Posts Tagged ‘trash’

The One-eyed Blue-tongued Devil at the Falls of the Ohio

The river is rising as I write this.  Just the other day…we had a storm that just sat on us and poured down a massive quantity of water.  This is to my count, the fourth time this year that we have experienced high water on the Ohio River.  Fortunately, none of them have been true floods on the big river.  All the art projects and the materials I have collected and cached at my various sites this year are gone or in different locations within the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Having the time and opportunity to access the life at the Falls is a still a big priority for me, but the river and weather don’t always cooperate.

One-eyed Blue-tongued Devil with Blue Ball

I’m out here as often as I can get away and since time is usually limited…I work quickly forming plans for projects as I take advantage of what that day presents.  A typical visit starts off first with a walk checking out what’s new in the area for potential materials and sites for projects.  I’m also looking for new birds, what fish the fishermen are having success with, any new flowering plants and the insects they may attract.  Because of the river, the areas I frequent are dynamic and change frequently which is a big part of the attraction.  After making the rounds, I will return to one of my outdoor studio sites where I store materials for later use or to take home with me at the end of the day.  If there is one change in my creative process over the past year, it is on relying on my home work space more to get things done.

Petrochemical Rainbow in progress in my home studio.

Work in progress, late January 2017

And, as you can see by these especially well-curated and selectively chosen images, there’s also plenty to work with here!  If the river was to evaporate away tomorrow…I will be in good shape for a while as far as materials go.  Drinking water and taking a hot shower, however, may be another story.  Since I participated in a recent two person exhibition that I haven’t mentioned yet, this looks like a good opportunity to share something about that.

Post card invitation for Cross Currents exhibition, Feb. 2017

My friends David McGuire and Karen Welch formed Craft(s) Gallery and Mercantile in Louisville to help promote the work and sale of Kentucky’s creative people.  I accepted their invitation to show with Mack Dryden who is another Falls of the Ohio enthusiast who also happens to be a professional comedian. Mack likes to collect the driftwood that he finds and makes more formal compositions with them.  We decided to title our exhibition “Cross Currents…” since while we appreciate nature and what the river gives us…our approaches to art making are different.  Here are a few installation shots from this show.

Taking my "Foamies" to market, late January 2017

I threw this picture in here because this is something most people don’t see or consider…how an artist gets their work from one place to the next.  Fortunately for me, most of the shows I participate in are within a day’s drive of Louisville.  In this case, I’m just going across town.  Shipping can get problematic and costly.  Ironically, since most of my Styrofoam projects don’t weigh anything…they do however, take up “dimensional space” meaning I’m charged for how much room my box occupies on the truck or cargo jet regardless of the weight.  As  you can see, I’m rather careless with my own work with minimal or nonexistent packaging.  I think there is something about knowing where my materials come from that causes me to be casual and not at all precious about what happens to my projects.  I still leave a lot of stuff behind at the river.

Cross Currents exhibition, Crafts and Mercantile Gallery, Louisville, KY, Feb. 2017

Cross Currents installation view, Craft(s) Gallery and Mercantile, Louisville, KY, Feb. 2017

Installation view of Cross Currents exhibition, Craft(s) Gallery and Mercantile, Lousiville, KY, Feb. 2017

Our exhibition was up for the month of February and was well received.  I brought projects that hadn’t been seen in Louisville before including some new colorful, plastic bottle pieces I had been working on during 2016.  My bird sculptures also did well and they seem to be many people’s favorite works by me.  I also included new dye sublimation prints on aluminum that I had made of river works that no longer exist. Most of my Falls projects after all these years of doing this project remain preserved as images only.Styrofigure with found, plastic battery operated car, Falls of the Ohio 2017

Relatively speaking this has been a warm spring and delightful when it wasn’t pouring buckets of rain on occasions.  When the opportunity presented itself…I started several new series of works taking advantage of and calling attention to the many other materials that I find in the park.  I look forward to sharing them with you and hopefully…I won’t let so much time go by.  Until then….

