Take a willow sapling. Weave it around other branches. Tuck it into a framework to form a seamless surface. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. This is how, over a three-week period last spring, hundreds of saplings came together to form a unique sculpture on the lawn outside Pao Hall.
“Sidewinder” is a 15-foot-high meandering tunnel that begs to be explored. It is the product of an innovative interdisciplinary class that combined art and science and was co-taught by Ann Hildner, assistant professor of landscape architecture, and Steve Visser, professor of performing and visual arts. Visiting artist Patrick Dougherty was brought to campus with funds from the Florence H. Lonsford Fund and the Bookwalter Fund to guide students from fine arts and horticulture as they created the piece.
Dougherty, of North Carolina, is known for his Stickworks creations, each of which is crafted from naturally malleable saplings and responds in some way to its setting. For the Purdue project, Dougherty took his inspiration from the serpentine forms built in the Midwest by ancient Indians.
Over a three-week period, approximately 30 students from fine arts and horticulture worked alongside Dougherty. Dinner and discussions with the artist helped further immerse the class in the process and the broader concepts of plants, landscape, and art. The experience gave them a rare opportunity to contribute to a work of art that is expected to stand on campus for two years or so before naturally degrading.
“The class taught me to dream big, make things, be productive, be creative,” said fine arts student Quinn Thomson. “It was extremely inspiring to interact with a professional like Patrick Dougherty who had forged his own unique path of success outside of a typical career. It taught me to take my passions and create my own future. It ultimately gave me the power of choice.”
Dougherty defined the project as being as much about art and artistic expression as it was about building community. For Thomson, a fine arts and horticulture major who is fascinated with the intersection of art and the natural world in urban settings, it responded to both a physical and disciplinary interest in collaboration.
“The experience was a completely dynamic and unique offering that encouraged conversational collaboration, design input, social interaction, physical labor, and open-mindedness,” he said. “The best part of it all? Physically experiencing your own work being produced.”
Artist Patrick Dougherty's work is being featured at a Purdue exhibit this fall. "Stickworks" will open Aug. 29 and will close Dec. 4 at the Ringel Gallery in the Purdue Memorial Union. The exhibit highlights "Sidewinder" and includes photographs and models of the artists' other projects, says Michal Hathaway, assistant director of Purdue University Galleries and curator of this exhibit. Items from "Sidewinder" include Dougherty's photographs, sketches, models and work gloves, as well as photographs and video from the construction of "Sidewinder."
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