Posts Tagged ‘reptiles’

Styro-turtle head with fossils

I just read that the most primitive reptiles still around are the turtles.  The oldest turtle fossils extend back nearly 230 million years.  It wouldn’t come as a shock to see that pushed further back in time as new discoveries are made.  The fossils at the Falls of the Ohio predate the turtles and represent life during the Devonian Period about 370 million years ago.

Styro-turtle in shallow pool

Normally during this time of year the fossil beds would be exposed and you can walk very far out upon them.  This, however, hasn’t been a normal year!  I’ve dipped into the archives to show you a turtle sculpture I made a couple years ago that remains a favorite creation.  In this image, the Styro-turtle is crawling out of a shallow pool of water that it was using to stay cool.  It can get very hot out on these rocks during the summer.  The remains of ancient corals can be clearly seen in the limestone.

Styro-turtle on fossil rocks

When I make this work I’m really more interested in the images that result.  For me, it’s about seeing the trash I rearrange and reconfigure in the context where these objects were found.  This turtle needs to be seen in this particular environment which has played a large role in shaping the materials I use.  This is meant to be “a collaboration with nature”.  Andy Goldsworthy has used this phrase to describe his work and friends have  compared my work to his.  There are similarities in that we both like working out in the elements, using what is on hand, and taking a photographic image that is the visual record of that day and place in time.  There are also differences.  My work here is figurative while Goldsworthy’s is more abstract.  He prefers working strictly with natural materials while I use artificial ones too.  The state of moving from the natural to the artificial I feel describes our current condition well.  Goldsworthy travels to some of the beautiful places on the planet to make his art, while I decided to interpret this one place near where I live.  I feel we are collectively like the turtle in the above image…on the brink.  Will we turn back or go over the edge?  By using the garbage I find here I believe I’m not only illustrating part of the problem, but also suggesting an alternative.  It’s by encouraging and using our universal creativity that we have the best chance to reconnect with the environment that sustains us.

Styro-turtle, out of context

This piece turned out nicely and so I kept it.  Later it found a good home with my gallery representative…who prefers the sculptural models over the images!  To each his own.  With real turtles, one of the distinctions that shows up even in the earliest animals is the presence of the shell or carapace.  In my polystyrene version, the shell is special too.  It is the remains of an old bicycle helmet.  Other materials used include:  coal for the nostrils and mouth, plastic aerosol nozzle tips for the eyes, a plastic bleach bottle mouth forms the collar where the turtle’s neck joins the body, driftwood legs, tail, and neck, the rest is Styrofoam.  All found on site.Underside of Styro-turtle


The head pivots around where it meets the body and there is one other special feature of this piece.  It can only be seen by turning the turtle over.  The body is a Styrofoam human head used by wig stylists!  For me, it adds another layer of meaning.  This is one of two such Styrofoam heads I have found at the Falls of the years and worked well with the foam helmet.  A pocket knife was the only tool I used to make this found object sculpture.

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Red-eared Turtle, 6/08

This is a very lucky Red-eared Turtle.  I first came across this old guy more than a week before this picture was taken.  Far from the river I found it stranded among the driftwood.  I thought that was unusual at the time, but dismissed it by saying to myself that the turtle got there without my help and could get away whenever it wanted to.  I turned and left it alone.

Red-eared Turtle, dorsal view, 6/08

Red-eared Turtle, ventral view, 6/08

When I returned to the site much later, I saw the turtle was still there.  It was then I realized that the last bit of flooding had in fact stranded it.  Looking to be in good shape, I picked it up and made these photos.

Russel Athletic Turtle, 6/08

Every now and then I come across some truly one of a kind turtles.  This is the Russell Athletic Turtle.  It’s carapace (the name of the top shell) in this case mimics the padding found in protective pads of football gear.  It’s usually found nearer the trees than the water, although it’s reputed to be a good swimmer when pressed.Russell Athletic Turtle, 6/08


The Russell Athletic Turtle is fond of grazing on the newest tufts of river grass found at the Falls.  It’s geographically limited and so is considered a threatened species worth conserving.

Black Softshell Turtle, 6/08

Black Softshell Turtle, 6/08

No where else on the planet can you find the spectacular Black Softshell Turtle, except for this park.  The above images are groundbreaking because this exceedingly rare turtle hasn’t been recorded in many years.  These are also in all probability the only known color images.  At the Interpretive Center a few, old grainy images of this softshell turtle are preserved in the library and the museum boasts a partial skeleton in its collection.

Black Softshell Turtle, 6/08

Like other members of the genus Trionyx, the Black Softshell Turtle lays it’s eggs in a sandy nest excavated by the female in a suitable riverbank.  I watched this specimen for several minutes before it returned to the river and hoped that I wasn’t watching the last of its kind slipping beneath the waters.  At least these images will help keep its memory alive. 

Wondering what happened with the Red-eared Turtle I started this post with?  I carefully picked up the turtle by the edges of its shell, being sure not to get my fingers in harm’s way, and placed it at the river’s edge.  At first, the water washed over the top of his shell and the turtle’s head and legs remained tight within.  Slowly, the water revived this turtle and I watched it disappear into the Ohio River.

Red-eared Turtle, 6/08

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