If you’ve driven by historic Sarasota High School, the future home of the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA) at all during the past week, you may have noticed that the activity taking place on the front lawn seems a little ... twisted.
Approximately 100 volunteers (including yours truly and fellow TWISlers Sara Moone, Jack Littman-Quinn, Kirsten Sponseller and Skylar Ead) have joined world-renowned artist Patrick Dougherty in creating his latest “stick sculpture” on SMOA’s front lawn. The three-week project kicked off on Jan. 7 and is on schedule to reach completion by the artist’s Jan. 27 departure date.
Since Dougherty erected his first stick sculpture in his home state of North Carolina in 1982, his woven tree branch work has appeared in numerous locations throughout the world, from Honolulu, Hawaii to Dublin, Ireland---and soon, Sarasota will have a completed Dougherty structure to claim as its own.
Although they range in form and composition---from large woven baskets to swirling, complex, full-building facades---Dougherty’s environmental works share unmistakable commonality in their grand scale and the organic, primitive technique by which they are created. Preferring to work with local materials, Dougherty collects tree branches by the truckload and, with the assistance of community volunteers and temporary scaffolding, weaves those branches by hand into sturdy, several-stories-high environmental art pieces meant to last for years---until they naturally deteriorate.
Dougherty said that for the SMOA project he was inspired by Sarasota’s circus history and thus decided to design the sculpture to look like a circus tent with a fun house on the bottom.Volunteers spent a weekend collecting crape myrtle tree branches, twigs and vines from a Palmetto-based tree farm and delivering them by the truckload to the front lawn of SMOA, where they have been arranged by size into behemoth stacks. The tallest, thickest and sturdiest of the branches were installed first in a forest of vertical anchors that compose the structure’s main frame. The next step involves the slow, deliberate process of weaving smaller branches into the frame to secure and strengthen the structure.
Armed with gardening gloves and clippers, Dougherty’s hands-on volunteer team has been working alongside the artist to weave the branches into solid, crosshatch-woven walls that swirl upwards of approximately 40 feet into the sky.
“It’s actually kind of meditative,” said volunteer and artist Shannon Warren, who was inspired to join the project after seeing Dougherty’s work during a recent trip to Vermont.“Learning how to take something I thought was completely rigid and bend it to my will---or, I should say, Patrick’s will---has been an interesting process. I like to put every experience in my creative memory bank, and this one has taught me how to look at a lot of potential materials very differently,” she said.
“This crape myrtle is one of the stiffest varieties of branch I’ve used,” said Dougherty, who often utilizes more pliable branch materials, such as those from the willow or dogwood tree. “It’s made it a bit more of a challenge for the volunteers, but around here, having a little dirt under your fingernails is a badge of honor.”
Teams of volunteers are working with Dougherty in alternating shifts, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, to achieve the project’s scheduled completion date.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response from the community and from the volunteers, all of whom have been enthusiastic to the max in their participation,” said SMOA president Wendy Surkis.
“Because Patrick is working on the project with so many volunteers, it serves as a wonderful opportunity to engage the community and get everyone excited about what the museum’s future holds in store,” she added.While volunteers work on the Dougherty Project, the public is encouraged to visit the site to photograph the process (there is a photo contest open to all ages) and attend docent-guided tours of the future SMOA, which take place daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There will also be a SMOA Inaugural Bash held on location on Sunday, Jan. 20 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., featuring drinks, food and live music by the Tampa-based dance band Ace Factor. Tickets for the event start at $125, with proceeds put toward SMOA fundraising. To purchase tickets, call (941) 309-4723.
The Dougherty Project, which Surkis said costs between $50,000 and $60,000 for artist fees and materials, is funded separately from the SMOA project, which has currently raised more than $15 million toward its $22 million goal.
“The timing of bringing Patrick here is very important because at this juncture, we’ve raised 70 percent of our fundraising goal. This increased exposure on the front lawn shows that the SMOA project is definitively alive, and we’re optimistic it will help us move faster toward attaining the other 30 percent of funding that will bring us to opening day,” Surkis said.
Stay tuned with TWIS for project updates and photos. Until next time, we’re back to dirtying up our fingernails while we help sculpt Sarasota’s art history—one TWISted twig at a time.
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