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patrick dougherty masks (one)

Here’s Looking at You, Patrick Dougherty installation at Bosque School,
Albuquerque, October 2009, photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
One evening last week I went to see North Carolina artist Patrick Dougherty give a talk to an audience of parents, students, faculty and staff of Bosque School, plus a few members of the broader Albuquerque community. The turnout was solid. All seats were filled, yet I couldn’t help but lament how tucked away this globally recognized, soft-spoken artist was—how very hidden his presence in our city was to the public at large. And just how much they were missing by not being here.
 
Dougherty was guest artist at the independent Bosque School (grades 6-12) from October 5-23. According to the multi-arts organization collaborative LAND/ART, which sponsored the sculptor, Dougherty was here to create “a site-specific work on the grounds of the school adjoining the Rio Grande Valley State Park, using willow saplings harvested from the site and involving the students and teachers in the process.” (Bosque School is known for the way it incorporates study of the adjacent cottonwood forest—also known as “the bosque“—and river into its Science curriculum.)
 
This was Dougherty’s first time working with students this age. He’s done installations at museums, university and college campuses, and on sites of all types, from Ireland to France, Connecticut to California—over 200 works in the US, Asia, and Europe over the past two-plus decades.

He wasn’t in New Mexico to create art in a highly visible public space. His primary job was to work with students and teachers. The installation was open to the public most days and weekends during his stay, and many people took advantage of visiting hours. But still, hearing him speak on a late afternoon in October was like stumbling upon the city’s best kept art secret.
 
 
 
 
 

patrick dougherty (the man)        patrick dougherty land art 3

Patrick Dougherty poses for a shot after his talk (left), building the installation
required scaffolding (right), which visitors were sometimes allowed to climb,
October 2009, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
Drawing with sticks
 
Dougherty began his talk by walking the audience through a slideshow, starting with images of the log cabin home he built by hand, then moving to samples of his installations. He was funny and charming and deep in an unassuming way. He told us that he thinks about sticks as drawing material. “Consider the stick as a line,” he suggested, talking to us as if we were fellow artists.

His favorite piece, which he said he liked precisely because of its good lines, was “Tension Zones,” installed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 1995 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. (Unfortunately, the only image I found was in a hard-to-read archived article from the Milwaukee Sentinel.)
 
He went on to talk about his work in three ways, showing examples of each:

  1. Architecture: Many of his installations have an interplay with buildings. Stick sculptures climb walls, cap towers, or lean into buildings.
  2. Trees: Dougherty often uses trees as “a matrix.” He might make use of the limbs, trunks, or the canopy of the tree, building his installation in relation to one or all of those parts. He showed us pieces that seemed to sprout leaves in spring and shed them in winter.
  3. No thing: Many of his installations, he said, were built in “just space,” indoors or outdoors. 
     

After the talk, members of the audience had many questions. “How did the students catch on?” someone asked. “Great,” Dougherty said, “we know all about sticks; it’s the Hunter-Gatherer in our blood.” He reminded us that the stick is a universal play thing for all children. They use sticks to draw in the dirt, as instruments, building material, weapons, and utensils.
 
 
 
 
 

drawing with sticks (two)    drawing with sticks (one)

Drawing-with-sticks details from the Bosque School installation,
October 2009, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
Two Years and Three Weeks
 
Dougherty’s pieces generally have the same lifespan as that of a stick, which is about two years. After two years, most installations come down.

In an interview (date unknown) on Don’t Panic Online, Dougherty talked about the temporary nature of his work:
 
 

I think that part of my work’s allure is its impermanence, the life cycle that is built into the growth and decay of saplings. My focus has always been the process of building a work and allowing those who pass to enjoy the daily changes or drama of building a sculpture as well as the final product. However, the line between trash and treasure is thin, and the sculptures, like the sticks they are made from, begin to fade after two years.  Often the public imagines that a work of art should be made to last, but I believe that a sculpture, like a good flower bed, has its season.

