Patrick Dougherty’s Easy Rider

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, a Washington, D.C. museum and institute affiliated with Harvard University, installed “Easy Rider,” a new contemporary art project from land artist Patrick Dougherty, in its extensive gardens. The maple sapling sculpture was created over three weeks with a team of volunteers. According to Dumbarton Oaks, Easy Rider “is particularly evocative of the organic or rustic architecture that was a feature of 18th century garden arbors, pavilions, and furnishings, especially in England.” 

Arriving at Easy Rider, one first feels it’s appropriate for the Halloween season — it’s gothic, something from a Tim Burton film. Once you enter the conical structures (what Dougherty calls “running forms”) and are completely surrounded by the sculpture’s interwoven saplings and leaves and mulch floors, the experience becomes richer. It’s becomes an immersion in nature. The way the sculptures are set up also enables play. You discover there are windows and doorways in the structures that allows you to jump between the conical shapes. 

The artist combines a hands-on approach using his capentry skills with a love for nature, creating sculptures that have grown in scale over the years. Dumbarton Oaks says: “Beginning about 1980 with small works fashioned in his backyard, he quickly moved from single pieces on conventional pedestals to monumental site-specific installations that require sticks by the truckload. To date, he has built over two hundred such massive sculptures all over the world.”

Easy Rider will be on view through the spring of 2011 in the Ellipse garden, which was originally designed by landscape architect Beatrix Farrand during the 1920s. Docent-led tours of the Gardens are offered to the public Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday at 2:10pm. Private group tours of the Museum and Gardens are available by advance arrangement.

Learn more about Dougherty’s work and check out a new book on his sculptures, “Stickwork,” by Princeton Architectural Press.

Image credits: (1) Walter Howell / Dumbarton Oaks, (2) Patrick Dougherty

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