.  I would later use glacier and river worn quartz pebbles for the tears, but this was one of the last elements I introduced into this piece.  The rest of the work would be Falls of the Ohio driftwood and plastic elements collected in the park.

The Crying Indian in progress, Louisville, KY, May 2016

As I’m working on this, I’m also having an internal conversation with myself.  Talking to my materials I silently ask, “What do you want to be?”  I’ll pose questions and trust my subconscious to help me out by providing a few clues that become ideas that can be elaborated upon.  In this case, I was remembering that great Public Service Announcement from 1971 that is known as “The Crying Indian”.  I was wondering why there weren’t similar ads on television now decrying pollution and litter and extolling the public to do what they can do to help which is also the right thing to do?  What seems to rule the air waves now in the way of public service has more to do with finding cures for cancer and other maladies that afflict us…and that is important too.  Another little voice within me also feels that many of these physiological problems we endure will find their root causes in an increasingly degraded and contaminated environment.  For old times sake I looked up that original Crying Indian ad that was sponsored from the Keep America Beautiful folks and found it as effective as I had remembered it.  During my search, I clicked on a few other stories related to the Crying Indian and that’s when my jaw dropped in amazement.

Back view of the Crying Indian at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Detail, Crying Indian at the Falls of the Ohio holding plastic jugs, May 2016

The first big surprise is a story full of ironies beginning with the actor playing the”Crying Indian”…he  was not a Native American in the first place.  “Iron Eyes Cody”, America’s favorite movie and television Indian was born Espera Oscar de Corti in Gueydon, Louisiana in 1904.  He was actually a second generation Italian American.  He had a rough upbringing and when he was a child he left with his father for the American West.  It was out there that he first experienced indigenous cultures as well as the entertainment industry where he was to find life-long employment.  His first role, playing a Native American child happened in 1919 in a silent film entitled “Back to God’s Country”.  Iron Eyes Cody’s film and television career ultimately spanned the 1930’s to the 1980’s.  He claimed to be of Cherokee and Cree descent, but he needed his braided wig to become at least the image of an Indian.  Apparently, he never quite confessed to his deception and even lived to the ripe old age of 94.  Although Iron Eyes Cody was not a real Native American, he seems to have lived his life otherwise respecting the indigenous cultures.  He married a Native American woman and they adopted two Native children…one of whom became one of the best Native American musicians.  Perhaps it was the times, but I have to believe that if this ad were to be remade today that the public would insist that the Indian be at least genuine.

The Crying Indian and the Skyline of Louisville

The Crying Indian with Jugs

I didn’t feel that this figure was complete without photographing it in the context of the Falls of the Ohio where I originally found the materials that comprise it.  The addition of the white jugs became important not only because I have recently been doing a lot of outdoor assemblages using plastic containers, but returning to the fascinating story of “The Crying Indian”.  As was mentioned, this PSA was sponsored by Keep American Beautiful and the Advertising Council did the ad for free as a way of stimulating business interests in our country.  The Ad Council also created Smokey the Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog, this is your brain on drugs with the egg frying in the pan, buckle up for safety which was an early seat belt public service announcement and many more.  As for the Keep America Beautiful folks….well, they actually represented an organization consisting of  companies that produced bottles and containers of all kinds which make up a huge part of the litter you see everywhere but in the PSA crafted for them.  The Crying Indian ad is now considered a classic case of green-washing.  What occurred with this PSA was to put the responsibility for litter square on the backs of consumers and deflected any blame away from the manufacturers that produce these containers in the first place.  Once upon a time, containers were returned to their point of origin to be cleaned and reused, but there was a lot less trouble and more money to be made in convincing the public that single use containers were the way to go.  We are still in that place forty years later.  You can never underestimate the power of ad agencies to understand human behavior and psychology and use it against us to further the goals of their clients.  A good part of the shame people felt upon seeing trash being thrown at the feet of Iron Eyes Cody had to do with the subtle guilt that many people feel for displacing and persecuting the original inhabitants of this land.  That added ingredient helped make this one of the most successful public service announcements ever made.