One-eyed, Blue-tongued Devil holding a white bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2017



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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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It’s raining as I write this post.  It has seemingly rained the entire month of April in my area resulting in a swollen Ohio River.  I think we are on another collision course with the record books for most precipitation during April.  Only once this month have I been able to access what passes for our normal river shore line and it was very muddy!  We have had tornado warnings and flooding this Spring.  The following adventure occurred between the two episodes of high water we have experienced.  I was walking along the Woodland Loop Trail at the Falls of the Ohio State Park when I was stopped in my tracks by this hand painted sign the river deposited during the first flood.  Is it another way that the universe is trying to communicate to us?  Is nature saying we are taking a big chance with our treatment of the environment?  I wonder who will win and what the prizes are?  Care to buy a ticket?  I decided to pass, but there were plenty of consolation prizes all along my walk courtesy of man and a too high river.  Since this is Indiana, I thought it was fitting to find one of these.

For thousands of years the Falls was home to a sizeable population of native people.  Now, you are more likely to find one of these.  Another piece of Americana I came across I added to my fake food collection.

What can be more iconic than a fake cheeseburger?  What’s sad is that this isn’t the only one I’ve ever found out here.  I even have found a couple of plastic crinkle-cut french fries too.  Let me see if I can find a picture of one…hold on…yes, I also found this recently.

Moving along the trail, the unmistakable smell of skunk kept getting stronger and stronger in the humid air.  It’s possible that one of these animals drowned in the flood and its carcass was deposited here.  Or, one of the many birds of prey could have taken it.  At the odor’s epicenter, I discovered two species of vultures polishing off what’s left of the unfortunate skunk.  There were three black vultures and one large turkey vulture taking turns at the miserable remains.  Here’s one of the black vultures keeping an eye out while his friends gnosh.  I could see them around the tree trunks.

The dominant bird here was a big turkey vulture which is unusual from what I have observed at the Falls of the Ohio.  I normally see them retiring when the black vultures arrive.  This bird was the last to leave the skunk and the first to return.  Here he is giving me the “eye” from a low hanging branch.  As I approached, he joined the other vultures in a tall tree with a vantage point of me and the skunk. 

All that was left of the skunk were a few innards and its skull.  Perhaps the vultures will eat this too?  That skunk odor was so pervasive and offensive, I’m amazed that these vultures could stomach this, but then again, they have probably had worse meals.  Not to far from the birds, I did find a big piece of Styrofoam that was washed into a bottomland area.  Using what I could find nearby, I constructed this unnamed figure, photographed it, and kept moving down the trail.  Where I left this figure was in the center of a trail loop that curled back towards the Interpretive Center.  Here are images of this improvised piece.  It was an especially pitted and worn hunk of polystyrene.

I circled around and could see the sculpture from another angle.  Funny thing is that while I write this…I know it is no longer standing and was probably swept away again by the Ohio River for parts unknown.  It occurred to me recently that this month is the riverblog’s second anniversary.  As long as the river keeps things interesting, I will try to do the same through these posts.  I have many other images of recently found junk and once this more recent flooding subsides…no doubt will be able to fill this virtual collecting bag.  My parting image is the last picture I took of this short-lived artwork.

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He ran through the willows as though nothing could touch him.  His foot speed was something to behold and he took great pride in that.

In all the land there was nothing that could catch him…or so he thought.  All that was about to change.  Perhaps it was the rhythmic pounding of placing one foot in front of the other, but atypical thoughts were now crossing his mind.  He did notice something in the land for the first time that disturbed him and so he ran across the breath of it to see if it was also true there as well.

The swift figure ran over to the driftwood that had been layered at the Falls after the last flood…and discovered that his pursuer was here too.  Next he tried the river.  Surely, the currents would have washed it all away by now?  But he found that what was bothering him was gaining speed as well.

By the water, the runner found that it was just as bad here and in a moment of panic he decided to run home.

He lived in the roots of a favorite willow tree and he found what was vexing him also now found him here at his home.  The runner had finally come across an opponent that he could not put behind him.

In the willows, it was like this discarded net he nearly ran into.

By the driftwood, it literally was everywhere…on top and intermixed with everything else.

By the river it was perhaps even worse.  There was rubbage floating along and drifting by with the currents.  Who knew where this stuff would eventually end up?

