Wacoans and Baylor Students Will Work with Renowned Sculptor to Create Woodsy Art

Sept. 30, 2010

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Famed international sculptor Patrick Dougherty and folks in Waco will "stick" together -- in more ways than one -- during the month of October.

At more than 200 sites around the world, Dougherty has bent saplings, sticks and branches into huge shapes resembling everything from creatures, nests and vases to huts, castles and cocoons. No solitary artist here; he relies on strangers who become friends as they help him fashion sticks into art.

For nearly a month, he will work with students from Baylor University and McLennan Community College and other volunteers from community organizations to create the art in Waco's Cameron Park, which marks its centennial this year.

Serving as assistants will be Robbie Barber, associate professor of art at Baylor; Chuck Jobe, a Baylor lab technician of sculpture and ceramics; and Niko Weissenberger, an adjunct instructor of art at Baylor and MCC. The Waco National Sculpture Invitational, a program of Waco Cultural Arts Fest, received a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to bring Dougherty to Waco.

Dougherty visited Waco in February to search for raw materials. With the help of the City of Waco Parks and Recreation Department, he found acres of willow saplings, considered a pest species in the Waco Wetlands. But Dougherty loves willows' ability to bend. The saplings, coupled with ligustrum, will be the building blocks for an as-yet-unknown shape of an as-yet-unnamed sculpture.

Barber said that besides working on the sculpture and giving community lectures, Dougherty will spend time with a dozen students in Barber's sculpture class. Dougherty will critique students' ideas and demonstrate primitive building techniques so they can construct small "earthworks" near Baylor's Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center.

It's a rare opportunity for students, and Barber expects Dougherty will help them unleash their creativity. He predicts the students also will head to Cameron Park to work on the massive project as well as their smaller ones.

"I picture the days of the pharaohs and the pyramids, where we'll all be toiling in big groups moving rocks," Barber said.

During a phone interview from his self-built log cabin in Chapel Hill, N.C., Dougherty talked about his art, which grew out of a penchant for wandering in forests near his boyhood home in Southern Pines, N.C.:

Q: How much do you need in the way of sticks? And what do you think of the Cameron Park site?

A: Generally, it takes a big tractor-trailer. The site is in the shade, which makes me happy. There's a set of parking lots, more toward the town end of the park, and the site we chose is one you can walk to from a parking lot. But it's also close enough you can see it from the road and hopefully be amazed by it.

Q: Do you have a shape or theme in mind yet for the sculpture?

A: I'm not really clear yet what I'm toying with, whether it will be some kind of classical architecture. People think, 'You can make architecture of lowly branches?" I've gone through a triangular period, one of making squares and one of "whiplashes" on hedges that make it look like they're almost moving, speeding up.

In New York City, the idea was feral children and wayward adults returning to the animal state. There were five big spaces you could go through for transition, with the idea of passing through a membrane into the other world, to your honey-gathering self. I could never have thought that up ahead of time.

Q: How do you come up with names for the sculptures?

A: A lot of times, I'll solicit names from people. They'll say, "What is it?" I'll say, "What do you think it ought to be called?" A little boy came up (to the New York sculpture) and said, "Look, Mom. It's natural history." My assistant looked at it and said to me, "What do you think?"

Q: What's your process for creating the art?

A: I'll mark out the "footprint" of it on the ground by digging holes and putting sticks in for a composite. I set scaffolding around the uprights and then "pull" the shape. I can use sticks as a cover and in random ways to have a shape. Then the second layer is to stop thinking of it as a bird's nest and start thinking of it as a drawing. You see the white ligustrum and think of it as a defining line, an emphasis line. And you can use a little tiny no-account twig to flow over it and sort of serve as an eraser.

Q: How long do the stickworks last?

A: You'll get one great year and one pretty good year. Then other people will evaluate whether to let it stand or take it down. If it gets disheveled, people who don't know its history will say, "What is that big heap?" It goes from nothing to something to nothing.

Q: How many volunteers do you use, and how do you choose them?

A: If you have a cast of thousands, people will be a little more frustrated. I take all comers, but I try to spread it around. I try to get some able-bodied workers, because it's physical labor. But it might be a grandmother working with a teen-ager working with a hippie. Sticks have friends in every regard. We'll have a list of volunteers, and sometimes people will say, "We're not going away."

Q: What if you feel someone has done something that really messes things up?

A: I have different ways of covering things. I don't make promises to people that they'll see their exact work. I might say to the next person, "This is not quite finished. Do you mind working on it a little more?" When you have nothing, the first couple days can be a little dicey. But as you work along, there's more of a matrix. People come up and say, "I don't have an artistic bone in my body." And I say, "Yeah, but I bet you know about sticks." We don't play up talent as an essential part of this.

Q: Do you ever get to the point where you just can't stop tweaking?

A: Sometimes I have to slap my volunteers' hands and say, "No. That's enough."

Dougherty will give two lectures on "Primitive Ways in an Accelerated World" during his stay in Waco: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5, at The Conference Center at McLennan Community College, 4610 N. 19th St.; and 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19, in Room 149 of Baylor University's Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Building, 60 Baylor Ave.

The Croft Art Gallery will host a reception for Dougherty at the gallery, 712 Austin Ave., at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8.

*Waco National Sculpture Invitational, a program of Waco Cultural Arts Fest, acknowledges the City of Waco Parks and Recreation Department, The Cameron Park Centennial, Specialty Property, Ltd., the Greater Waco Council for the Arts, Valerie and Gordon Robinson, Wells Fargo, Baylor University Department of Art, McLennan Community College and the Croft Gallery, 103.3 KWBU NPR, Grande Communications, KXXV Channel 25 for their matching support and volunteers and students that will support the event.

For more information about the Cameron Park sculpture installation, visit www.wacoartsfest.org/invitational

For more information about Dougherty and his art, visit www.stickwork.net

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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