Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Sculpture with a twist

On campus for three weeks as a visiting artist, internationally known sculptor Patrick Dougherty will work with Wheaton College students to create a piece of outdoor art that will be visible to passers-by on the town of Norton’s busiest street.

Wheaton is bringing street-corner, communally-built art to Norton.

During the first three weeks of September, the internationally known sculptor Patrick Dougherty will work with the college's students (see related web site)  to create a piece of public art for the liberal arts college that will also be visible to passing motorists on the town's busiest street.

As he has done elsewhere, Dougherty will build his sculpture with tree saplings that are twined together. His works typically resemble structures built by nature or simple rustic huts, sheds and other manmade buildings. 

"I kind of like sticking it to the traditional ideas about sculpture and just the idea that you really can't own it. It's good not only for the people who bought it, but it's accessible to everyone. It's on a street corner," Dougherty says. "The idea that there is a consistency between the material and its own life and the sculpture itself, I think that it adds to its credibility that you use the inherent properties of the material."

The North Carolina-based artist debuted his work in 1982 at the North Carolina Biennial Artists' Exhibition sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Art. His first solo show exhibition took place the following year. His work quickly evolved from single pieces on conventional pedestals to monumental scale installations that required saplings by the truckloads. During the last two decades, he has built more than 150 works throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

Dougherty will begin crafting the installation at Wheaton on Tuesday, Sept. 2, adjacent to the Watson Fine Arts Center and the campus pond, Peacock Pond. The sculpture will be formally unveiled and dedicated on Friday, Sept. 19 during a lecture that will begin at 7 p.m. in the Weber Theatre. For more details, check out the web site dedicated to his project at Wheaton.

The students who will work with the artist will include four classes studying enrolled in related studio art and art history courses as well as other volunteers. The students will work in two-hour shifts, two to four students at a time. The classes including this project in the course syllabus are:

  • Public Art and Popular Imagination, a first-year seminar taught by art historian Tripp Evans.
  • Cross Training: Drawing/Design, a first-year seminar taught by studio artist and printmaker Claudia Fieo. 
  • Sculpture I and Three-Dimensional Design, both taught by studio artist and sculptor Tim Cunard. 

Professor of Art History Tripp Evans says that Dougherty's pieces seem to grow from the landscape. "They appear natural, organic, yet are obviously manmade. Passersby typically find themselves intrigued and may not automatically recognize it as sculpture. There is a sense of discovery about the work."

Dougherty clearly prizes this aspect of his installations. "One of the most enjoyable things about the kind of work I do is that there's a huge potential for creative thought and reactivity," he says. "You can put down kind of an outline of sticks that serves as a structural base and on top of that you can layer up meaning."

The organic materials used for the sculptures also lend a unique air to the works, Evans added. Typically, these pieces last two to three years before they degrade to the point that removal is necessary. This impermanence creates a "preciousness" to them, he said. "There isn't time for people to get jaded about the work."

The location chosen for the installation at Wheaton sits directly across from the visitor's parking lot and serves as an unofficial gateway to the campus. In this spot, the sculpture will welcome many people to campus, and it also will be visible from Route 123 and thus to most of the surrounding community. It also is visible from many points on campus, including residence halls on the other side of the pond, the Chase dining hall, and Meneely. The site was identified during a two-day visit Dougherty made to campus in mid-summer. 

Dougherty's three-week stint as a visiting artist is sponsored by the Celeste Gottesman Bartos '35 Fund for the Visual Arts and the Master Class in the Visual Arts Fund within the Evelyn Danzig Haas '39 Visiting Artists Program