Last weekend my 2017 Arts in the Parks grant program came to its conclusion high upon bluffs overlooking a unique landscape of barren prehistoric fossil beds in sharp contrast to the sleek skyline of Louisville on the other side of the Ohio River. In the shade of the impressive 16,000 square-foot Interpretive Center showcased by Indiana’s twentieth state park, I enjoyed painting expansive views while meeting all kinds of creative folks visiting that day.
For my morning painting demonstration, I found a protected spot on the Interpretive Center’s observation deck where hikers gathered for one of the park’s weekend tours to the fossil beds and beyond. This time of year, the dam that runs parallel to the bank lowers water levels enough for visitors to walk over to outer rock beds that are part of an island often submerged by spring floods. I learned that it’s critical for the beds to be consistently flooded to keep from drying out and deteriorating, which seems counterintuitive considering they are made of hard limestone.
For a couple of hours, I painted part of the dam built in the 1920s as well as the upper and lower fossil beds created 387 million years ago when corals, sponges, brachiopods and other aquatic life flourished under a shallow tropical sea, and were buried in layers of limey sediment that caused them to fossilize. During the glacial retreat of the last Ice Age, meltwater scoured the limestone deposits, exposing the Devonian fossil beds and providing a marvelous look at prehistoric life forms preserved in stone for the modern-day visitor.
Unlike many of my demonstrations in the parks, this particular morning I had little use for green paint since the fossil beds resemble more of a moonscape than the usual Indiana scene, even during the autumn droughts which are typical for this area. As predicted, the wind began to really pick up before noon, and I started to lose the shade provided by the building. I always bring a special plein air umbrella that can be clipped to my easel for shade, but couldn’t use it that day unless I wanted my painting setup to sail off the cliffs and over the river like Mary Poppins.
Around noon we found a windbreak for my hands-on painting activity behind some boulders near a welcoming picnic area, still in sight of the river and fossil beds, where I engaged with many visitors who were heading toward the interpretive center or coming back from a hike down to the upper fossil beds on an easy path. Overall, I engaged with 60 park guests with 14 kids and adults trying out the water brushes and painting supplies.
I also met two Louisville artists who express their creativity in very different ways. Erik Bendl, otherwise known as World Guy, stopped to talk after collecting driftwood deposited along the river shoreline by high water. He has walked over six thousand miles pushing a large world globe for diabetes awareness and you can read more about his adventures at World Guy. Albertus Gorman, an artist and art advocate who has an exhibit inside the interpretive center as well as an installation of figurative sculptures near the railroad bridge made from found materials deposited by the river, encourages the public to interact or add to his evolving artwork. Please check out his installations and exhibits at Artist at Exit O Riverblog.
This wraps up another successful grant year at Paints in the Parks. As I prepare my final report, I’m very grateful to the Indiana Arts Commission, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and my immediate family for their support and encouragement over these last six months of unpredictable weather and challenging terrain. I especially appreciate all of the park guests I’ve met throughout this program, who are open to painting in all kinds of conditions, and courageous in their creativity. I will always treasure your willingness to engage with nature through art. It’s what keeps me going as I continue my journey to paint in all of Indiana’s state parks. Thank you for joining me.