The Crying Indian at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden, May 2016

The Crying Indian at Hidden Hill, May 2016

Here are a few images of the finished piece in place at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden.  It looks great where it’s at and I will do another story soon that will include the other sculptures I made for this occasion.  Some of them turned out very well, although they don’t quite have the back story that the figure does.  Hidden Hill is a special and beautiful place and I look forward to sharing more pictures with you.

I used Ginger Brand’s great article entitled, “The Crying Indian” that originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Orion Magazine for much of the information included in this post.  Brand really goes much farther than I could go here and I highly recommend this read.  Here is a link to that story…https://orionmagazine.org/the-crying-indian/  Another good source of information came from Priceonomics and the link to that story is http://priceonomics.com/the-true-story-of-the-crying-indian/  And, if you want to see the original one minute long public service announcement, it is available on YouTube and at the end of this post. Until next time…

Head of The Crying Indian, May 2016




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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


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nature's template, Falls of the Ohio

It’s been raining off and on for the past three days and so I’ve decided to give the actual Falls of the Ohio a pass this weekend.  That, however, does not mean that my heart and thoughts are ever far from the park.  Looking through my Falls image archive, I have put together a post on a topic that has been concerning me of late.  Increasingly, we feel we can manipulate nature and bend it to our desires without consequences.  Man has this vision that we can force nature into our template and that “she” will obey in predictable, obedient ways.  Ever see a square tomato grown in a cube?  Nature, however, is much more dynamic than we give her credit for and frequently presents ideas of her own.  As regular followers of the riverblog may have noticed new fauna often show up here and the consensus is that their appearance is a result of our altering the environment in myriad ways.  Over the last few years, I have also noticed some previously unknown plants.  Allow me to present a photo-bouquet of highly questionable, potentially toxic, exotic flora.

The Chemical Rose, Falls of the Ohio, 2012

Meet the Chemical Rose which is a new species I discovered at the Falls last year.  It was found growing by an area where an unknown iridescent sheen was percolating up through the sand.  It has no leaves and aside from its thorny stem, has no photosynthetic ability.  This is a fairly consistent trait of these new plants.  They may be parasitic or fungal-like, but I’m sure there is considerable variation on how they live.  The petals on the Chemical Rose are hard and seem very much like plastic.  More on this later.

The Sand Lotus, 2012

It’s beautiful in its own way, but what is it?  For lack of a better name, I call this a Sand Lotus.  It shares some characteristics with the Chemical Rose.  Notice no leaves…doesn’t need them.  It’s roots go down deep in the sand.  Like the previous rose, its petals are hard to withstand the rigors of the river.

Petrochemical Coleus

I bet I walked by this strange plant many times before something told me to look again.  I call this one the Petrochemical Coleus.  Although it has green leaves, it does not possess chlorophyll.  This specimen was growing up through the driftwood.  It’s small size also makes this one hard to see and find.

Flame Nut with seeds

Here’s the Flame Nut so-named because what passes for its foliage turns bright red when its seeds mature.  Its leaves feel very much like coarse fabric and it seems to prefer sandy environments as well.

False Pink Bell in bloom

This interesting and dare I say “lovely” flower is the Faux Pink Bell.  It combines characteristics of several of the mutant plants I’ve uncovered.  It possesses hard plastic parts as well as the softer, synthetic petals that are fabric-like.  It grows in highly disturbed, contaminated soils.  Which brings me to a theory I’ve been formulating ever since I first discovered these strange plants.  Although I’ve not done a chemical analysis on them, their resemblance to plastic can not be coincidental?  Plastic is after all organic by definition.  Plastic is derived from petroleum which is an extract from ancient life and I think there is something in the long memory of life that is presenting itself here?  We know that our traditional plastics keep breaking down to the micro level.  These really small particles are absorbed by living tissues.  Is it possible that this plastic pollution is altering life in reaction to the many changes brought about through man’s activities?  Can the long polymer chains connect with DNA?  In effect, Nature is demonstrating that it is even more plastic by molding and forming new species to harmonize with the changed environment.

