Owen Keefer ‘20

Art Correspondent

Keefer ‘20 (pictured on the far right) assisting Doughtery and his team.  Photo by John Crawford ‘20.

Patrick Dougherty’s sculpture is a bit different than any of the others on campus.  At first glance, some might not even notice that it is a sculpture at all–I’ve heard people mistakenly thinking it is just another part of the never-ending construction efforts on campus. But, the one thing that I have not heard about Dougherty’s project is that it doesn’t belong at Davidson. Whatever your own opinions about all the other sculptures on campus, it’s unmistakable that Dougherty’s brings something entirely new and uniquely Davidson to the college’s collection.

One aspect that sets Dougherty’s project apart is his use of native materials.  Everywhere he goes, Dougherty sources sticks, saplings, and leaves from the surrounding environment, so that each sculpture eventually blossoms into part of the natural space. For this project, that meant putting the art students and faculty to work, as they spent three backbreaking weeks collecting all the materials for the stickwork.  

Though an acclaimed artist, Dougherty has profusely expressed his gratitude for their service–he is always keen to emphasize the involvement of the community in the creative process. You might expect him to give specific instructions as to which stick you should use or where you should weave it, but he gives remarkable freedom to the volunteer helpers. Part of the beauty of his stickworks comes from the unexpected surprises that naturally arise from having such a large and diverse crew working on the project.

After three more weeks of digging, planting, weaving, and binding, the stickwork will finally be completed this Friday as Dougherty has molded a truckload of sticks into a spiraling complex of twigs sprouting from the earth. The building process is a transformative one where saplings are woven into a storyline that becomes clearer and clearer as it nears its completion. The conclusion may be different from the perspective of each viewer–whether they recall a simple shelter, memories from childhood, or a swirling body–but Dougherty’s sculpture provides the audience with plenty of material to promote imagination.

Dougherty, much like his sculpture, is different from other artists as well. He received his M.A. in Hospital and Health Administration from the University of Iowa, but then decided to enroll in sculpture and art history classes at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Despite his late entry into the art world, Dougherty saw his vision flourish. During his artist talk, Dougherty spoke about his “animal heart” as the driving force for his inspiration. Stuck in a congested, noisy environment, Dougherty’s vision was to create organic and natural scenes that stemmed from his primal, animal heart. His sculptures explore the same fascination with nature that a child does when he or she ventures into the woods and builds a rudimentary fort from fallen logs.

Dougherty’s work offers a respite from the occasional overwhelming technology that can both invade our daily lives as well as the art around us. He invites us to engage with our animal hearts and discover why we all loved to trample around in the brush as kids. And how we can experience the same sense of amazement now, as we engage with his work, however ephemeral that experience may be. Patrick’s work will stay for approximately three years after its dedication–it is up to Davidson to decide when nature has reclaimed the sculpture and it should be removed.

Owen Keefer ‘20 is an Art History Major and Studio Art Minor from Spartanburg, SC. He can be reached for comment at owkeefer@davidson.edu.