If you’ve been on the Maryland Hall campus, you’ve probably noticed the magnificent, giant oak tree near the Nature Sacred meditative labyrinth. If you haven’t, you’ve got an exceptional reason to do so now. The tree is in the process of being surrounded by a growing, awe-inspiring sculpture being woven of sweet gum, sycamore, and persimmon branches around a structure of planted saplings. The magnitude of the sculpture matches and honors the oak, drawing attention to its beauty and strength.
Saplings being laid out in preparation for the Patrick Dougherty Sculpture at Maryland Hall. Image courtesy of Maryland Hall.
The artist responsible for this installation is Patrick Dougherty, the internationally acclaimed sculptor of monumental environmental works. He has been creating Stickwork sculptures across America and worldwide for over 30 years. He began the planning process for this installation with Maryland Hall, who also invited Bates Middle School, about six months ago. Now Patrick and his son Sam are engaging the community and are bringing the sculpture to life. The three-week installation requires the efforts of 150 volunteers, working in shifts of four, many who have come from the environmental coalition “The Green Give”, and other members of the community who have heard about it and want to join in.
Sam Dougherty, Patrick's son, works to secure the scaffolding for the environmental sculpture at Maryland Hall. Image courtesy of the author.
The harvesting of materials was a huge endeavor requiring the transport of truckloads of branches. Volunteers harvested the saplings for the sculpture from Centreville’s Indiantown Farm and Poplar Grove Farm, and Queen Anne’s County’s Conquest Beach. Poplar Grove Farm is a 400-year old former plantation still owned by descendants of those granted the land by Lord Baltimore. The saplings were cut so they will regrow, ensuring no long-term environmental impact.
A volunteer weaves the sticks into the base of the environmental sculpture. Image courtesy of the author.
I’m glad I was able to see this work while in progress because the creation of it evokes questions, and Patrick and the volunteers are happy to answer them. Talking with Patrick was easy. He is in tune with the materials, as he’s worked with these trees and many others over the years. He was happy to explain the process of planting the saplings that form the structure and then the weaving of the harvested materials around them to create the form. His designs allow for the reeds and branches to be woven and shaped in ways that appear natural while ultimately creating curves and shapes that are unique with a bit of whimsy, and different from their natural form. The weaving felt to me very much like how birds’ nests are created, but when he had me touch one of the forms, I was surprised that it was sturdy and rock solid.
The sculpture begins to take shape. Image courtesy of the author.
Patrick has said that he uses sticks like artist lines. As an artist, that resonates for me because each line amidst thousands has its own strength and personality and each one contributes to the overall statement of the finished art. Weaving slender elegance with sturdy boldness is where the artistry comes into play.
The sculpture consists of four individual forms that are placed around the tree, giving it space on the ground and interweaving through the open spaces in the branches above. The forms are already beginning to show the doors and windows where one can enter and feel the energy of the sculpture and the space afforded by the lovely oak tree. When standing amidst the forms, there is a sense that these harvested materials have found their rightful home.
Patrick stand in front of his creation at Maryland Hall. Image courtesy of the author.
From May 17 to 21 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. the public can observe as the sculpture takes form and progresses daily, and watch the volunteers who are in the zone, weaving the branches one by one.
The sculpture will remain in place for one to three years, depending upon the elements. Patrick will teach the Maryland Hall staff how to do the minimal maintenance that is required. Mother Nature will determine how long we get to enjoy this dynamic, unique homage to one of her greatest creations – the tree.
Patrick Dougherty hard at work on the Stickwork Sculpture at Maryland Hall. Image courtesy of Drawn to the Image.
Thank you Patrick, for gracing Annapolis with your marvelous artistic work!