Picking up sticks: Patrick Dougherty at Bernheim [Visual Art]

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Patrick Dougherty at Bernheim Forest

The first thing I see when I go to visit with artist Patrick Dougherty is his full head of white hair. It’s an illuminating color that stands out among the backdrop of the earthy browns and springtime greens of Bernheim Forest. Dougherty is busy grabbing sticks, checking the structure of his in-progress sculpture, and offering suggestions and encouragement to the group of local volunteers who have come to help in building his latest stickwork. Dougherty, who has been at Bernheim since April 9th, is close to finishing his three-week installation of a work that flows like “two serpents intersecting which creates positive and negative space allowing you to be in the wall and outside the wall within one piece.” Doesn’t this sound like a description of an Escher print?  Wait till you see it.


Artist Patrick Dougherty with Spalding University student volunteers.

Since 1980, Dougherty has been creating dramatic works from the simple material of willow and maple branches.  His inventive imagination and skilled engineering take a pile of sticks and transforms them into fantastical creations that could easily be found in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. To date he has created over 200 sculptures and comes to Clermont by way of France where he finished an installation in March.

Bernheim’s Executive Director Mark K. Wourms, Ph.D., was instrumental in getting Dougherty to create one of his installations at the forest as part of a visiting artist program and, after funding was secured through private donations, Dougherty arrived ready to work.

Julie Gross: You’ve made over 200 sculptures. Is it wearing on you?
Patrick Dougherty: On me, yeah, but I’m used to it. I work eight hours a day every day at it.

A lot of ibuprofen right?
Not so much. Flexibility is probably a function of use, and I rest when I need to.

Does Kentucky remind you of home? [Dougherty’s roots are from North Carolina].
Where I live it’s very much like this. A lot of the same trees and so forth. Kentucky’s a great place.

I’ve read that you spend one week a month at home?
That’s exactly right.

It must get lonely?
Yeah it does, but you pay for your pleasure. That’s the value of being able to get out and make work and then develop a career where there’s a demand for it. So, in one way it’s a hardship and in another way it’s a pleasure.

So it doesn’t seem like you’re close to retirement.
You never know if you will or not. I guess it depends on your health.

It seems that with your ability to make dwelling-like structures you could survive the post apocalyptic era.
I guess I could, provided there were sticks.


Patrick Dougherty installation

You built you own home in North Carolina and you were quoted in a New York Times article written by Penelope Green that you felt that “it was a passage, finding my way through a house and into a life. It was a real quest.” What is your quest in life now?
My life is firmly lodged now in making work and being in the world of ideas, having a larger conversation, and being responsible to the larger movement of thought. I want to appeal to any passerby not just the most educated person.

Do you have a preference as to where you work?
There are no bad sites. A lot of times I’ll ask my sponsors to consider something they haven’t considered because they tend to think conceptually and might say that they want a piece that sits in sight of the road so that not only people here can see it, but the world can see it.

What is your impression of Bernheim?
I’ve been lucky to have great places to work. Martha Slaughter (the visual arts coordinator) is a real force and Bernheim’s art program will really mature and do well with her. She’s low-key and is a great person and Mark Wourms is trying to change things up a bit. A garden like this has its life and there’s not that much to change about it. It’s simply the beauty of the woods.

Dougherty’s stickwork is expected to stand for two years and then will eventually return to the forest floor as mulch. His recent monograph Stickwork is full of beautiful pictures and information, including sketches, of some of the creations he has built over the last twenty-five years. Be sure to pick up a copy in Bernheim’s award winning visitor’s center and see more of Dougherty’s work at www.stickwork.net.

Patrick Dougherty will be giving a free lecture at 21c Museum tonight (April 24th) at 6pm. The official unveiling of his work will be Thursday, April 26th @2:30 pm @ Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.

For more interview and photos go to artintheblue.com.

About Julie Gross
I’m originally from Ohio, but have been a Louisvillian for half my life. I divide my time between hubby, 3 kids, too many pets, and the 930 Art Center. When I'm not, you'll find me running the trails in Cherokee or Jefferson Memorial Forest.
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