Installation art puts a wiggle in your walk through Wegerzyn Gardens
By Emma Jarman
When I look at a development team preparing to rip down trees in order to replace them with McMansions and six-car garages, I think, “What a shame.” When Patrick Dougherty lays sight upon the same scene he thinks, “Supplies!”
“It’s kind of a product of urbanization,” he said.
A renowned artist, famous for creating monumental and sculptural art pieces, Dougherty uses sticks and trees, often sourced locally from construction sites or waterfronts to create his trademark works of art. His recently released book, “Stickwork,” is a stunning collection of photographs from sites across the country that feature structures created and built by him.
Recently, Dougherty was commissioned to build a piece in Dayton’s own Wegerzyn Gardens Metropark. Appropriately titled, “Wiggle in its Walk,” the cavernous structure sits next to the Children’s Discovery Garden at Wegerzyn and wiggles like a giant, wooden JELLO mold curving around park benches and trees. There are tubes, rooms and winding mulch-ways that invite visitors to explore within.
It’s “serpentine,” said Dougherty, as he took a break from constructing his recent installation in Richmond, Virginia for a phone interview. Dougherty built “Wiggle in its Walk” entirely out of willow trees that had been encroaching on the fishing lakes at Englewood MetroParks. With the help of a number of local volunteers and over 1,000 hours of hard labor, “Wiggle” came to fruition as a wonderful addition not only to Dougherty’s collection of Stickart but as a monolithic fixture amidst the serenity of Wegerzyn Gardens Metropark.
“In the case [of Wegerzyn Gardens] we were thinking about the serpent mounds,” said Dougherty. “I had a very geometric plaza to work in. I wanted to have a sense that something more organic crawled in. A snake thing crawled in through all the existing bushes.”
Fittingly placed right next to the Children’s Discovery Garden, where sand tables, herb gardens and music paths entertain children of all ages, “Wiggle” makes a nice exit stop on a family tour of the garden.
The structure is scheduled to remain for at least the next two years, after which the material will be transferred to Wegerzyn’s composting facility. Dougherty’s work is part of the Branching Out programs that intend to narrow the ever-widening gap between the iGeneration and nature by encouraging kids to recognize the need to appreciate and preserve their natural surroundings.
When I paid a visit with my 17-month-old, it was hard to keep her out of the nearly 200-foot long tunnel that coils and writhes through the Wegerzyn green space. All willow branch ends have been safely tucked, and windows and skylights in the tunnel peer from one space to another, at some points looking out over the entire piece.
“I want to make something that is provocative to the people that live there,” said Dougherty. “This one in Dayton was a very long, thin tunnel … There were some concerns about using high scaffolding in their volunteers so the piece got shorter. You kind of get an idea and then you work towards something to try and improve the idea and make the work really shine as you’re going to it.”
One would think, with such gigantic structures, meant to be kid-friendly and viewer-safe, built with such confidence and might, that Dougherty would have a background in engineering or at least architecture. But one would think wrong. Dougherty is an artist. He sees shapes, trees or forms that inspire him and he creates them. An excellent grasp of the importance of communication and an uncanny ability to translate inspiration into the inspired is what gets his work from theoretical to tangible.
“I have good sense,” stated Dougherty. “I’m a sculptor. I like making things so I feel like I naturally know how to make things that will stand up. After you have a lot of experience in things you realize what works well.”
During his lengthy career as bramblebender and creator of all things stick-y, Dougherty has produced more than 200 pieces of installation art for various organizations, parks and museums across the country. From the serpentine tunnels at Wegerzyn to the five teetering pods he created at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s centennial celebration, which he described as “lairs for feral children or wayward adults,” there is no shortage of creativity in Dougherty. He moves from one location to another, constantly creating and molding the natural surroundings to fit his delightfully demented ideas of beauty.
“Generally, I get an idea from something somebody says or a picture I see. It’s not like doing research, but recognizing something that might be a starting point for that work,” said Dougherty.
Wegerzyn Gardens Metropark contacted Dougherty years ago to commission this piece. His cognizance of the fact that Dayton once had a solid presence of installation work and that only remnants from a different era are still in and around Dayton helped Dougherty in his decision to set up shop here. He revived the fishing pond, he revived Wegerzyn Gardens and he revived the flower child experience of simple things such as willow branches bringing a community together.
“I had a great time in Dayton,” said Dougherty. “Made a lot of friends and I had a lot of people in Dayton that came out to help, and I really appreciated them.”
Reach DCP freelance writer
and editorial intern Emma Jarman