 
Other highlights from Dougherty’s talk include (italics direct quotes; the rest paraphrased):
 

  • On Art and Being an Artist: The art world is not a wall; it’s a loose-knit group of people. Artists are just normal people who are looking for their place in the world.
  •  

  • On finding that Place in the world: Hysteria rides on the shoulder of every creative person.
  •  

  • On building his own house, a log cabin: He wanted to build a house that was functional, with no maintenance once it was done. That way he could live and work there when the money wasn’t rolling in.
  •  

  • On living in North Carolina: Lots of maples in North Carolina, and the stones there have color. Some places have a lot of stones, but they’re not different colors like they are in North Carolina.
  •  

  • On using willows to build art: Every time you cut the base of the willow, you get twice as many sticks that grow back. (Which was good to hear, given that my daughter was worried that nature was being sacrified for art. It wasn’t.)
  •  

  • On how long it takes: Dougherty stays for about three weeks in each locale, which, he joked, is about the maximum amount of time before his hosts get sick of him.
  •  

  • On climbing the pieces: Please don’t. Even though the structures are solid due to the layers and layers of sticks, as well as the stick foundations that gird them, climbing tends to destroy the surface over time. However, people (drunk adults, especially!) love to climb the sculptures.
  • On whether the students liked it: They loved it, although they felt at times constrained by doing things the way Dougherty wanted. In order to give the kids some freedom, there were three experimental installations where the students could do whatever they wanted.


 
 
 
 

patrick dougherty land art 4   experimentation with patrick dougherty

Long view of the installation (left), and looking out from inside an experimental
sculpture, October 2009, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





Brown meets Green

After the talk we were invited to go outside to see the installation and walk around and inside of it. The piece is made up of three two-sided heads, like masks with eyes and noses, which, according to Dougherty, are a combination kachina and Green Man, who often can be seen adorning ancient cathedrals.

The masks were much larger than I had expected. I’d seen them just a few days before during an admissions open house at the school, but my viewing was brief plus I was distracted by the other goings-on. In my mind’s eye, the sculptures were about twice as large as a person. Wrong! They are many times taller than the average person, as you can see by the photo below, which shows someone standing in the doorway/mouth of one of the masks.

The best part of the event was watching people of all ages marvel at the creations. Inside, outside, peeking around corners. A father dressed in a suit and tie (he must have come straight from work) played a sort of hide-and-seek tag with his two daughters, running in and out of each structure. I walked slowly into the giant heads, looking at elegant lines of the willows and taking in the most wondrous fragrance of sage and willow. One woman turned to me and exclaimed, “If only we could bottle that smell!”

The sun was sinking as the visitors scattered. I went over to the experimental installations. The sticks were not nearly as tightly layered as in the giant masks, but they had shape and structure. What an opportunity to learn with a master. Art in the Schools like it’s never been done before.




patrick dougherty masks (three)







More information on Patrick Dougherty


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Cotton pickin’ cottonwood, detail of the cotton produced by
the female cottonwood out near our back patio, photos ©
2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.
 
 
 
 
…or is it prolific?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I’m a giant cottonwood, tall and stout
I make lots of cotton if there is no drought
When I get a bloomin’ then I shout
Just watch my cotton blow all about

 
 
 
 
Whatever the case may be, this particular Rio Grande cottonwood produces a heck of lot of cotton. The tree is female. You can tell by the seeds she produces in early spring, which by late spring dry and split open, revealing tufts of cotton. Breezes pick up the cotton, carrying it for miles.

Yesterday, almost eight weeks after this tree starting shedding cotton everywhere, I drove slowly on my way from work on the look-out for other cottonwoods that still had giant blobs of cotton yet to shed. I didn’t find a one. Within about a mile from home, I noticed the small white cottony seeds, floating like snowflakes past my car. Is that from our cottonwood? I wondered.
 
For two months, we’ve raked cotton out of flowerbeds, picked it out of potted geraniums and roses, and scooped it out of our pond. Each time after we clean up, everything turns white again. We have never seen a tree produce this much cotton. Ever. And we’ve lived among Rio Grande Cottonwoods almost all our lives.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Last night, as has been the case many nights, this female cottonwood is the topic of our conversation. Jim and I gripe about the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. It is almost July and cotton is still dropping in clumps on the patio and in the pond. Dee, listening to us, interjects.

