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The next 'Donkey in Boat'?

Stick structure growing on front green is U.'s newest work of public art

Students, staff and campus visitors alike have expressed amazement about the large work of art that has been growing on the College Green over the last week.

"It's the craziest thing I've ever seen," said Stan Sundel '10.

"It's astonishing, I really like it," said Andy Moul, a Library Technical Assistant at the John Hay Library. "It looks druidic."

"It transmits a fairy tale celestial ambiance that's refreshing to see," said John Pena '06.5. "I have been coming by here every day, and it's nice to see how it's progressing."

The work, a large sculpture constructed with locally harvested saplings and tree branches, is a project by artist Patrick Dougherty, who expressed high hopes for the uncompleted piece.

"This is a big project," he said of the installation, which was commissioned by the University's Public Art Committee. "It will feature seven separate elements. We will be working here for about three weeks in duration."

Dougherty first became involved in art 25 years ago. He started working with sticks in 1983 after experimenting with different mediums for sculpture in his front yard.

"We all know a little bit about sticks and how to use them," Dougherty said. "The challenge is to make them work in different ways."

By bending and weaving sticks, tree branches and pre-cut saplings, Dougherty creates abstract shapes and forms that often look otherworldly. His abstract forms have modeled beehives, cocoons, nests and other structures, according to a Sept. 26 University press release.

Dougherty's sculptural projects have been installed around the world, including on manorial lands in Scotland, in Japanese parks and in museums from Massachusetts to Manchester, England. This global diversity of installations has earned Dougherty international prestige.

Though college campuses are not the primary location of most of Dougherty's pieces, he has been involved in campus installations before. Last month, Dougherty installed a project at Cornell University, and past works have been installed at Swarthmore College and the Savannah College of Art.

Dougherty was brought to campus by the Public Art Committee, whose members include David Winton Bell Gallery Director Jo-Ann Conklin, President Ruth Simmons, University Curator Robert Emlen, Professor of Visual Art Richard Fishman, Professor of History of Art and Architecture Dietrich Neumann and Chancellor Emeritus Artemis Joukowsky '55 P'87.

Most famously, the committee presented Paolo Pivi's "Untitled (Donkey)," a 33 by 40 foot mural of a donkey in a rowboat that sat on the façade of the Sciences Library for several months starting in April 2004.

Other recognizable projects that the Public Art Committee has commissioned or obtained on loan include Dave Nash's "Box Cross," which was on view on the List Art Center green from October 2002 to August 2004, and Roy Lichtenstein's "Brushstrokes," which will remain outside MacMillan Hall through September 2007.

Dougherty's piece is the newest addition to this list. "(His) work is whimsical, surprising, fantastic," Conklin wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. "It is a great contrast to the pieces by modern masters - Alexander Calder and Roy Lichtenstein - that are currently on campus."

Conklin also mentioned student involvement as one of the merits of the piece. "Students are working with Patrick to build, i.e. weave, the pieces," she wrote. "Several portions of the project - the hard physical labor - were done prior to students coming on board, including collection of the saplings, removal of leaves, digging holes and placing upright supports."

Before beginning construction, Dougherty creates a model for the sculpture in order to get "everyone on the same page." After that, the artwork is up for constant redirection.

"I see some things, then I see some more things and then I see some more things," Dougherty said.

Working at Brown has allowed Dougherty to experience a new part of the world and to work closely with local volunteers, he said.

"It is who you come across in a town that shapes your experience of the place," he said.

One of Dougherty's volunteer assistants is Tom Van Buskirk '04. A local artist and poet, Van Buskirk has found working with Dougherty "incredible."

"It's like he's not even there," he said. "He's just the invisible hand guiding you."

While student volunteers work closely with Dougherty to finish the piece for its Oct. 19 opening, the artwork remains unnamed. Dougherty explained that his pieces are never named before they are created. Only after the sculpture has been fully constructed can it be titled.

"Someone might say something (about the piece) and then we might derive a title," Dougherty said.

Once completed, the installation will remain for approximately one year.

"I hope it's here when it snows," Pena said. "I think snow will reveal its true essence."

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