Sculpture stands as symbol of community engagement and interdisciplinary dialogue on Linden Lane

By Evangelia Stefanakos '14

The temporality and whimsy of Patrick Dougherty’s Stickwork sculptures have graced more than 250 sites around the world—from the open fields of the Scottish Highlands to the Riniyo-in Temple in Chiba, Japan. This fall, Holy Cross became home to one of the renowned artist’s most recent works, which stands on Linden Lane in playful conversation with the campus’ surrounding architecture.  

“Just Off the Beaten Track” is made from locally sourced gray birch and Norway maple saplings, which were woven, bent and entwined to form three spirals moving around a center core and rising up into towers reaching 25 feet high.

The sculpture was completed in under three weeks during Dougherty’s artist-in-residency at the College, hosted by the Arts Transcending Borders (ATB) initiative, which is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and co-sponsored by the Cantor Art Gallery, the environmental studies program and the visual arts department.

During these three weeks, the Holy Cross community was not only given the rare opportunity to observe Dougherty at work, but also to participate in the artistic process.

Dougherty invited the community to work beside him in the creation of his sculptures: More than 300 students, faculty, staff and members of the Worcester community had a hand in the extensive and complex process.

In a recent article published in two online arts journals New York Arts and the Berkshire Review for the Arts, Holy Cross Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the visual arts department Virginia Raguin wrote: “Dougherty offers… a gift—the possibility that we become co-creators. Male and female, young and old, accountant or housepainter, we become part of the work. We cut the saplings, haul the wood, strip the leaves, bind the twigs, or climb a scaffold—he allows this work to become ours as well as his.”

The community-mobilizing process began with acquiring sticks—a lot of them. Partnering with the Greater Worcester Land Trust, members of the community spent days gathering seven truckloads full of saplings that were then hulled, bundled, transported to campus and stripped before the building stages of the sculpture even began.

Then, almost overnight, the sculpture began to take shape. Linden Lane buzzed with movement as community volunteers worked with Dougherty from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, and passersby stopped to watch the progress being made and chat with the artist and volunteers between classes and meetings.

While of particular interest for students studying the arts, the sculpture also drew interest from students of all class years and disciplines—from first-year Montserrat students, to students studying creative writing, to those in biology and environmental science courses—all of whom volunteered to help construct the piece over the three-week period.

Robert Bertin, the Anthony and Renee Marlon Professor in the Sciences in the biology department, played a major role in the initial stages of finding and collecting the saplings, and saw the inherent value of participating in the creation of this Stickwork: “I feel that the sculpture provided wonderful opportunities for a close encounter with nature that stimulated the tactile senses as much as the visual,” he explains. “Every sapling and twig in the sculpture was carried, bundled, trimmed, defoliated and woven into the structure by hand.”

The community engagement moved even further, beyond the College’s gates, with the involvement of greater Worcester community volunteers, and a special visit by Nativity School of Worcester students.

Nativity School art, religion and science teacher Sarah Valente ’16 brought a group of her young students, members of the school’s Street Art Club, to see the outdoor sculpture in progress.

“The piece exposed students to a new artistic process, the use of recycled materials, temporary art and how art can work with the environment,” Valente says. “After interacting with the piece, students created line drawings of the piece. The sticks and vines provided them with a range of thicknesses, which allowed them to experiment with line.”

For those who watched the piece go up and those who worked on it, this Stickwork holds daily significance.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into this that people just walking by probably aren’t aware of,” Adrian Cole ’20 told Worcester Living magazine in a recent article covering Dougherty’s work at the College. “It kind of gives me a sense of gratification knowing that I put in the time and the effort and there’s a sense of ownership, not just for me personally but for the community as a whole. We all put something into it and made this entire huge sculpture, which is beautiful.”

Dougherty’s piece, now complete and standing through the changing New England seasons, has provided the College with new opportunity for dialogue, for questions and for intersection as the community continues to engage with the sculpture through tours, performances and programming around and within the piece.

The process of building, and now the process of living alongside the sculpture—passing it on the way to Dinand Library or to class in Stein Hall—has allowed for interaction that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries, and remains a lasting marker of a community’s efforts. ■