In a way, environmental artist Al Gorman’s show at Hidden Hill Nursery & Sculpture Garden beginning this Saturday will only mirror what’s been going on at The Falls of the Ohio for hundreds of years.
Except the earlier migrations featured Native Americans, soldiers, settlers, dreamers, explorers and millions of buffalo. The modern influx is a 400-mile broth of plastic bottles, boxes, tin cans, drift wood, beads, faded toys and edgy hunks of Styrofoam – along with the other discarded debris of Our American Life.
That influx has become the working material for Gorman – who is labeled “The Unofficial Artist-in-Residence” at the Falls of the Ohio. His mission, in brief, is to create art from that endless debris while at the same time using those wood, metal and plastic pollutants to raise his voice against it. The only good news is his supply of art is endless. You can see proof of that at his WEB site: artistatexit0.wordpress.com.
We’d rather, of course, mostly talk about the humans who came before the empty Clorox bottles. It’s always fun to imagine what the Ohio River looked like back in 1669 when French explorer and trader Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle came wondering down the river from Canada to the Falls of the Ohio.
Long before that millions of migrating buffalo had stomped the Old Buffalo Trace into existence across the Falls of the Ohio, creating a wide settler’s road all the way from Louisville to Vincennes – no toll required.
George Rogers Clark and settlers and soldiers first set up shop on long-gone Corn island just off what’s now downtown Louisville. Native Americans traveled the river in dugouts and canoes, then British and French traders claimed the land – and fought over it.
Thousands of settlers came down river in flatboats, and as the county grew, so did the traffic. One estimate was that by 1810 about 1,200 flatboats carrying 130,000 barrels of flour, 600,000 pounds of bacon and – of course – 10,000 barrels of whiskey made their way from the Upper Ohio River to New Orleans.
Keelboats powered by incredibly durable men with iron-tipped poles began pushing their boats upriver from New Orleans – sticking the poles in the mud nearer shore and “walking” the boat upriver until they reached the boat’s stern. Then they got to do it again. If that wasn’t tough enough they would rope a tree upriver, and literally pull the craft upriver one length at a time. Then came the mighty paddlewheel steamboats.
In time, a series of dams would change the Ohio River into a series of lakes, still prone to flooding but a little more controlled. In time, the millions of people who used the river would toss a few million items in to it, and many would wash up on the rock and mud at the Falls of the Ohio.
Then Al Gorman – a man with strong connections to the art community on both sides of the Ohio – would begin to spend a few days a week there, rearranging that debris into art on site, and bringing a lot more home to put on public display.
He will show four large pieces formed from that debris at Hidden Hill this Saturday, along with about 15 smaller works that will be on display for a month. His talk will begin at 10 a.m., and he will lead a tour of his work after that.
Yes, it is found junk, and he’ll also bring some pieces with him for a workshop to allow others to form it into art. Bring the kids. It’s a good way to continue the conversation on how to get rid of it.