A Home in the Sticks: Patrick Dougherty’s “Room by Room”

February 20, 2013 — I didn’t intend to become a Patrick Dougherty groupie. It just happened. Ever since October of 2007, when we stumbled across the strange line of hollow squares made out of baby trees on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, I’ve kept my eyes open for his sculptures. Last weekend I visited my fourth. You can find links to my other three visits at the bottom of this post.

Dougherty’s medium is dead trees. Kind of like a writer, I guess, except his work allows him to get a tan every once in a while. He basically builds small buildings out of tons of weaved saplings. The effect comes off like a bird nest transformed into a house, much like Cinderella’s pumpkin magick’d into a carriage. His works are simultaneously familiar and exotic, rustic and sophisticated. And, admittedly, there is a sameness running through them, more so than an artist who continually carves figures out of marble.

And yet, that somehow doesn’t detract from the effect. I can tell you that as a veteran of four sculptures now. Immediately upon seeing one, I have to walk through it like I’ve never encountered anything like it before. Or maybe because I have encountered them before.

My latest venture into a Dougherty edifice was last weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was located in the quadrangle green of a set of five museums known collectively as the Springfield Museums. They include a science museum, two art museums, and a pair of local history museums. They all share the same admission ticket, but we were there for the first on that list, never passing up a chance to see taxidermy, dinosaur bones, and sparkly rocks. It just so happened Dougherty had gotten there before us.

This time, he had concocted a square building set at each corner with a rounded protuberance topped by a rounded minaret. The title of the piece was Room by Room. At its highest points it was probably more than 20 feet tall. Inside, a hallway ran around the exterior wall while in the center was a tall, plain feature that divided the open space. Simple in design, but striking.

Had it been colored in pastels, the whole thing would have been incontrovertibly Seussian, and it was obviously on purpose since just across the quadrangle is the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden, which I’ve posted about before. For those not link-inclined, it’s a grouping of some twenty life-sized bronze statues of his characters, as well as of Dr. Seuss himself, who was a native of the city.

Back to Dougherty, nobody has introduced him to spray-on acrylic yet, so all of his works are temporary, as they start decaying from the moment he yells “Voila!” on opening night. In this case, his work will be taken down in June of this year after having been erected in June of last year. The metal Lorax will be there until the end of mankind, though.

Other OTIS visits to Patrick Dougherty sculptures: