"Playin' Hooky" by Patrick Dougherty was hand built by the artist at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in February. Photo by J.G. Domke.
March 24, 2021
Statues and sculptures in parks have long been educational and thought-provoking. But thanks to eco-friendly artists, outdoor artwork can also enhance our experience of nature. Here are some artworks recently installed in DFW that carry ecological themes.
Only certain saplings could be used that would bend and create a sense of motion in Patrick Dougherty’s “stickwork” sculpture and they weren’t going to last long.
Since the 1980s, Dougherty has built over 300 of his playful biodegradable installations around the world, many in his home state of North Carolina.
After accepting the commission to create a sculpture at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, he booked the project into his busy schedule. He thought February in Texas would be the perfect time to build Playin’ Hooky.
Watch a 5-minute video about the making of "Playin' Hooky" at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Courtesy of FWBG-BRIT.
He didn’t plan on this year’s record-breaking cold Texas weather though.
“We were amazed at Patrick’s dedication to his art, his physical stamina during extremely cold temperatures and his ability to keep on schedule, finishing the sculpture on time,” said Bob Byers, assistant director of the recently merged Fort Worth Botanic Garden and Botanical Research Institute of Texas.
Over three weeks time, even working during below-freezing temperatures, Dougherty wove the branches together to create five structures. He used a semi-tractor load of elm saplings gathered by volunteers and staff members from 30 parks around Fort Worth and Arlington.
The branches wind and sweep to form a fluid looking structure — no corners — and anyone can enter inside to look out through the sticks and twigs.
Seventy-five-year-old Dougherty feels he picked the best spot.
“I particularly liked injecting the sculpture under the overhanging branches of the nearby trees, he says. “I imagined that, when the leaves come on, the sculpture will seem to be cradled by its surroundings.”
Dougherty ventured into the art world after a career in hospital management, according to the Smithsonian Magazine. In the 1970s, he became a stay-at-home dad while his wife worked. During that time, he built a home by hand on 10 acres outside Chapel Hill, N.C. using the popular Foxfire books, which chronicled Appalachian crafts and culture. That led to learning about the primitive technique used by Native Americans to create structures.
Discovering a bent for art, he went back to school and eventually combined his carpentry skills with his love of nature to experiment with tree saplings as construction material.
“I think we have a kind of shadow life of our hunting and gathering past, especially in our childhood play,” he told Smithsonian in 2015.
He will create 10 new stickworks this year, a new one each month. He made his February deadline despite the icy winter weather in Fort Worth.
“We always find a way to finish on time,” Dougherty says, who teams with his 25-year-old son, Sam, along with volunteers and the garden staff.
Visitors are invited to explore Patrick Dougherty's "stickwork" inside and out. Photo by J.G. Domke.
“We did miss one day when we were not able to fly back from our weekend off in North Carolina, but otherwise we just put on more layers and kept working.”
To date, he has only done one other stickwork in Texas, at the Pease Garden in Austin, Yippee Ki Yay in 2018.
Everyone one accepts the idea that these sculptures won’t last. But removal of a sculpture, he says is “a decision of the sponsoring organization, and of course safety concerns dominate that decision.”
The Pease Park Conservancy decided to close the stickwork and it has been “returned to the park as mulch,” according their website.
Fort Worth Public Art, an advisory body to the city of Fort Worth, has overseen several commissioned nature-themed artworks in parks over the years.
"When Air Becomes Sky" was installed at Northwest Community Park in Fort Worth in 2020. Photo by J.G. Domke.
The inspiration for the sculpture When Air Becomes Sky, completed in 2020, is Fort Worth’s role on the monarch highway.
In 2016, Mayor Betsy Price took the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge. Then the city was named a Monarch Butterfly Champion City in 2019.
That same year, the new Northwest Community Park at 8375 Blue Mound Road became the fifth largest park in the city.
The bond issue that funded the 246-acre park, which features trails and a fishing pond, also included funds for art. After getting approval from the City Council, three pairs of butterfly wings were created by a pair of Austin artists, Autumn Ewalt and Dharmesh Patel, known as Animalis Works team. The work was completed in 2020 and now welcome visitors to Northwest Community Park.
Butterfly wings are embedded with 6,500 crystal prisms that reflect various colors. Photo by J.G. Domke.
The wings are embedded with 6,500 crystal prisms that reflect various colors, depending on the angle of the sun and where you are standing.
Move in closer and sunlight shining through a prism will cast a rainbow on your clothes. Move in even closer and try looking through a prism and see a different view of nature.
Once finished, the artists were surprised by the prisms “shimmering effect” in the sculpture. it delighted Ewalt.
“It’s an element of discovery to lure you in and to discover what are those things flashing light.”
Patel, trained as an architect, does all the welding. Ewalt, who started in ceramics, says she sees art helping entice people to walk along the trail and experience nature. She also sees the sculpture as a teaching tool.
“Especially for the little kids to learn as they look through and see a rainbow,” said Ewalt. “The more you want to investigate, the more you can learn from it.”
Michele Richardson, public art project manager for the Arts Council of Fort Worth, says the butterfly wings are a good fit and hopes to have an official dedication in 2021.
BIRD'S EYE VIEW
Art + Knowledge by Jill Bedgood overlooks a prairie remnant at Chisholm Trail Park in Fort Worth. Photo by Michelle Villafranca.
Another addition in January overseen by Fort Worth Public Art and the City of Fort Worth was the installation of two of three panels called Art + Knowledge at Chisholm Trail Park at 4936 McPherson Boulevard in Fort Worth.
The pieces created by artist Jill Bedgood stand alongside a remnant of native prairie. City of Fort Worth park operations planner Michelle Villafranca and former Fort Worth Nature Center manager Suzanne Tuttle advised Bedgood on the ecological subject matter for the project, which features native flora and fauna. The final panel highlighting the prairie is set to be completed in 2022.
"Stacked Friends" by Brad Oldham and Christy Coltrin adds good vibes to Hillcrest Village Green Park in Dallas. Photo courtesy of Brad Oldham Sculpture.
Other new art in North Texas with an eco-friendly slant includes Stacked Friends, a joyful sculpture by Dallas husband-and-wife team Brad Oldman and Christy Coltrin. Installed at the new Hillcrest Village Green Park at 6959 Arapaho Road in Dallas, which opened in January, the 14-foot mirror-polished stainless steel totem pole features animal friends - bird, rabbit and dog - playing in the park.
"Best friends lift each other up and and these animals show that simply playing together can also be brilliant fun," reads the plaque.
Meanwhile, Shelby David Meier’s A Part of the Whole exhibit at the Nasher Sculpture Center brings the outdoors inside with cultural commentary. Ponder this conceptual piece featuring cut flowers sprouting out of a pile of Styrofoam cups and takeout boxes.
Get a 3-D view of "A Part of the Whole" by Shelby David Meier.
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