Feature and Photography
Courtesy of Patrick Doughtery
ive Patrick Dougherty a truckload of saplings, then stand back and watch as he builds a masterpiece of art from nature.
Patrick Dougherty, an internationally acclaimed and critically admired ‘environmental’ sculptor, will spend March in the Lowcountry, creating art by building a mammoth sculpture of found tree saplings, sticks and twigs. The creative process which will last over several weeks is open to the public and tour groups, and upon completion, the exhibit is open to the public.
The widely admired North Carolina artist, who has taken his willowy sculptures all over the world since the early 1980s, will be at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton throughout the month of March (5-30). The Island School Council for the Arts (ISCA) is partnering with Palmetto Bluff to bring Dougherty to the Lowcountry.
The public will be invited to watch Dougherty as he works throughout the month, and visitors don’t actually have to just stand there and watch the artistic magic; Dougherty wants onlookers to ask questions, make comments, even participate, as he sculpts his unusual art.
“Patrick Dougherty exemplifies public art at its best,” said Karen Davies of ISCA, and a professor at Savannah School of Art & Design. “The most effective outdoor public art is in places which are relevant to the subject of the piece. Patrick Dougherty often makes historical associations to the site in his work.”
“We are honored to host Patrick Dougherty and look forward to showcasing his art,” said William Peacher, general manager and chief operating officer for Palmetto Bluff. “The whimsical interlacing of the historical aspects of our public waterfront village makes it an ideal site for his project.”
Patty Richards, director of the Palmetto Bluff Arts Commission, said: “Dougherty will work every day during daylight hours, with the public invited to watch, and ask him questions and participate. We just need a bit of advance notice if groups are coming so we can take care of parking.”
Dougherty, whose art is nature- and outdoors-based, can be likened to another sweeping, environment-dependent artist, Christo, who became famous in the 1970s for wrapping buildings, parks and even islands in paper or cloth.
“Dougherty is a little more woodsy,” said Richards.
Anuska Frey, president of the Island School Council explained the goal of bringing Dougherty to Bluffton “is to provide a special kind of arts program that spills into the community, exposing students, residents and visitors, through a series of lectures, workshops, site visits and field trips. Dougherty’s work seeks to recreate a sensation of simple joy and play in nature that is basic to childhood experience, and is ideal for what we are trying to achieve.”
The project is funded in part through an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Town of Bluffton and the Palmetto Bluff Arts Commission.
Dougherty has said he expects to solicit help from eight to ten volunteers to assist with the sculpture creation.
Davies said the local arts community is quite excited about Dougherty’s coming here. “He is so interesting and personable, and he always includes people in his work,” she said. “Moreover, Palmetto Bluff is a wonderful venue for him to show his artwork. We plan to set up the project right on the green in The Village.”
People interested in volunteering can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call Davies at (843) 757-6358. In addition to working at the project site, Dougherty is also planning to visit with students at Bluffton High School and perhaps some other local schools.
Palmetto Bluff is located along S.C. Highway 46 between Buckwalter Parkway and S.C. 170 approximately eight miles west of Bluffton’s town center.
Dougherty states that his affinity for trees as a material comes 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 began to learn more about primitive techniques of building and experimented with tree saplings as construction material. “When I turned to sculpture as an adult, I was drawn to sticks as a plentiful and renewable resource,” he said. “I realized that saplings have an inherent method of joining – that is, sticks entangle easily. This snagging property is the key to working material into a variety of large forms.”
Dougherty’s work quickly evolved from single pieces on conventional pedestals to monumental scale environments which required saplings by the truckloads. During the last decade he has built over 100 works throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.
His varied sculptures range from houses and mini-castles that you can walk into, to giant mockups of tea services and whimsical figures that require thoughtful imagination in order to understand. It’s rather like Alice in Wonderland – in intricately wrapped and intertwined sticks.
On his larger sculptures, he brings his saplings in on a flat-bed tractor-tractor, and climbs ladders and scaffolding to reach the heights of his artwork. While kids will be encouraged to help create at Palmetto Bluff in March, they won’t be allowed up high. Dougherty will reach out to students from Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, and his sculptures will remain at Palmetto Bluff for public viewing through November.
Dougherty’s exhibitions have included Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Kansas City, Mo., N.C. Museum of Art, Savannah College of Art and Design, S.C. Botanical Gardens in Clemson, S.C. State Museum, Mint Museum of Charlotte and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
A prolific speaker at universities, public schools, art shows and museums, Dougherty has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, House and Garden, Architecture and Smithsonian, Southern Living and Travel and Leisure.