“My science teacher said the Cottonwood will become extinct in my lifetime.”

Jim and I stop complaining and look at one another. “Well, that may be,” Jim sadly concurs.

The Rio Grande Cottonwood is a flood-plain tree that reproduces by seeding. Described this way by Southwest journalist Jay W. Sharp, Once free, a seed, with a viable life of no more than a few days to a few weeks, begins a desperate, and usually a hopeless, race for survival. It must land on moist alluvial soil and swiftly extend roots toward subsurface water. If the soil dries too quickly, the seedling dies. Given sufficient moisture, however, the seedling may put down roots three- to five-feet deep in the course of a summer. If it survives trampling, fire, flood and animal feeding, it will become a fast-growing tree, always heavily dependent on a reliable water supply.

But because of Rio Grande water management — dams and channels that hold back spring floods — and overgrazing and population growth, which reduce the water table, the tree is in peril.

As is often the case, a child’s innocent statement snaps us out of our disgruntled state. Instead of focusing on the work it’s taken to keep up with this one female tree, we should be sitting back and admiring her abundance. Surely a handful of her many, many seeds will make it to wet soil somewhere out there and go on to perpetuate that most characteristic feature of this Rio Grande Valley — the cottonwood.
 
 
 

Rio Grande Cottonwood Facts

 

  • Cottonwood trees are dioecious, meaning they have male and female flowers on separate trees. The female tree produces cotton, and the male tree (cotton-less) produces pollen.
  • The Cottonwood is a member of the Willow family and the poplar genus. The Rio Grande Cottonwood (populus deltoides) is a fast-growing tree; it is a variety of the Eastern Cottonwood, which is the fastest growing tree in North America.
  • The Rio Grande Cottonwood was often a welcome sight to travelers in the desert because it signaled the presence of water nearby.
  • These trees typically reach the height of 50-60 feet, although some of the grand old trees in the bosque (forest) are 90 feet tall, with trunks five feet in diameter.
  • Young cottonwoods take years to mature and flower, which is why some female cottonwoods can suddenly start producing cotton after years of no cotton production.
  • Some municipalities have ordinances against female cottonwoods, as the windborne cotton is viewed as a public nuisance.
  • The Southwest’s riparian forests — woodlands along banks of streams or rivers (what we call the bosque) —are now among the most threatened woodlands of North America.
  • Local carvers have traditionally used roots from the cottonwood that have been undercut and swept downriver to make their spiritual art (Pueblo Indians make kachina dolls and Hispanic santeros make bultos). As cottonwoods vanish, the carvers are forced to buy their wood.
  • In many communities along the Rio Grande, there is now an effort to plant and repopulate the cottonwood to ensure its survival, as it is part of our history and our culture. Time will tell whether these actions succeed.




The Rio Grande Cottonwood’s disappearance from the banks of Southwestern streams and rivers can now be regarded as a metaphor for our relentless abuse of the environment of the desert Southwest.

~Jay W. Sharp



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By Linda Weissinger Lupowitz



Our Preserve, a sign in the Corrales Bosque Preserve, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Our Preserve, a sign in the Corrales Bosque Preserve, which is part of the Rio Grande Bosque, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




The Rio Grande supports a ribbon of green oasis along its length, from its beginnings in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, to its junction with the Gulf of Mexico. In New Mexico much of this oasis is a native bosque (Spanish for woods) of Rio Grande cottonwood, together with a few other shrubs and trees, alongside a burr-reed and willow marsh. The marshland was once extensive along the river, sustained by the yearly floods which replenished the water table and fertilized the soil. Now this marshland is rare, found only in places where mudflats persist and drainage from diversion channels keeps the soil relatively moist.

~from Jim Swan’s Rio Grande Bosque




Footprints on North Beach, Corrales Bosque Preserve along the Rio Grande, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reservedWinter walking in the Corrales bosque is cool and quiet—I hear only the sound of my shoes on the forest floor, and my own breathing. Wind vibrates faded yellow leaves hanging high above—now and then a leaf twists off, clatters down, bumping through branches to land in the path. The trails are private and winding, at times damp with snow in the shade, or most often deep, soft chalky dust, pocked by paw prints, hoof prints, bicycle tracks.

