Captivated by a towering sculpture made of saplings and vines at the bottom of Brattleboro’s Main Street, I became an instant fan of Patrick Dougherty’s work in 2001. I wanted to move into it, eat, drink and sleep there, have it for my very own. Since that wasn’t possible, I began following Patrick’s story and sculptures via his website, book, and an installation at Philadelphia’s Morris Arboretum, “Summer Palace”, a swirling mass of sticks evoking… architecture straight out of czarist Russia? a giant seashell? This is the beauty of Patrick’s work. Using local, natural material and solely volunteer labor, he creates a jumping off point for our imaginations and community in three short weeks.
When I heard about his commission for Sarasota, Florida’s Museum of Art (SMOA) and Ringling School of Art + Design, I could hardly type my offer to volunteer fast enough. And when I received an affirmative reply almost immediately, I literally jumped for joy.
Right there on Tamiami Trail, on the front lawn of the historic, former Sarasota High School, a hundred or so of us learned to assemble, move and climb scaffolding, and which size and shape crape myrtle branch was best suited to create framework, twist around an entryway or fill in the walls of this amazing, ever changing form, all while forging new friendships and connections. Apart from the physical aspect of the process I was intrigued by the lack of overthinking on Patrick’s part before the actual work began, letting the essence and history of the site dictate the form, and what appeared to be the absence of artistic ego.
That’s a lot of “letting go” to have 120 inexperienced strangers execute your vision.
While six lanes of traffic drove by honking approval and journalists, photographers, docents and all matter of curious folks crawled around us, we wove away… and 21 days later the kooky, thought provoking sculpture was complete; a leaning funhouse of twigs with six conical tent tops shooting towards the sky, referencing Sarasota’s long history with “The Greatest Show on Earth”.
It was an experience I won’t soon forget, and an honor to work side by side with an unassuming and truly creative force. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.