Willow Works at Bernheim: Artist Patrick Dougherty’s Aesthetic

Posted on April 21, 2012


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A special installation is in the works at Bernheim Arboretum, just south of Louisville.  Using supple willow branches, artist Patrick Dougherty has been weaving together a large  sculpture, which has evolved over the last couple weeks into spiraling walls, intertwining to form the shapes of two coiled snakes.  When finished, visitors will be able to walk through the arching tunnels, peek through the window openings, and follow the sinewy lines that flow throughout.

Volunteers have been helping with the construction as well as collecting and trimming branches.  Volunteer coordinator Amy Landon says that the project is so popular that it has been a challenge to be sure that everyone who wants to help is assigned a time.  Some come for horticultural therapy and others for a new sort of artistic expression.  Dougherty, a North Carolina native who has been creating these ephemeral structures all over the country for 30 years, is good at weaving people together as well, greeting each newcomer as well as passers-by and setting everyone to work.  “Without the volunteers, this would be a much smaller,” he says.  Kneeling next to a recently arrived worker, he directs “Pull this thru in this direction” for inserting saplings; later Dougherty completes the pieces by dressing out the openings and finishing the flow of  an organic “line logic” throughout.

After a few years, the wood will begin to decompose, and be recycled.  For now, the leaves are still fresh, green and fragrant, with small willow flowers and fluffy seeds floating through the air as twigs are worked into the maze.  Much of the willow was collected locally, at Tallgrass Farm near McAfee in Mercer county.   Changing light throughout the day highlights hidden tunnels.  For now, this work is very much a living work of art.

A special celebration to mark the completion and unveiling of this project is scheduled for Thursday, April 26 at 2:30 p.m.

Another great time to visit is Bernheim’s BloomFest on May 19.  Many free activities are scheduled, including Woodland Faeries, nature discovery stations, Kentucky craft artists, as well as a plant sale.

For information about all of these events and more, CLICK HERE:  Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest

To read more about Patrick Dougherty and his work, CLICK HERE

To read more Inside/Out & About, CLICK HERE