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Big Bone Lick and the Birth of Extinction

At Big Bone Lick State Park looking at Bison

At Big Bone Lick State Park looking at Bison

Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology

Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology

Did you know the concept of extinction was born in Kentucky? Before unearthing these huge mysterious fossils of unnamed mammals, no westerner had seriously contemplated the idea of extinction. The concept did not jive well with the deist views of our founding fathers–Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others imagined the universe as kind of a large clock or watch set in motion by God. That this same god would create a creature and then allow ever single member of that particular species to die seemed strange and even unbelievable. This was an America before dinosaur bones had been discovered, before the endangered species list, and just before my ancestors began shooting buffalo from westbound trains for fun.

Letters from Jefferson and others reveal a deep personal interest in these bones from Kentucky, bones which eventually turned out to be new species like the Mastodon, Wolly Mammoth and Jefferson Sloth.  These discoveries turned the world of science upside down and gave rise to paleontology, the science of prehistoric life. That these early Americans were forced to accept evidence over ideology (a skill that seems to be lost on many contemporary thinkers) makes for a great narrative. To read these letters and get a first hand account of this story, including some great Native American myths about where the bones came from, I highly recommend the book Big Bone Lick, by Stanley Heeden.

How did Kentucky go from the birthplace of American paleontology to a hotbed of fundamentalism?  Now there is even a theme park devoted to debunking hundreds of years of science in the name of religion.  It seems to me like Kentucky could benefit from a 1600 square foot mural about natural history!

Last weekend, after a long week of painting mastodon bones as part of an outdoor mural in Covington, KY, I took my girlfriend to the state park to see the site of these discoveries.  It’s a great park with some great hiking trails.  And as you might expect, yes they do have some big bones on display!  These bones below are from bison.  The mastodon skull was simply too cool to be captured in a photograph.  You’ll have to visit yourself!

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Mural Progress, Kentucky Natural History

Colors!

Colors!

A floating reference

A floating reference

We are making good progress on the Artworks mural in Covington, KY!  The mural is a celebration of Kentucky’s rich natural history.  My thesis work at the University of Cincinnati was largely about the connections between art, the natural world and the human hand.  This mural project has been a great opportunity to continue those interests in a more straightforward way.

Artworks summer programs are thankfully designed not only to employ teens but to provide opportunities for enrichment.  To prepare for the project and get everyone interested in the subjects of our mural I organized several field trips.

First, we made a trip to the beautifully redesigned Mary Ann Mongan Covington Library just across the street from the mural site at 502 Scott Blvd.  I organized something of a scavenger hunt/learning rampage, encouraging the apprentices to explore a variety of topics including: the challenges of public art (as illustrated by the popular story of Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc), the life cycles and roles of viceroy butterflies and honeybees, and the mastodon bones unearthed at Big Bone Lick State Park in the beginning years of America.  Also, what is a Dunkleosteus?  I have always been interested in synthesizing a lot of information and making connections between seemingly disparate topics.

A couple days after the library trip we went to the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal to visit the natural history museum.  We paid particularly close attention to the ice age exhibit, which is simply fantastic.  Our mural includes a mastodon skeleton, an early American symbol of power and mystery and one of my favorite creatures!  I also included a Brachiopod, the Kentucky state fossil.  These fossils are millions of years old, from a time this area was covered in ocean.  They should be a familiar sight, if you have ever looked closely at a river rock.

Since then it has been many days of sweating in the sun and drawing, painting, and having fun.  I met the most amazing group of teenagers.  It is kind of sad wrapping this project up these next couple weeks.  Stay tuned for photos of the final result!

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Downtown Covington KY Mural Live Web Feed

Artworks Covington Mural Apprentices

Top to bottom left to right: Apprentices Alexandra Weibel, Scott Sanker, Teaching Artist Jasmine Akers, Apprentices Previn Beal, A.J. Newberry, and Evelynn Meyer.

I am now the project manager and lead artist of an even larger, more visible Artworks summer mural project!  Artworks is a Cincinnati non-profit that “empowers and inspires the creative community to transform our everyday environments through employment, apprenticeships, education, community partnerships, and civic engagement,” although they are mostly known for their murals.  This summer, my mural is one of about ten being painted in the Cincinnati area.

After a long saga involving an uncooperative Dayton Kentucky City Council, we have moved upstream.  I am now working in the Artworks Signcity of Covington, Kentucky, with fellow Cincinnati teaching artist Jasmine Akers and now seven apprentices, amazing young artists from the Cincinnati area Evelynn Meyer
, Scott Sanker
, William Moore
, AJ Newberry, Previn Beal
, Alexandra Weibel
, and Marvin Gay Lee Jr.  We are painting 11 panels on two sides of the Kerry Toyota Collision center at 24 E 5th St, Covington, KY 41011.  Marc Camardo and staff have been amazing.  If their willingness to help a rag tag group of artists is any indication of their commitment to customer service, I would say this must be the best collision repair center in the world.  Additionally, this is the cleanest building I have ever seen, which is a miracle when I consider how many greasy cars come in and out of their every year.

