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Sarasota Stick Sculpture Weaves Community, Art

Patrick Dougherty's "Out In Front" at the Sarasota Museum of Art is now complete and will be in front of the museum for at least the next two years.

Sarasota, you'll be set with a circus of sticks for the foreseeable future. 

And the arts community believe that's not such a bad thing after all, seeing all the work by volunteers and artist Patrick Dougherty, who is known for taking local sticks and bending them to make architectural wonders.

His piece in Sarasota, his 239th Stickwork Dougherty produced overall, sits in front of the future home of the Sarasota Museum of Art and once home to Sarasota High School.

Dougherty revealed Saturday that this piece is called Out in Front. It's now complete, revealing a swirling work of twigs and branches forming a circus big top scene.

"It's a circus on top and a fun house on the bottom," Dougherty said during a presentation of his work Jan. 17 at Ringling College of Art and Design

Dougherty started work on his Sarasota stick sculpture on Jan. 7, and with the final touches in place and the scaffolding down, the community celebrated the completion of the project on Saturday, Jan. 26. The piece will stand through tropical storms, winds and humidity for at least the next two years, or until Mother Nature destroys the big tops. 

Sarasota is a well known circus town, so that seemed like an obvious starting point for Dougherty. 

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"I was really interested in tents when I came here because of the circus," he said, liking the shape of the tents and the nomadic quality of circus life. He started with a sketch of his approach of attack on the sticks, then goes from there and recruited volunteers to help build the big tops. 

"I like the idea that circus tents advertise what's going to happen. Like you got three poles sticking up, you got three rings," Dougherty said. "Well, we got six." 

This really all starts when Dougherty sought to make work that resonated with himself and he could also make a living do it. He was at a point in his life, when he wanted to make a cabin in the North Carolina woods, and thought he could do it. He went back to school when he was 33 years old to rediscover his art at the University of North Carolina. He actually obtained his bachelor's in English from UNC in 1967 and later obtained a master's of administration in Hospital and Health Administration from the University of Iowa in 1969.

While at the library in the how-to section researching and was unsure, but he stumbled on a stack of National Geographic magazines looking at the huts in South America and Africa and was amazed at the craftsmanship in what most would consider primitive structures. 

"I realized I wasn't a normal builder," Dougherty said. "I was more of a hunter and gatherer or some kind of inspiration builder."

He made that cabin using what he could from the land around him and it turned out to be a piece of art in itself, and a nice functional home.

"I learned some things while building it that really stood me in good stead in my art life," he said. "And maybe the first one is the simplest one—learning to accept what you can do." 

Just do the best, move on and try to out-do your last effort the next time, he said. 

That blended into working with his stick structures while making sheds and other structures on the property, and he hasn't looked back since his first Stickwork piece in 1982.  

When he finds a site, he tries to seek out local sticks, and in some locations, there is a bulldozing project or some sort of clearing of trees by a construction or landscaping company that he gladly takes off their hands.

Here, Dougherty obtained crepe myrtle at Turner Tree and Landscape in Bradenton.

"They had abandoned a certain number of acres of crepe myrtle, and the forestry had grown up around it and let these things really tall, thin and spinly," he said.  

In the Midwest, he might have used gray dogwood or elm, in Hawaii he used strawberry guava and in other places willow. Each have their own pliability, and Sarasota's sticks sure are stubborn.

"This is the hardest thing we could work with," he said. "If our volunteers got a chance at a load of willow, they would start crying right now."

Dougherty is as fascinated with what people think of the work as they drive by the old high school.

"They had their opinions," he said. "They are doubting the first day they're out there and see all that trash laying out in front of the building, and now as the sculpture is accumulating, they're feeling better and better about it." 

Now, it's time for the fun exploring the piece. 

"There's lots of kind of hidden turns, doorways, windows and things that would intrigue you and pull you in and through it," he said.

The museum continues to fundraise, and will open once the money for the capital campaign is raised, said Wendy Surkis, president of Sarasota Museum of Art/SMOA.

The art museum is a division of Ringling College of Art and Design to transform the high school into 60,000 square feet of art exhibition space, a 110-seat auditorium, a sculpture court and more.

"We have raised 70 percent of our money, which is great," she said. 

That comes out to $15,525,080.85 of the $22 million goal, Surkis added. 

Fundraisers like the ones connected to the ArtMuse program and Dougherty's work has helped keep that momentum going. 

"It created an increase in community awareness for SMOA and we had increased community involvement because we had over 130 volunteers who had been participating on the project," Surkis said.

Stick and Clicks Photo Contest Ends Soon

Make sure to take photographs of the sculpture before Sunday and enter before Feb. 3  to win prizes: http://iframe.wizehive.com/webform/sticksandclicks

Rosie January 27, 2013 at 01:15 PM
Very cool. I can't wait to go visit the sculpture! I like what the artist said: you learn to accept what you can do! (And work with it)!
Jo Ann January 27, 2013 at 04:04 PM
Sarasota is so blessed to have such talent and wisdom..."Learn to accept what you can do...and do it"...brilliant...so glad to see my former and beloved Sarasota High School as the centerpiece of creativity. Many blessings to the fortunate few that live in "Paradise"
Teresa Inskeep March 21, 2013 at 07:13 PM
Just drove by and saw the art display unique indeed. Love it more and more each time I drive past the old high school. I live in sarasota and paradise sums it up. Great plans for the school in the near future. Commented by Teresa Inskeep.

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