Horse – Bicycle – Pedestrian – who yields to whom? The triangular sign shows the walker yields to both.

Towering above are the textured trunks of twisted cottonwood trees, adorned with mistletoe, sometimes raucous with hundreds of crows, chanting among rattling old leaves.

On gravel bars along the river, the geese sun themselves, all facing south; a laughing duck, or the shadow of an intruder disturbs the peace. At once, a hundred Canada geese flap up in procession, wheeling into the western sun, their white breasts reflecting gold, dark wings working. Circling over the bosque, formations gather, call and respond—flying shadows ripple across the sunlit canopy.



Geese gather on the Rio Grande, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Geese gather on the Rio Grande, photo ©
2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




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Seasons change: a reminder that I have been here, walking and watching, for what seems like a very long time. At about age 40, I found out I could stroll out the back door without anyone hanging on my leg. I walk dogless these days.

Once in a wet year a giant hollow tree fell across the path, roots rudely exposed, grubs and ants and toadstools, stacked like dinner plates. Little kids clambered the slippery trunk: a mossy bridge, a balance beam. Now decades later a part of the architecture of the forest, silvery and smooth, the worn log is carved with hearts and names and charred like an old bone.

New green leaves of foresteria unfold, the orange-blossom scent of Russian olive penetrates. Cotton flies on the air, puffs and piles on the understory like a summer snowfall. We watch for signs of rain, we wish for rain. Glorious yellow Pecos sunflowers, multi-headed black-eyed Susan, preside over summer meadows, as brilliant purple asters endure long after frost has bleached the tall grass.

Here in the shelter of the bosque, the howling wind on the mesa is tamed to a smart breeze, tamarisk petals spray a soft pink glow in early spring, or, in autumn, Hallowe’en-orange flames contrast with black trunks silhouetted against the tangled underbrush. It is an evolving landscape, weeds and waters never the same for long. One flush spring I wade through high runoff to reach the small patch of silky sand, watch the clouds change and shadows slip across the face of Sandia—but now that wash is dry, a thicket of red coyote willow. The beach yields to mud and cockle-burrs, the sand shifts south.



Bending Cottonwoods, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Bending Cottonwoods, photo © 2009
by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




Rio Grande: a big nombre, this shallow stream does not seem worthy of, but it’s all we’ve got. Mud-olive brown, rippling with mystery, source in the clean headwaters of the Colorado High Country, way above Taos, up in the meandering creeks and bogs of Creede. All the way down to Mexico, it rolls on by us.

Two Sandhill Cranes, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reservedIn winter, the mirrored surface gleams an ice-blue reflection of the sky. Sandia sparkles with new snow, while I soak up the white-hot light on a bright beach—safe, miles from anyone, minutes from home. “So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, / Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn.” (Wordsworth)

The bosque is home to roadrunners and snakes, lizards, cottontails, turtles and peeping quail. Sandhill cranes, like feathered dinosaurs, walking absurdly on stick legs, clumsy taking off, and stunning in unlikely flight, wings creaking just overhead.

 
Rope swings out over the shallows, promising cool breezes on a hot day, sun and shadow, shadow and sun. Boys whack sticks, dogs chase sticks into the currents, chug smiling with a slimey log, shake on the shore. Step around coyote scat and green horse piles. Sleek bicyclists in their brilliant bodysuits speed by the slow walker.

(The rope-swing cottonwood tree, snapped and graffiti’d, lays on the bank now, with only the fading notes of children’s voices—the home-schoolers and the unschoolers and kids just let out of school for summer—reminding us that this was once a grand tree, to swing up, out and over a grande river.)


Rope swing by the Rio Grande, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Rope swing by the Rio Grande, photo ©
2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.



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Last winter I was surprised by a locked gate at Romero Road, so I hiked in along the lateral ditch. A huge truck loaded with trees and brush drove by me, while from the north came the whining machine sounds of saws and chippers. What could be going on? I was afraid to ask.

Months later, on a March afternoon, I headed south on foot from the North Beach and was shocked and saddened beyond words at the recent clear-cutting and scraping of all non-native species, dead wood and brush from the bosque, for “fuel load reduction.”