He even found it by his beloved home and he wondered why he hadn’t noticed this before now?  Something in the day had opened his eyes to the truth around him…everywhere he went he could find discarded waste and it bothered him. Yesterday, he was able to put it out of sight, but today was a different.  The runner found what he couldn’t out run was a sense of responsibility he was now feeling for the land that was his home.

The trash that was everywhere to be seen, ( if only people would choose to see it), was like a grenade in the sand just waiting to explode.  At some point, it would enter the ecosystem in even more intimate ways and affect the lives of all that live here.  For the first time, the runner realized that he had a shared responsibility to the other life around him and that ultimately, they would all share the same fate together.

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The other night after supper I had an hour or so to visit the river before the sun set.  So, I escaped to the river and my favorite park to check out the quality of the light as it slowly sets below the horizon.  During this time of year, the days are longer.  In short order, I was able to make this little figure from Styrofoam found on site.  What looks to be a green feather on this guy’s head is actually a miniature plastic skateboard missing its tiny wheels.  I used found coal for his eyes and his ears are small clam shells.  I tied some string around his waist for a belt.

Although it rained lightly a couple of days a go, things are looking a bit stagnant and dry in places.  The weatherman on the television gave some earlier hints that strong storms were a possibility for our area.  We shall wait and see.  For now, a quick stroll is in order before the rain comes or at least until the sun sets for another day.  Wandering near the river, I hear the calls of Killdeer plovers who are so good at sounding the alarm whenever danger is present…in this case, it’s me.  I managed this one quick photo of a bird hiding in an isolated patch of  grass.  The bright red eye-ring is visible making its eyes appear larger.

I noticed that whenever one of the resident vultures flew over, this bird would duck down in the grass.  Although the vultures don’t pose any danger, the Killdeer instinctively hide from what might be a bird of prey intent on eating it.  I have seen an American Kestrel make a meal of one of these large plovers before way out on the fossil beds on the Kentucky side.

There is a drying out occurring and all the small pools of water are evaporating.  In the process, they become more and more stagnant and I bet there’s a wealth of life in a single drop of this water.  I move the figure closer to the river’s edge to see what we can find.

The fishermen have had their moments.  Left on the bank are the remains of dead fish and the trash the anglers didn’t want to deal with packing back to their vehicles.  Of course, the vultures love all the fish and make short work of them.  What the birds miss…the flies find.

I do get a bit upset by the litter left behind by the fishermen.  I wouldn’t consider them sportsmen because they seem to have little regard for this resource.  I wish the people in charge of patrolling the park would come down here more often than they do.  I’m sure they would find many people out here fishing without a license.  I think some official presence visiting occasionally would be a good reminder to keep this place cleaner.

There are still isolated piles of previously collected river debris waiting for the trip to the landfill.  I hope at some point in the near future that this junk gets picked up for good.  For the moment, it represents a job half completed.  At this point in my visit, I perceive  that the quality of the light is different and a breeze is kicking up.  From the west I can see that the weatherman has a good shot of being right about his forecast.  A storm is on its way and I gather my stuff for the return trip home.  I hope the storm is a good one because this place could use a little freshening up.

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A group of volunteers did a river sweep clean-up last week at the Falls of the Ohio.  Our June has been brutally hot and I can see how trying to clean up the park would be a daunting task…there’s just so much that needs picking up.  I did document some of their efforts which I now present to you.  I suspect that most of this stuff is now landfill bound.

I know it may seem odd to present photographs of bags of trash in a blog that tries to concern itself with art, however, if we can view this act of cleaning up as an aesthetic act…than I think we can say we are making some progress.  I realize we are used to thinking of conventional art in aesthetic terms, but that life-enhancing quality that the term “aesthetic” embodies is often best seen in other actions.  Although I wasn’t part of this coordinated effort to clean this stretch of the river, I still show up regularly and try to do what I can using what I know how to do!  On this adventure, I had a friend who assisted me in picking up a few things.

Among the items we found this day included our second snowman of the year!  It’s a little container of some sort.  After taking its picture, I popped this beauty into my collecting bag.  It will probably show up again in one of my Christmas cards.

