March 11, 2011

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Sculpture to reflect Native American heritage 

By Tom Campbell

Heather Moore 
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Purdue Agricultural Communication photos/Tom Campbell

Like most artwork, Patrick Dougherty’s sculpture had a rather inauspicious beginning amid the swirling of snowflakes and the whirling of posthole diggers.

The North Carolina-based artist is working with about two dozen Purdue students to build a meandering sculpture of sticks, twigs and branches that draws on the area’s Native American heritage. Work began Thursday (March 10).

"Even before the 1600s, Native Americans in this area built mounds and were drawn to their symbolic shape,” said Dougherty, who likens his pieces to equal parts basketry, building and art.

Construction is on site at the southwest corner of Pao Hall of Visual and Performing Arts on Marsteller Street. It will be visible to all from start to finish, said Michal Hathaway, assistant director of Purdue University Galleries. Once completed, it will stand for 2-3 years before being disassembled, with the materials returned to nature.

The project is collaboration between the Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture and the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts.

The five-week class is taught by Ann Hildner, assistant professor of landscape architecture, and Steve Visser, professor of visual and performing arts.

The students spent three days collecting maple and willow branches and then dug about 80 holes for the foundation pieces.

Dougherty started with a rough sketch. He will develop details of the project as he moves to completion.

“I have a vision, and I’ve worked enough to know that my visions come true,” Dougherty said. “But I try to be reactive, sometimes, to the imperfections in the wood. This is not like Sheetrock where each piece is perfect. Sometimes the imperfections can be very interesting.”

Hildner will supplement the fieldwork with lecture and discussion sessions that will encourage students to reflect on their experience in being a part of the project.

She also will focus discussion on ways in which the qualities, characteristics and intricacies of plants have been used to create art in the landscape.

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