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International artist Patrick Dougherty comes to Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest April 9 – 26 to create a monumental willow sculpture on the grounds adjacent to the Visitor Center. The natural, whimsical piece will last anywhere from 2 to 4 years and then return to the earth.
Dr. Mark K. Wourms, the Executive Director of Bernheim, is delighted that Bernheim is bringing the artist to the region. He says, "Patrick Dougherty works wonders with willow sticks. He amazes the viewer with both the large scale and his intricate work, using the natural skills of a bird weaving a nest. He incorporates willows like the lines of a sketch artist and has the sense of structure of a modern architect. His work at Bernheim will help us demonstrate the importance of art and beauty. It will also provide school children, and the child in all of us, with the understanding that imagination and innovation are powerful tools throughout life."
The artist, a resident of North Carolina, roamed the woods as a child. As an adult, he combined his carpentry skills with his love of nature. He learned about primitive techniques of building and experimented with tree saplings as construction material. Around 1980 he began to experiment with small works fashioned in his backyard, and quickly moved to large-scale, site-specific installations that require sticks by the truckload.
Of his creative process, Dougherty says, "I pull one stick through another and build a haphazard matrix to create the rough shape of the sculpture. Next comes the drawing phases, in which I image a pile of sticks as a bundle of lines with which to sketch the surface texture. I use many of the drawing conventions that someone using a paper and pencil might employ, including "x"ing, hatch marks and dramatic emphasis lines. In addition, I have learned to amass the smaller ends of sticks in one direction. This technique gives the impression that the surface is moving. The final step is "fix up", a cosmetic treatment in which I erase certain mistakes by covering them with very small twigs."
Dougherty will rely upon volunteers to help construct the piece, including art students, Bernheim volunteers and staff, community groups and individuals with no prior experience who want to be a part of this extraordinary opportunity. What the completed work will look like is unknown at this point. Whether a geometric abstraction, a group of faces or a building-like form, visitors will be intrigued to interact with the piece. People will be able to walk around and possibly go inside to observe views from various window and door openings.
Visitors are invited to watch the progress from start to finish. Bernheim is offering scheduled talks with Visual Art Coordinator Martha Slaughter, who will discuss the artist and his work. The calendar for these free, public talks is listed below. School groups and other group visits can be arranged.
Bernheim’s choice of the artist Patrick Dougherty fits naturally with the Bernheim mission of connecting people with nature and its commitment to sustainability. Upon reflection of his interest in "green" art, Dougherty says that his work "reminds people of their profound connection to the world of plants and seems to foster fantasies of walking away from the geometry of the city dweller and fading back into the forest for a day. Our contemporary challenge is how to reconnect and live in harmony with the plants and animals that still share the earth. Sculptures from twigs and other kinds of
environmental initiatives are helping with that awareness."
Dougherty has created over 200 installations around the globe. He will be arriving at Bernheim after completing an installation in France. Other locations include Denmark, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Scotland, Hawaii, Washington, New York and Japan.
Bernheim extends great appreciation to Lindy and Bill Street of Louisville, Kentucky for their generous support of this project.
Volunteer shifts are still available; visit www.bernheim.org or call (502) 955-8512 to learn more.
The public unveiling of the sculpture is Thursday, April 26 at 2:30 p.m.