Polymer Posey

I came across the Polymer Posy growing in the mud.  I believe this is as much fungus as anything else or a new theory has been presented.  Perhaps this is a carnivorous plant that traps and eats insects?  Upon inspection, there are small entry ways along its base that invite small insects like ants to go inside.

Yellow Bittercup

Growing out of the wood chips is this botanical novelty I’ve designated the Yellow Bittercup.  Again, no leaves required.  This flower can appear anytime of the year.  I came across this one last summer.

Orange Forget-me-not

The Orange Forget-me-not is indeed memorable.  It is encountered among the driftwood and may in effect break down cellulose to create its own plastic structure.  The holes in the flower trap, strain, and direct moisture and nutrients to its shallow root system.  And now for something really spectacular in a twisted way.

Polyvinyl Palm, 2012

I did a massive double take upon encountering the Polyvinyl Palm growing from the poor rocky soil in the western section of the park.  This is easily the largest of the new plants I’ve stumbled upon in my wanderings.  I had hoped to study it more, but another visitor to the park collected it.  We have discovered that it is possible to change the chemical composition of the atmosphere through our combined activities.  I believe we are simultaneously altering through chemistry the very organisms that inhabit this world with us with unintended consequences.  How long will it take before we change ourselves into something different as well?plastic tulip image

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With the river receding all the Adventurer could do was wait and bide his time.  He came by the river and he was determined to leave the same way.  It hasn’t been all bad though…this has proven to be an interesting place and he has enjoyed many of the hikes he has made in the park.  It is a curious place though full of nature and history, but also marked by sights that seem inexplicable considering the importance of the setting.

Take for instance this experience he had walking along the river’s edge in the western section of the park.  Passing herons stalking fish in the shallows, the Adventurer could see something obviously man-made jutting out of the riverbank and into the water and he moved closer to see what it was.  It kept getting bigger and bigger the nearer he came to it.

The closer the Adventurer approached the more he could make out the large, rusting metal pipe that had become exposed from the river’s retreating water level.  What had happened to the raft to strand it had also exposed this pipe for all to see.  It also appeared to have separated in the process.  The Adventurer’s heart began to sink.

Wow thought the Adventurer!  This is normally hidden from view when the river is higher up the bank.  What in the world could this be and what is it doing in this fine park?  The Adventurer’s head began to fill with questions.

This was another man-made waterfall, but one our friend did not expect to find.  The water flowing from the pipe appeared clear, but foam and suds were produced from where it splashed into the river.  The Adventurer’s fine sense of smell thought he detected the odor of laundry detergent?  He had noticed something similar emanating from an adjacent creek that was fed by a storm sewer from the nearby town.  It had been a long time since the last storm…where was this water originating from and what was it doing emptying into the river?  Was this treated water and could it be harmful in any way?  How long had this pipe been hidden here and was it even necessary?  The Adventurer thought all these things and more.

He walked by the pipe and turned to look back at it.  The Adventurer was struck by its hardness and rigidity of form and thought how many of man’s solutions to problems could be described in the same way.  What an eye sore.  Once upon a time this could be thought of as a solution to something, but was it appropriate now?  You could tell that nature had intervened and was eroding it away from its supports.  The Adventurer just shook his head.  Water is life and fresh water is the fastest disappearing resource.  Can we afford to keep dumping everything into the river as though it didn’t matter? The Adventurer thought of all the other little towns and cities along the river’s route and his chest tightened and he felt even more trapped than before.  Surely in this place that is so important to the record of life and the history of this country…we can do better right?

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