Creation in a Nutshell

The Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum near Solesbury displays a large collection of iron sculptures in an unsuspecting, hilly, southern Indiana landscape.

I will post pictures from the trails at a later point. Today I would like to talk about an annual event that takes place there.

Each July, artists from all over the worlds gather to a month long event at SculptureTrails to work on iron casts. Over several weeks they produce moulds for their sculptures which are then subjected to a ritual that lasts several hours: The iron pour. And indeed a ritual it is. It begins with the firing of the furnace.

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All participants wear protective gear and perform their tasks with a concentration, discipline and respect that reminds me of ancienct religious ceremonies. A look at the molten iron alone is awe inspiring.

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The actual pouring takes place in several rounds, depending on the number of moulds.

Visitors have the opportunity to scratch sandstone molds for a nominal fee.

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More often than not, the sparks fly high, and let the human beings involved disappear.

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When the liquid iron is poured, the flames and sparks take on fantastical shapes that are, one might believe, the ghosts or souls of the sculptures to be created.

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It is hard to say what makes this whole process so fascinating. Is it the ability to handle molten iron? The solemnity of the ritual? The spectacle of the flames?

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Maybe it is the deep satisfaction to see something truly transformed.

In Andrei Tarkowski’s film Andrei Rublev, the last chapter shows the casting of a bell (two bells, if you wish). There and here, the spiritual dimension of a purely physical phenomenon is astounding.

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Nature Morte

The french Nature Morte is a peculiar contrast to the english Still Life. For today’s images, the french version is better suited.

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The dead tree, resting on a large boulder in front of McCormick Creek State Park’s canyon wall, invites to contemplate about decay and the passage of time very much like many still lifes do.

The image also follows an iconographic pattern, which consists of a platform, a presented object on the platform, and a backdrop. Traditionally, in a still life, the platform is usually a table, the objects can be fruits and flowers, and the backdrop is often a dark wall or piece of cloth. Here, the platform is the rock, the object the tree, and the backdrop the canyon wall. Several of Francis Bacon’s paintings (e.g. the Figure at a Washbasin) not only rely on the same pattern, but are compositionally reduced to it. In his case, the platforms are tables or chairs, the objects distorted people, and the backdrop is often a door or window.

I have probably taken about a dozen images of this tree over the years. It survived several winters.

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However, heavy flooding has moved the tree out of the frame, making room for the next object.

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Seasons

While there are few natural lakes in Indiana, the many artificial lakes have some beautiful shores. One of my favorites is at Strahl Lake in Brown County State Park. To appreciate its beauty, I recommend to be there at the right time of the day. The best time is just after sun rise when the sun illuminates the entire lake front, but not yet the water. This way the reflection in the water is strongest and the sky is not too bright yet. Actually, I recommend being there when the sun just touches the tips of the trees, and then spend some 30 minutes listening to birds, fish and leaves.

I first realized the beauty of this spot in late September 2009, when the Fall leaf colors were on full swing.

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I decided to return at different times of the year, to find out how the same view would look in other seasons and weathers.

Late in the Fall there is a curious asymmetry due to the deciduous trees to the right and the evergreen trees to the left.

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In an early snowless winter, the best time for this view is actually just before sunrise. With a bit of luck, one can then catch the fog over the lake, and the dark colors of the remaining leaves create a gloomy mood.

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With the winter in full swing, it can get tricky. The pictures I have with the lake frozen are no good because they are too bright. It might work in a night with modest moon shine, but I will have to try that yet. Here is a view from late winter where the cloud cover makes a nice contrast.

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In Spring, one gets all shades of green one might wish for.

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Then there is Summer. The enormous humidity can cause the fog to last longer than the sun rise. So yes, it is warm and wet. But the mood is still quite special.

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All these photos were taken with a 24mm lens (35mm/FF).