By Kelsey Littlefield
On Friday, Sept. 23, Patrick Dougherty, Holy Cross’ current artist-in residence, revealed the design of his “stickwork” sculpture to the Holy Cross and greater Worcester community in a public outdoor lawn reception on Linden Lane.
The reveal was co-sponsored by Arts Transcending Borders (ATB), the Visual Arts department, and the Natural World Montserrat cluster. It was overseen by director Andrea Borghini, associate professor of philosophy, and Robert Bertin, professor of biology and faculty member of the environmental studies program. Additionally, the project has a partnership with the Greater Worcester Land Trust.
Dougherty’s art bends, weaves, and flexes locally sourced saplings into architectural sculptures which relate to the landscape and environment around them. For over 30 years, he has created more than 250 of these projects that span the United States, and has received international acclaim for his “monumental environmental works.”
Prior to his residency at the College, Dougherty was in the Worcester area to create a unique piece for the Tower Hill Botanic Garden—a nonprofit, educational organization that works to advance and improve the practice of horticulture. The installation, titled Wild Rumpus, conveyed the impact plants and nature have on one’s life and provided a unique perspective on the power of plants.
In approaching new sites, Dougherty said that he always looks for starting points, researching the area and discerning how this material is valuable to the community. Dougherty, after visiting the Greater Worcester Land Trust in August to observe the saplings available, as well as to gauge the space outside of Dinand, settled on a Celtic-knot symbol.
“I started out thinking of various cross forms that were adapted by early Christians, but ultimately chose this ancient symbol for unity which may have been based on a vine form turning back into itself,” stated Dougherty, when asked how he determined what would constitute the final design of the project. “I could see that using this footprint might give me an interesting interior and build an intriguing situation for the viewer. I can’t say that I want to build something that represents Holy Cross, only that I build a sculpture that resonates with the site where it is placed.”
Yonca Karakilic, coordinator for ATB, was instrumental in the planning of what material would be needed, how much material, and how it would be transported back to campus. She credits Professor Bertin with gathering the materials needed for construction, as he and some of his Environmental Studies colleagues cut the saplings in the designated areas of the Greater Worcester Land Trust and helped transport the seven tractor loads of material back to campus.
Over 340 volunteers aided Dougherty and his son Sam on what they prefer to call “a community art project.” Three phases were initiated in order for Patrick and his team to begin construction: gathering of the branches; leaf stripping; and construction. Several types of trees are used to construct the design, due to the fact that each type of tree provides a different kind of support to the creation.
Cascade’s West, a hiking trail that is part of the Greater Worcester Land Trust, provided maple wood that was used for the interior support structures. In addition, Crow Hill Conservation, also a part of the Greater Worcester Land Trust, provided Great Birch wood, which was used for the thin, external support structures. “The sapling harvest benefits the community and the project by utilizing saplings that would otherwise be cleared or disposed of in the conservation areas,” stated Karakilic.
Leaf stripping was a relatively low time commitment, suiting volunteers who did not have long hours to commit to working on the project. Construction of the sculpture required volunteers to set aside four hours in the morning or the afternoon, proving to be the most engaging and interesting portion of the work as a whole.
“Most of the volunteers came from the Natural World cluster, and it was a great opportunity for first-year students to be involved with a community art project, as well as to be beneficial to ATB, because this is Patrick’s process—this is how he works,” said Karakilic. During this phase of the project, volunteers worked directly with both Doughertys and were given instruction as to how to proceed safely and efficiently with the project.
The sculpture will be visible for at least one year, so many Worcester and Holy Cross community members will have the chance to view it. In sharing this new construction with both communities, Karakilic hopes to assemble a team of student docents to give tours of the structure, as well as provide training to current admissions tour guides on how to describe the structure and significance to Holy Cross and the Greater Worcester community. She also hopes to employ hands-on training activities for Worcester Public School art teachers, their students, as well as specialized tours of the structure for students and families of the College during the upcoming family weekend in October. “It creates a lot of excitement on and off campus because the project is great for community members, Holy Cross faculty, staff, and students, as well as allowing individuals to be engaged with an art project and directly affect the people of the Worcester community,” said Karakilic.
The College’s ATB initiative, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is designed to enhance the role of the arts in every aspect of the Holy Cross experience, by infusing the arts into students’ academic lives and creating new opportunities in the curriculum and the community in order to cross cultural, geographic, and disciplinary boundaries. Previous artists-in-residence include Troika Ranch and Cristina Pato.