Among my more popular blog entries is my pages section where I feature my Found Fruits and Veggies Collection.  Currently, the physical collection is on display at Oldham County.  Soon I will need to update those photos featured in this blog because I keep finding more stuff all the time.  When I’m in the field, this material is presented by the river in a very causal way.  Here’s a picture of my latest plastic orange in situ.

The figure accompanying me isn’t very large, but he’s a hard worker.  I snapped this image as he was picking up plastic bottles.  It was just so darn hot that I was on the edge of what I can deal with in terms of humidity.  My clothes by this time are just plastered to my body making me feel that much warmer.  I have been better about carrying water with me when I come out here on particularly hot days.  My friend, however, had fewer complaints than I did.  He just worked at his own pace.

Despite everyone’s best efforts and intentions…the river clean-up just scratched the surface.  There is just so much garbage in the world which I suppose is also an indicator of material richness…from affluence to effluence!  That sounds like a good title for a future post.  Unfortunately, you just can’t get all the trash and if you could…the river would just deliver fresh debris the next time another flood happens. We need to be better at getting this stuff at its sources.  Still, we shouldn’t surrender and I know I won’t.  The planet is just too important a place to give up on!

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It’s the first real taste of winter and the few people out at the Falls today are hardy fishermen and me.  The only birds I encountered were a quartet of Carolina Chickadees moving through the tops of the now “nude” willows.  All this year’s leaves are lying brown and curled up around the bases of these trees.  Nearer the river, each footstep is greeted by the sound of the thinnest ice crunching underfoot.  Later as the sun arcs up, this ice will disappear and become mud that sticks stubbornly to my shoes.  I walk the shoreline picking up and photographing the things I find interesting or worth keeping.  Because it’s cold, I don’t plan to stick around for hours.  I remind myself of the other times I’ve visited the Falls when it was really windy and freezing.  Because survival knows no fashion, during those times I would wear my “Elmer Fudd” cap…the one with the ear flaps!  Not even my best friends have ever seen me sporting that one!

After checking out the latest river offerings, I circled around my studio spot.  With the vegetation down, it’s become much more visible from the informal trail that meanders nearby.  Immediately, I can see that things were not as I left them.  Someone else has stopped by and made use of the materials I have gathered and banked at this location.  Here’s a closer look at what he or she has created.  I studied it for a while before forming an opinion.  I was a bit surprised by my own feelings.

This is the Styro-tableau as I found it.  It consists of three polystyrene sculptures and one hand-lettered sign.  Whoever this artist is has recycled the head of one of my older pieces (the Watchful Willie figure) and attached it to a “body” of their making.  There is also a stylized, abstract “fish” and a smaller, abstract “figure” that’s really crude and falling apart.  It must have been made sometime during the week.  Also nearby, are a few older works I’ve left behind, but those pieces are undisturbed.

I appreciate that this artist has tried to create some sense of movement out of these static materials.  It’s not an easy thing to accomplish.  The arm and hand shading the eyes is a nice touch.  What I’m less enthused about is the use of the blue marker and the hand-lettered sign.  The admonishing tone of the “message” is not my cup of coffee.  I’m also not wild about the idea of breaking the Styrofoam up to make the work.   I do, however, acknowledge that when you invite others to play…you can’t always control the game.  At least whoever made these works attempted something creative which is a message I much prefer sending out into the world.  Here’s a better look at the fish sculpture.  The spines are beaver-chewed willow sticks.

I think this would still read as a “fish” without the marker.  In my own Falls  work, I try to keep things “pure” by using only what I find here.  Although it’s possible that the marker was also found on location…the sign to me would suggest otherwise.  I wonder if the person or persons who made these sculptures also made the works in my previous post?  After encountering this latest  grouping the desire to make something of my own left me.  I instead decided to gather river-worn glass for a series of ornaments I’m making at home.  I’ll show you those later.  I am amazed that an earlier sculpture I assembled a few weeks a go is still standing upright!  Usually these take a stick or rock to the chest not long after they are set up.  This is in a particularly muddy area and so visitors might be reluctant to come near it.  For now, I’ll end with that image.

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