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Ode to Thatch

Recently my architect husband took me to see something unusual.  We were in Ketchum and Sun Valley, Idaho.  We had a bit of time to wander among the galleries and shops and were in an "ART" frame of mind after visiting some excellent exhibits.  He led me to something he had already discovered, having arrived there earlier in the week for a painting class.

He explained that we would be visiting the site of a future art center for the area.  I expected to see architectural models or at least some renderings displayed to preview the coming attractive building, undoubtedly very cutting edge by some well known “starchitect”.

As we got closer to the address, I became a little unsettled.  Instead of a sleek new concept, occupying the spot of the future art center was some type of bush in the shape of a hut.  In fact, there was a little collection of twig and brush structures.  These creations were a little larger than a Preston Hollow playhouse, but not much.  An adult could walk into the conical shaped rooms and stand upright, peering up to the oculus above.  The swirling, twisting limbs and reeds, were entwined without any nails or fasteners, resulting in a textural form that felt strangely comforting. 

I was reminded of an absolutely terrific “clubhouse” that we neighborhood children had created out of uprooted trees, their tangled roots forming a thready canopy over us with the thick fallen masts of the trunks piled in just the right configuration to create a hidden sanctuary that was magical.  I thought too of the thatched cottages with their crooked branch porch posts, in Blaise Hamlet near Bristol in England. Those little houses were made of stone and rough wood and limbs of trees and had roses paving their walls and braiding over their grassy roofs.  

I have never been to the South Seas but I envision some grassy hut on tall stilts over water might have a similar charmingly twiggy effect.

But, what was this strange “building” in this small, fairly rural town? These buildings, constructed totally from indigenous and freely available materials, were built by Patrick Dougherty, a sculptor who “weaves tree saplings into the whirling, animated shapes that resemble tumbleweeds or gusts of winds…” according to Penelope Green of the New York Times.  Having never heard of Mr. Dougherty before two weeks ago in Idaho, I picked up the Times a few days after returning to Dallas and discovered a huge article about him.  This was a very happy coincidence because I wanted to know everything I could about someone who could create objects so endearing while odd, so technically complex yet seemingly artless, and most of all so totally fresh yet still archaic.

The newspaper article is a good one with lots of examples of Mr. Dougherty’s work and some revealing and true explanations of his work.  Ms. Green refers to his “wooly lairs and wild follies, gigantic snares, nests and cocoons, some woven into groves of trees, others lashed around buildings.”  Yet, for me, only touching, entering, experiencing the volumes and the sunlight sieving through the warp of the woven branches really explains what one of these works of art feels like.   The hole in the ceiling of the biggest conical building reminded me of the work of James Turrell in which an interior space fuses with the sky….or even like a Druid’s version of the Pantheon….with light flooding the center but dark edges all around.

South Carolina Botanical Gardens Clemson, South Carolina

Toad Hall Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Santa Barbara, California

Brahan Estate  Dingwall, Scottish Highlands

NaHale ‘o waiwi The Contemporary Art Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii

Art is found in the most unexpected places. 

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