As I was thinking about writing this post, I realized that I am a sticks and stones person; natural materials are what inspire me. I absolutely loved the Bambu exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now I am excited to tell you about a tiny exhibit that I saw last summer but is still on site, called “Stickwork”, at the charming Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
First, the story about the museum: It was founded by Florence Griswold and the painters of the Old Lyme Colony who took up residence in her house in the summer of 1900. This was the beginning of a trend for artists; to retreat from the modernity of the cities in search of picturesque subject matter in the country. Old Lyme was a promising resort because of its rural character, its accessibility by train and ferries from New York and its amenable boarding house proprietor. Childe Hassam came in 1903 and many of the artists in residence at that time worked in her Impressionistic style using the outdoors for their canvas. Today there are several buildings–the riverfront, an education center and a new gallery, the Krieble Gallery–for revolving exhibitions. `
Patrick Doughery’s medium is sticks. From 500 feet away I knew I was going to see something very special. First, I was completely awed by the scale of the work, the intricacy of the weaving of tens of thousands of sticks and the architectural and spiritual quality of the interior spaces. This is an exhibition where the fine line between landscape, art and architecture is a bit blurry. As Patrick says himself, his work defies simple classification. It wavers between architectural folly and teapot, between giant creature and a city of forms.
There is a community spirit to the work as well. The public response in the early stages of a project is one of skepticism, especially when there is only a huge pile of sticks in an empty space. But he engages the community in helping him hunt materials from river beds or vacant lots, the sides of highways or under power lines, and finally to help him weave the materials. His preference is for willow and maple as the most malleable.
His projects are often completed within three weeks. Materials are gathered in advance to allow this time frame to work. He knows that branches entangle with each other and weaving is what the branches like to do. The magical thing about working with sticks is that the sculpture has the same life cycle as the material. Ultimately, it disintegrates and fades back into the landscape becoming mulch for new life.
In the meantime, I encourage you to visit the Florence Griswold Museum and see the Patrick Dougherty exhibit. And, if you are looking for a day out, lunch or dinner at the River Tavern in Chester, CT is about a 10 minute drive from the museum. You will have quite an experience; an inspired day looking at the natural materials and applauding the craftsmanship and artistry–and a good meal as well!