On Friday, October 23rd, CCES bid farewell to Oklahoma-born sculptor and internationally acclaimed landscape artist Patrick Dougherty, who spent three weeks here on campus building several large-scale sculptures made entirely out of willow saplings. Dougherty’s full-time construction assistant and son, Sam, worked tirelessly as well throughout the course of the project.
Dougherty has built approximately 300 giant sculptures all over the world throughout his career. Many of his pieces, like the one here at CCES, are interactive, inviting you not just to admire them but walk right inside! Some sculptors work in metal, some in marble. Dougherty works in sticks. Sticks are the only material in his sculptures— no screws, metal, or strings. He works with twigs and branches to create site-specific installations, making the sculpture fit with its surroundings. Woven together and held in place simply by tension, Dougherty's sculptures have a whimsical quality, inspired by his childhood adventures exploring the woods of North Carolina.
“The great thing about being here is that kids of all ages know a lot about sticks, in that it is kind of their primary building material,” Dougherty said. “So seeing someone be able to create something bigger than life that has credibility by just using something that we all kind of long to use, makes it a much more interesting piece!”
The main structure, which is nestled in the heart of campus between the Hartness Performing Arts Center and the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, quickly took shape while smaller sculptures emerged outside of the LS, MS and US, framed by Dougherty, but drawn from the visions of students. As Head of School David Padilla noted, "the location of this piece at the CENTER of campus with satellite pieces reflective of each division is no accident. It is a visible reminder of why we do what we do." Faculty, parent, and alumni volunteers took morning and afternoon shifts to help Patrick complete the project. It was all quite a sight to behold— volunteers climbing scaffolding, weaving, twisting, and pruning while students watched in awe from the background as the structure came to life! "What has happened in this space over the past three weeks has been impressive: physically, visually, aesthetically, artistically, and emotionally," said Padilla. "From the clearing of the space to the digging of the bases to the framing of the sculpture to the weaving of the saplings to the tweaking of the surface . . . to the realization of ART -- this has been among the most full and fulfilling efforts of which I've ever been a part."
Dougherty believes that sculptures should fit their site well, and not be insignificant. He visited CCES over a year ago to walk the campus and choose a site. Essentially, the sculpture is laid out in an ellipse. “CCES has religious overtones, so constructing something that has a bit of a natural cathedral feel and mimicking some of the classical towers that belong to churches, we hope will bring it into a sharper focus,” he said. The main sculpture has five towers with sort of a “flying wall” to join each of them, creating a core area in the middle, a contemplative space if you will. “From there,” Dougherty says, “people can actually go through the tower and end up in this ‘inner space’.”
The process is A LOT of work. First, a structural weave is created. Then, you try to aestheticize the surface. Patrick chats with everyone who walks by, and invites them in. He says it is his way of “making friends” for the sculpture so there are people who will protect it when he’s gone. It is safe to say all who have worked on or simply passed by the sculpture, have been carried away in the moment. Current parent and volunteer Claudia Fischer-Aust said, “It’s been great to be part of this and get the chance to work with the artist side by side, as a volunteer. We need to teach our children to dream BIG!”
Being able to combine art and nature is an amazing thing. Throughout the past three weeks, Lower School students had the opportunity to add saplings to the sculpture using a random weaving technique they learned in art class. Students will spend several classes weaving onto the framework. Teachers correlated the sculpture in various ways into their classroom curriculum with inquiry in math, science, and more. Older art students sketched designs for how they thought their respective sculptures should look. Photography and Documentary Film students photographed the progress and interviewed the artist(s) and volunteers. "The Patrick Dougherty Project is providing a wonderful space to cultivate creativity, wellness, and play among our students,” said Robin Garner, Director of the Arts. “Both faculty and students are taking advantage of this unique opportunity through a myriad of curricular activities such as creative writing, scientific exploration and as a performance venue.”
Ultimately, this project exists as a potential for students to have an experience of wonder. The finished sculpture really invites students to take a stroll through. "The impact of this project is, in some ways, immeasurable," says Padilla. It combines human handiwork with an outdoor backdrop and serves as a reminder that we can dream big and do hard things.
To view photos of the project from start to finish, click here.