In the dry Southwest, fire danger is a legitimate concern. Sadly, in the name of safety and conservation, an aggressive attack has been sustained against the ecosystem of the undergrowth…so much is gone.

At what price do we protect property, but abandon the beauty and peace of nature that sustains this fragile life?

Where have the animals and birds who lived here gone now? You can drive a semi through the woods; nothing but chipped mulch, stumps, and silence.




Cleared out, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reservedBridled weasel, found in the bosque dead, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Cleared out (left) and Bridled weasel (right), a section of cleared bosque and recently dead wildlife, photos © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




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At the Corrales Bosque Advisory Commission meeting last year, February 14, the mayor and several Village Council members heard pleas from villagers distressed by the excessive clearing of brush, dead wood, and non-native vegetative species in the preserve.

A temporary stop-work order was given based on public outcry, but has not halted this ongoing effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, despite the severe loss of habitat in what is supposedly a “nature preserve.” It seems the title is negotiable.

The jetty-jacks—those triangulated metal spikes linked by cable, installed in the bosque decades ago to protect the levees from debris in case of flood, are now ecologically unwanted, prevent big trucks from moving around, and it takes a “Little Giant” to remove them—along with all the vegetation that has grown up around them. Flood control has caused disruption in the natural cycles, so they say.

They say this old deciduous cottonwood forest is dying, anyway. That it needs to be flooded and managed, control-burned and levee’d, systematically scraped and rid of noxious trees and wildflowers. New cottonwood trees need to replace the aging generation, but the seedlings are not surviving. Councils clamor about waste-water, septic, sewers and salinization, as the bosque becomes a battleground for groundwater.


linda-10-small

Beware of tree, photo © 2009
by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




They say that tamarisk and Russian olive are illegally drinking, and ducks have no business roosting in the cattails. That the cottonwood giants, lightning-struck and mistletoe-bedecked, will fall into shattered hollow logs, in my lifetime, if I live to see the day. Maybe my kids, or my grandchildren, will see this happen. Maybe they are right, I admit, I don’t know. I hope not.

This Rio Grande—it’s just a narrow strip of life through the wide desert, source of irrigation for the valley: Without it, there would be no apple orchards, chile fields, cornfields or lush pasture with beautiful horses. From the air, the bosque is a green snake in a sere, windy brown world—we call with irony, upon landing at Albuquerque: Planet Dune.


Clear ditch afternoon, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Clear ditch afternoon, photo © 2009
by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




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Via Oreada

Walking out through the south entrance to the Corrales bosque on a Sunday afternoon, I pass by a Mexican family with a KFC picnic, fishing the clear ditch; giggling children chasing a chihuahua; two lovers arm in arm talking softly in Tewa, on a bridge over a culvert of rushing brown water.

A cartoonish Roadrunner cocks his yellow eye and scolds me for getting too close to his perch on the business end of Little Giant, a yellow machine with a toothy maw: what we used to call a “steam shovel.”

I stop to look at the posted signs. “Flora and Fauna of the Bosque Preserve” illustrates an idyllic scene of happy co-existence—Coyote and Beaver, wild Turkey, Muskrat, Toad and Frog, Weasel, Hawk and field Mouse, Skunk and Owl … There is no human in the picture, I recall, except my own reflection in the glass.

The sign says:

Our Preserve is home to a fragile plant and animal community which needs our consideration. Please remember that these living things depend on us to leave their habitat undisturbed and unimpaired for future generations.

This area of thirty acres, Via Oreada, is slated for extensive clearing by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start this spring 2009.



Ready to rumble, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Ready to rumble, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.






Linda Weissinger Lupowitz lives, works, and writes in Corrales, New Mexico. She has been walking in the bosque since 1982. You can see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Fire Restoration map and plan for the Corrales Bosque Preserve here. And you can read more of Linda’s writing on her blog, C. Little, no less, or on the red Ravine post The Face You Wore Before You Were Born.

[NOTE: A shorter version of this essay will be published in an upcoming issue of the Corrales Comment, a local newspaper for the village of Corrales.]



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