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Stick sculpture rises on campus

Posted By October 20, 2016 | 2:44 pm | Featured Article #4
Photo by Tanya Connor | CFP
Photo by Tanya Connor | CFP

By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press

WORCESTER – Coming upon an artist creating outdoor stickwork encourages people to talk about what’s most important to them.
So says sculptor, Patrick Dougherty, whose hole-y creation at the College of the Holy Cross was recently “unveiled.”
Fitting in a square 40 X 35 feet, and 25 feet high at its highest point, the monument of saplings and holes was far too big to “veil.” But on Sept. 23 the college held a reception on the Linden Lane lawn from which the sculpture, “Just Off the Beaten Track,” commands  attention – once you see it through the living trees around it. There were maple leaf cookies and maple sugar candies, among other treats, to sample.
The sculpture has some Norway maple saplings in it, along with gray birch. A sign near it says they were “sourced responsibly from areas designated for clearing to create wildlife openings.” Those areas are at Crow Hill and Cascades West conservation sites managed by the Greater Worcester Land Trust.
Among those attending the unveiling were nearly 50 of the 300-plus volunteers who helped Mr. Dougherty and Sam Dougherty, his assistant and son, with the project. It included collecting the saplings, stripping their leaves off and interweaving them.
“I believe one’s childhood shapes his or her choice of materials as an artist,” Mr. Dougherty says in an artist statement on the website www.sculpture.org. “For me, it was exploring the underbrush of my hometown in North Carolina.”
His first was included in the 1982 North Carolina Biennial Artists’ Exhibition sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Art, information from Holy Cross says.
“His work quickly evolved from single pieces on conventional pedestals to monumental scale environmental works, which required saplings by the truckloads,” it says. Over the past 30 years he has created more than 270 stickworks. His work has been seen worldwide and he has won several awards.
Some people at the reception said they helped with his previous sculpture, “The Wild Rumpus,” at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston.
Mr. Dougherty said he works in an open space, which enables passersby to stop and ask what he and his volunteers are doing.
Listening to passersby makes his life interesting, he said. Often they talk about what’s important to them: spiritual things, their grandparents’ farms, significant moments in the natural world.
“They might talk about what they think about art – things they like or don’t like,” he said.
Sculptures might be among the latter. But meeting him and seeing other people working on one makes a sculpture more comprehensible, more “real life,” and they like it, he said. The making of it legitimates the product for them.
“At first everyone’s quite doubtful that it’s going to work out,” including passersby, volunteers and sponsors, he said. That first phase of disbelief is an important step in the process, he said.
“As it improves, you bring people with you,” he said of getting others to see things as he does. They start to see that it is going to work out better than they thought, as he knew it would.
Lynn Kremer said Arts Transcending Borders, of which she is director, helped bring Mr. Dougherty to campus and organize volunteers. Co-sponsors were the Department of Visual Arts, Cantor Art Gallery and the Environmental Studies Program. He was the college’s Fall 2016 Arts Transcending Borders artist-in-residence. Now he’s moved on to his next project.
“It’s been a great joint effort,” said Margaret Post, a Holy Cross worker who watched the creation of the sculpture from her window. “I love the movement of the branches going to the side.”
Sept. 23 adults walked in and out through the doorway-like openings and one played with a child from the “windows.”
Emily Perry, a senior biology major, said talking with Mr. Dougherty about how he tried to incorporate beauty into this sculpture gave her some material for her thesis about environmental aesthetics.