Updated: 9:02 a.m. Thursday, May 5, 2011 | Posted: 6:08 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sculpture/maze to open today at Wegerzyn

Volunteers help renown artist create unique interactive attraction.


Sculpture/maze to open today at Wegerzyn photo
Artist Patrick Dougherty and volunteers including Grady Larkins of Dayton (pushing wheelbarrow) put the finishing touches on a massive sculpture made from thousands of woven saplings at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark in Dayton Tuesday April 19. The serpentine like sculpture will be completed this Friday and a grand opening will be held Thursday May 5. A hundred volunteers have participated in the three week project.

By Meredith Moss

Staff Writer

DAYTON — The ribbon cutting on the massive outdoor twig sculpture just completed by internationally known woven-wood artist Patrick Dougherty — and a slew of committed local volunteers — will take place at 10:30 a.m. today at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark.

It’s called “A Wiggle in Its Walk,” and visitors will find themselves both wiggling and walking as they make their way around and inside the giant creation. Dougherty says his serpentine structure, originally designed to “slither in amongst the bushes and trees,” was inspired by Ohio’s serpent mounds.

Finishing up on his final days last week, Dougherty said the sculpture turned out “a little less snakelike and a little more maze-like.”

The installation is one of 225 that the artist has created at botanical gardens and museums throughout the United States and around the world.

Dougherty says it’s his largest — about 14 feet high and 200 feet long — and fashioned of three-and-a-half semi loads of black willows harvested over a two-week period from Englewood’s North Park.

Almost 150 volunteers — anxious to work hands-on with a renowned artist in the creation of an unusual piece of art — flocked to Wegerzyn from garden clubs and youth groups, colleges and organic farms. They came from all over western Ohio, including Springboro, Troy, Cincinnati, Tipp City, Kettering and Waynesville.

Jobs included bundling and carrying willow branches, pounding/tamping willow uprights into the ground, and weaving and bending the willows.

Nathan Ward, 32, rose at 6:30 a.m. three times a week to make the trip from Columbus while the sculpture was under construction. He’d been fascinated, he says, by an article about Dougherty he’d seen in the New York Times.

“It was exhausting because I work at a bar and have a late schedule,” says Ward, who’s already promised Dougherty to show up as a worker the next time he’s in the region.

That’s partly, says Ward, because Dougherty has a special relationship with his volunteers.

“Most people in his position would be very nit-picky but his whole style of working is very free-flow,” says Ward, whose primary job was to solidify the walls of the sculpture and give them shape and form. “He never told me anything I did was wrong, and that kinda blew my mind. You expect someone to control more, but he has a free spirit about him. He is fundamentally a really good human being.”

Bob Butts, assistant volunteer coordinator, had scheduled eight people per day over the three-week assembly period but says others just started showing up.

“Patrick would say: ‘Let them come, we’ll use them,’ ” says Butts. “We had a young woman who was visually impaired and came to help. Patrick set her up and within five minutes she got it and was weaving twigs into a wall.

“It’s so perfect that it’s next to the children’s garden,” said Butts, who also said he believes the artist’s choice of location was ideal. “The whole point of the thing was to really connect kids back to nature. So we have this giant sculpture that is interactive and resembles an actual snake, and it’s filled with nooks and little fort areas where kids can play.”

Butts had expected the sculpture to emerge as a “tall interactive tornado.”

“But Patrick wanted to exploit the symmetry of the formal space,” he says. “He wanted curves, and he included these wonderful windows that give you views of the garden. It’s masterful the way he made use of the space and the views and the setting.”

Dougherty joked that in just three weeks he’d had the “total Dayton experience,” a crazy range of weather conditions. He and his volunteers worked through lots of rain to remain on schedule.

So what’s the best way to approach this new piece of installation art?

Says the artist: “Just come and have a good time.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2440 or mmoss@DaytonDailyNews.com.

How to go

What: Official opening, ribbon-cutting for Patrick Dougherty’s sculpture “A Wiggle in Its Walk”

When: 10:30 a.m. today

Where: Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark, North Plaza, 1301 E. Siebenthaler, Dayton

Also: Docent tours of the sculpture, formal and children’s gardens and nature trails will be offered.

More information: (937) 277-6545 or visit www.metroparks.org/dougherty


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