Witches Get Switches: Patrick Dougherty’s “What the Birds Know”

May 25, 2015 — Yesterday, I stumbled across my fifth Patrick Dougherty sculpture. I’m running out of things to say about them since there’s a sameness to them all, but can’t stop visiting and posting about them because that sameness is way cool. This time it was in Salem, Massachusetts.

Sponsored by the Peabody Essex Museum, the sculpture is called What the Birds Know and was finished just two days before I saw it. That means I missed seeing Patrick Dougherty himself at work by two days.

For his sculptures, he weaves large, hollow structures out of saplings with the help of a group of local volunteers. The end result is a configuration that looks like a large bird got bored with making nest shapes. The sculptures decay over time and are eventually mulched, but while they stand, they lead quite the life, with visitors walking through them and hanging out at them and photographing the souls from of them. This time the rustic shapes look like a row of cottages from one of Dr. Seuss’s books if he'd lost all his crayons except for brown, all tilted and rounded and the w-word.

I’ve never caught a Dougherty sculpture in such an urban environment before. I mean, I’ve seen them in cities, but it’s always on a common or in a park or on some stretch of open grass. This one is in a small lot in front of the Crowninshield-Bentley house mere feet away from busy sidewalks and streets.

And it’s a high pedestrian area, at the intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard and Essex Street right across from the Crow Haven Corner witch shop. Since this thing will probably still be standing come October, I imagine it’ll be absolutely haunted by hordes of monsters. I’m looking forward to seeing it thronged. I’ve never seen one of Dougherty’s works thronged. You’re wondering if I’m using that word correctly, thronged.

But I dig that. I think having Dougherty’s wickerwork in Witch City jives. Like you could imagine a fairy tale witch living inside of What the Birds Know, sucking on the bones of children as clouds of deep purple waft from her cauldron and through the tops of the structures.

Tell me that’s not perfect.

I wasn't lying about this being my fifth Patrick Dougherty sculpture: