Hermann Park is a 445-acre ecological and cultural gem in the center of Houston. The Hermann Park Conservancy is key to the park’s success as a public space and has commissioned an accomplished body of artists to display work that speaks to the mission and history of the park.
“Art in the Park” will celebrate the centennial anniversary of the park throughout 2014. The program will be made up of nine installations of loans and site-specific commissions by big names in the contemporary art scene, including artists Trenton Doyle Hancock, Ugo Rondinone, Louise Bourgeois, and Orly Genger. Patrick Dougherty’s “Boogie Woogie” promises to appeal to architects throughout the city and state.
Dougherty has completed more than 200 installations of incredible stick sculptures. A professional in hospital and health administration until the age of 36, Dougherty left that world to focus on his passion for primitive construction techniques, and today, he is an architect’s artist.
His iconic “Stickwork” series showcases his craftsmanship and in-depth exploration of sculptural, structural forms made up of intertwined, woven tree saplings. Dougherty gathers local flora native to the area, and each sculpture speaks to the sense of place where it is installed. It is a body of work that respects regional ecology and the natural lifespan of the materials used to build the pieces. The inevitable result is that the sculpture decomposes, returning to the earth. Nothing is wasted and no artificial materials are introduced nor left behind.
With his piece in Hermann Park, “Boogie Woogie,” over two tons of Chinese tallow samplings were collected from the future site of Generation Park off Beltway 8 in northeast Houston. More than 1,000 man-hours, with the help of 150 volunteers, resulted in a piece that
speaks volumes of Hermann Park’s rich history. It was envisioned by Dougherty as a “Garden of Eden.” The woven, dense mesh of Chinese tallow is a gathering space where people of all ages can wander effortlessly. Set beneath a series of large live oak trees at the foot of the reflecting pool, the sculpture sits quietly nestled in the foliage, blending seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.
From a distance, “Boogie Woogie” appears as a solid adobe structure, yet the sculpture is transparent with a series of openings that thoughtfully frame the surrounding park from the inside and capture the activity looking inward. The interwoven texture of the piece flows with ease along an internal path as if the structure were driven upward by the wind and frozen in time. As in much of Dougherty’s work, the structure allows each person an individual journey that will change as “Boogie Woogie” deteriorates, evolving over its lifespan.
As one of many pieces to be installed over the next year to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Hermann Park, “Boogie Woogie” is an important addition to public art in Houston. With over six million visitors a year, the park is an essential resource for the city — it is irreplaceable. Urban settings ripe with activity and interaction are constantly evolving and changing. Parks where people can simply “be” are often understated and overlooked.
The centennial anniversary provides a good opportunity to focus on the role of the Hermann Park and its value for the residents of Houston. Although it is a shame that visitors will only be able to experience “Boogie Woogie” firsthand for a limited time, it seems fitting that something this in tune with the mission of Hermann Park will ultimately decompose, returning to the ground for the next 100 years.
Michael Friebele, Assoc. AIA, is an architect in Dallas.
This article is online content for Texas Architect March/April 2014.