When we aren’t baking in the sun on Scott Blvd. between 4th and 5th Street, we are in our studio space, generously donated by the Covington Artisan’s Enterprise Center.  Cate Yellig and Natalie Bowers were instrumental in saving this project and bringing it to Covington.  So many people fought so hard to keep this boat afloat.  While the last month or so has admittedly been frustrating with so many stops and starts, the fact that we have begun an even bigger and better mural project in such a positive environment is a testament to the power of art.  That may seem dramatic, but if you could see what I have seen–people crying, yelling, laughing–all about the possibility of painting, you would recognize.  Plato knew it.  City Councils know it.  Art is power and a simple image can be transformative.

Covington Artworks Swagger

Covington Artworks Swagger

Unfortunately this block in Covington still has many vacant store fronts and unsavory happenings.  However, Covington is going through a renaissance and the mural is perfectly positioned and timed to make a meaningful contribution.  Our site is just up the street from the historic Roebling bridge, across the street from a newly remodeled Kenton County Public Library, and less than a block from the Gateway Community and Technical College.  When we are finished with the mural the entire block will look much different.  Our goal is to give the people of the neighborhood something positive, something colorful, something that will inspire young people to dream and wonder.

To see the mural unfold check this live feed!  The folks across the street at the PPS group were excited about this project and graciously offered to film it, feed it, and time lapse it later.  Check out this link to see the wall live, right now:  http://www.theppsgroup.com/ppstv/.  We are working near the camera right now (autoposting this blog!).  We will wave to you Monday through Friday at exactly noon.  Our work day is 9am-2pm.


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백합호 (The Fleur-de-Lis)

Jio Bae and I decided to call the ship 백합호, The Fleur-de-Lis. The strange plastic Fleur-de-Lis we found at the river became the centerpiece of the boat, attached to the top of the stern. Since the symbol is rich with history and meaning (wikipedia it), it seemed well-suited for our humble cross-cultural collaboration. Between Jio’s interest in symbolic representations of nomadism and travel, and my interest in mystery and fantasy, we think the boat suits our personalities. It straddles the line between eastern and western boat archetypes, and is also a good representation of the ratio between “natural” and “unnatural” objects (pollution) lying on the shore of the Ohio river near Cincinnati. The color palette is also delightfully (and accidentally) similar to that of my recent paintings, predominantly brown and neutral with small splashes of synthetic color. enjoy.

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Driftwood and Plastic

Yesterday I went to the Ohio River with Jio Bae, an artist from Korea, to collect wood to make a small boat out of only objects from the shore. We collected lots of wood, both man-molded and river-molded, as well as random trash and bits of who knows what and took it all back to my studio to play with.  Results coming soon.

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Motherlodge

I have been selected to participate in Motherlodge Live Arts Exchange in Louisville, KY. This weekend, March 29-April 1, Motherlodge Live Arts Exchange will present an art exhibit titled “Threshold”, featuring myself and over twenty other regional artists, as part of its Spring Live Arts Festival at the Rudyard Kipling in Louisville KY. Tickets for Motherlodge Live Arts musical and theatrical live acts are available in advance at motherlodge.com. The exhibit opens March 29, Thursday at 7:00pm and will remain open for the duration of Motherlodge Spring Live Arts Exchange, March 29-April 1. For a complete list of all live music, theatre, and events of Motherlodge Spring Exchange please visit www.motherlodge.com.

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freshART

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I am pleased to be participating in an art event called freshART at the Behringer-Crawford Museum in Devou Park Saturday September 17. The 19th annual event includes several Cincinnati-area artists.  During the day, artists will create works of art within the 700 acre Devou Park.  That night, the works will be auctioned during an elegant evening of cocktails, dinner, and conversation.

Advance reservations are recommended.
$65 per person.  6-9:30pm.

Behringer-Crawford Museum, in Devou Park
1600 Montague Rd
Covington, KY 41011
859-491-4003
http://www.bcmuseum.org
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Motherlodge

Two Hands

Two Hands, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, NFS

I have been selected to participate in Motherlodge Live Arts Exchange in Louisville, KY. This weekend, March 24-26, Motherlodge Live Arts Exchange will present an art exhibit titled “Shelter”, featuring myself and over twenty other regional artists, as part of its Spring Live Arts Festival at the Rudyard Kipling, Louisville KY. Entrance to the “Shelter” Pop Up Gallery is free. Tickets for Motherlodge Live Arts musical and theatrical live acts are available in advance at motherlodge.com. The exhibit opens March 24, Thursday 7-10pm and will remain open for the duration of Motherlodge Spring Live Arts Exchange, March 24-26. For a complete list of all live music, theatre, and events of Motherlodge Spring Exchange please visit www.motherlodge.com.

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