Drew Eastland ‘21

Sports Editor

Patrick Dougherty builds interactive artwork. Photo by John Crawford ‘20.

For the past two weeks, a normally inconspicuous part of campus has caught the eye of passersby. In between Union and Chambers, artist and architect Patrick Dougherty has been working incessantly alongside Davidson students to construct his latest piece, a cluster of sculptures made out of thousands of sticks. The installation is part of a push by Davidson’s Van Every/Smith Art Galleries to diversify its collection across campus.

Unlike other sculptures on campus, Dougherty’s stickwork installation is intended to be immersive. “There’s something really different about it,” said Davidson Director and Curator of the Art Galleries Lia Newman, “because you engage in it.” 

“This is really the first thing that’s a space you can enter,” Art professor Dr. Cort Savage said. “It’s an architectural structure, which really isn’t something we’ve done before.” When complete, the sculpture will be in the shape of an S with buttresses down the sides of its center and small huts to walk in and out of.  

Dougherty’s work finds uniqueness in its status as a temporary work. “Most of the campus sculptures we’ve been collecting are permanent,” said Newman. The sculpture will remain for a year and a half to two years, Newman explained, before it naturally decomposes.         

Dougherty works on the project by climbing on scaffolding and bending his sapling materials into position. Students in Dr. Savage’s Basic Sculpture class, as well as other students in the Art Department, have also contributed by gathering materials and helping place branches and saplings.

“The opportunity to work side by side with someone and learn about their process and their materials; I think those are […] some of the best opportunities we as the gallery can provide for artists,” Newman commented.

Davidson students and community members were encouraged to help with construction. This community element is a crucial part of the project. Allowing everyone to work on the sculpture makes it a potential source of individual pride and will, hopefully, allow students and community to interact more.The process of acquiring materials for the sculpture takes even longer than its construction. Last November, Dr. Savage and his students began collecting small saplings and forest underbrush based on specs that Dougherty provided to them.

The number of materials required for a project this size is immense. Dougherty asked for a “tractor trailer full of materials,” according to Newman.

“Dougherty’s pieces are beautiful [not only] for their unique installation process, but also for their interactive nature,” Former basic sculpture student and art major Chloe Pitkoff ‘21 explained.

Since the piece is comprised of saplings and other natural materials. it blends more with the trees and shrubbery around campus. 

“I really enjoy how Patrick’s work doesn’t fall into the normal stereotypes of ‘art,’ specifically contemporary sculpture.” one of Dr. Savage’s students Owen Keefer ‘20 explained. “The natural materials blend into the environment around it, so the stickwork looks like it belongs in the space that it occupies, rather than being a piece of art randomly stuck in the middle of nature.”

The North Carolina native has never completed any of his stickwork projects at Davidson. Bringing him to campus required funding and prospective planning. In general, bringing new sculptures and art to campus requires a donor. To fund this project, Davidson received a donation from Marcy and Steve Sands ’68.

“We just sort of approached [the donors] with this idea [and asked] ‘what do you think?’” Newman recalled. “I think it’s really exciting that they [didn’t] know exactly what we were thinking, but they were interested in the idea and sort of trusted us to try something different.”

As Newman emphasized, Dougherty runs a tight timetable for projects, taking on 10 per  year in three-week intervals. These time constraints necess itate an intense work schedule regardless of weather conditions. Davidson approached Dougherty about installing a project two years ago, but this month was the first available time in his schedule.  

Pitkoff, recalled seeing Dougherty’s art for the first time. “When I was about 11, Dougherty’s work made its way [to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens]. I remember thinking the structures seemed like things out of some made-up world, the tree houses I always wanted, the perfect hiding place that children are always searching for.” Pitkoff recalled, “The size and form made me feel like a fairy floating through tunnels of trees that I had made into my personal abode.”

The piece is scheduled to be completed this Friday, February 21st. There will be a ceremony followed by remarks from the artist at 4:30 P.M. Everyone on campus is welcome and encouraged to attend.