Twisted Logic

Patrick Dougherty’s cocoon-like stick sculptures will be a work in progress at Grounds For Sculpture.

By: Ilene Dube

"From the Castle’s Kitchen," 1999, Skulpturepark Rosental, Weitzelsdorf, Austria.

   After Patrick Dougherty’s sculpture has been exhibited for two years, he returns to the site with a wood chipper and turns the art to mulch. He’s a believer that everything must return from whence it came.
   The nature of his stickwork, based on the shelters of birds and indigenous people, is temporary, he says. "After about two good years outside, you can count down from there. It has to be in good condition if it’s going to be in the public eye."

"From the Castle’s Kitchen" in winter.

   The Chapel Hill, N.C., resident — well, he actually spends most of his life on the road — will be in residence at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton beginning Sept. 17. With the help of volunteers, he will fill the museum building with his stickwork, a show that has been in the planning stages for three years. While a resident, he will live in an artist’s studio in the sculpture park.

Sculptor Patrick Dougherty.

   "My affinity for trees as a material seems to come from a childhood spent wandering the forest around Southern Pines, N.C. — a place with thick underbrush and many intersecting lines evident in the bare winter branches of trees," he states on his Web site. "When I turned to sculpture as an adult, I was drawn to sticks as a plentiful and renewable resource. I realized that saplings have an inherent method of joining — that is, sticks entangle easily. This snagging property is the key to working the material into a variety of large forms."

"Sittin’ Pretty," 1996, South Carolina Botanical Gardens, Clemson, S.C.

   Some of his cocoon-like shapes take the forms of vessels: a trio of tall teapots playing a flirtatious hide and seek; a duo of jugs with clown-like faces; a tower with a window at top that Rapunzel, trapped, may have cast her endless hair from. The structures do suggest fairytales.
   When Mr. Dougherty arrives in New Jersey, he will begin what he calls the gathering phase. With a team of volunteers, he will collect saplings on the grounds of the former Princeton Nursery, now owned by Princeton University. A crew from Mapleton Nursery, adjacent to the university land, will help to harvest "volunteer" maple saplings and remove the leaves. "There is an area lined out with old shrubs — privet and ornamentals. I’ll work with anything," Mr. Dougherty says.
   Although sketching doesn’t come easily for him, he will create a "thumbnail roadmap to see what the site has to excite.

"Jug or Naught," 1999, Fredric Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, Mich.

   "The sculpture and architecture can combine and suggest a reciprocity in this ancient way of working," he continues. "Most of (the work) develops in the process. As it develops, I work with what I see, develop a surface and react to it and how it’s supposed to work in space." Even the title of a piece doesn’t emerge until the end.
   The saplings are woven together in what Mr. Dougherty describes as an intertwining process with a bit of layering. A scaffold is used to build the exoskeleton and it is propped up with sticks. Ultimately the sticks will be taken out and the sculpture stands on its own. Sometimes the parts leaning against each other hold it up.
   While many of his works are in public spaces, they don’t tempt vandals. Once, in the early ’90s, an installation in a Kansas park was trounced by a crowd leaving a rock concert, but "people like the work and work to protect it, once it’s past the ‘other’ phase, usually about two weeks during which it might be damaged."

"Arcadia," 2004, Shreveport, La.

   In addition to the help he’ll get from volunteers, an intern has been assigned to assist him. He doesn’t have to spend much time training these helpers. "Everybody knows about sticks," he says. "They just don’t know it. It’s a repetitive simple act. Most people have an architectural phase as children. Little kids have a pivotal experience with nature, perhaps under a bush, a secret special place that evokes long-term memories. Playing with sticks as an adult will be a prompt."
   And yet: "It often seems simpler than it is, so when people get frustrated I help them out. I have conventions of working so it looks a certain way."
   The last phase of the work is the cosmetic fix up — "erasing parts you don’t want to see with small lines, getting points out of the way, clearing doorways to ensure safety."

"Oh, Me, Oh, My, Oh," 1996, Buffalo Bayou Artpark, Houston, Texas.

   The stickwork Mr. Dougherty creates indoors often inhabits a space, such as a cocoon winding itself up a spiral stairway or going in and out a window. "The drama suggests taking back," he says.
   Born in Oklahoma in 1945, Mr. Dougherty was an English major at the University of North Carolina, then went on to earn a master’s degree in hospital and health administration from the University of Iowa and held a career in that field. It wasn’t until he was building his own home that his inner artist came out of the closet.
   "I realized how much I love the materials," he says. He worked as a carpenter and stonemason while returning to the University of North Carolina to study sculpture. These days, he creates about eight to 10 installations a year. He estimates he’s completed 160 stickwork sculptures and there are about 15 up at any given time. He already has six scheduled for 2006. Being away three out of every four weeks, he doesn’t get to spend much time with his wife and 10-year-old son, although they did accompany him on trips to France, Scotland and Santa Barbara, Calif.
   "I get to see interesting places and meet interesting people who take me out to dinner and talk about pertinent things," he says. "I’m suspended in the world of ideas."
Twisted Logic, stickwork sculpture by Patrick Dougherty, will be on view at Grounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, Oct. 10-May 1. For information or to volunteer, call (609) 586-0616. Grounds For Sculpture on the Web: Patrick Dougherty on the Web:
Noteworthy exhibits in the TimeOFF viewing area:
Bringing into Being: Materials and Techniques in American Prints 1950-2000 at the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton University campus, Sept. 10-Jan. 23. The 30 prints explore the response of American artists to technical advances in printmaking. For information, call (609) 258-3788. On the Web:
The stone sculptures, original collagraph prints, handmade paper work and mesh wall hangings of Princeton artist Margaret Kennard Johnson will open Rider University Art Gallery’s 2004-2005 season. From Stone to Mesh — Sixty Years will be on view Sept. 23-Oct. 23. Artist’s reception: Sept. 23, 5-7 p.m. at the gallery, located on the top floor of the Bart Luedeke Center on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus.
Pastels in Paris: From the Fin-de-Siecle to La Belle Époque will be on view at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton St., New Brunswick, through Jan. 30. For information, call (732) 932-7237. On the Web:
Marsha Child Contemporary, 220 Alexander St., Princeton, will offer a solo show of oil paintings and watercolors by Ukrainian-born artist Valeriy Skrypka Sept. 17-Oct. 19. Artist receptions: Sept. 17, 5-8 p.m., and Sept. 18, 4-8 p.m. For information, call (609) 497-7330. On the Web:
Silhouettes of Hope, photographic portraits of 18 mature nude women, a benefit for the Breast Cancer Resource Center, will be on view Oct. 30-Nov. 19, at the Princeton Center for Yoga & Health, Montgomery Professional Center, 50 Vreeland Drive, Suite 506, Montgomery. For information, call (609) 924-7294. On the Web: