The Life and Times of So Inclined
For four years, one month, and two days, a temporary installation by international sculpture artist Patrick Dougherty stood sentry outside the Mahaney Center for the Arts. So Inclined, made of locally harvested twigs, was one of the most visited and loved pieces of outdoor art on campus. It held up longer than anyone anticipated, and this fall the artist and the College decided to dismantle it before it became unsafe.
Dougherty has created more than 225 installations around the world in places like museums, sculpture parks, private homes, colleges, and businesses. His works are almost always large-scale and often incorporate playful swirls and shapes. So Inclined consisted of nine seemingly windblown towers nestled together. “I purposely situated the piece prominently at the entrance where the sidewalks converge,” said Dougherty. “I wanted to interrupt the flow of traffic in the hopes that people would stop and engage with the work.”
Dougherty first came to Middlebury in the spring of 2006 to meet with members of the Committee for Art in Public Places and scout out the proposed site for his installation. The committee, chaired by Museum of Art Director Richard Saunders, oversees the selection and implementation of the campus’s collection of accessible and distinguished public art.
The artist’s next visit was in September 2007, when he arrived to install the work. After harvesting local hardwood saplings from nearby stream banks, Dougherty did what he always does before getting to work: he called on the community for help.
At the heart of Dougherty’s artistic mission is his commitment to engage the community, make use of local materials, and leave behind a standing testament to the collaborative process. So with the help of more than 230 volunteers—including Middlebury students, staff, and faculty, as well as local schoolchildren and community members—Dougherty worked for 20 consecutive days to complete So Inclined.
Everyone was encouraged to stop by the site during the assembly, whether to lend a hand or simply contemplate the progress. “It’s a public process,” said Dougherty. “A lot of people just watch. But some people just walk up and tell me what they think I should be doing.”
One art teacher who brought her students on several occasions to help strip the limbs of leaves and assemble them for the artist was Eileen Gombosi of St. Mary’s School. “They were so excited to be a part of the process with the artist himself,” she said. “It only made it all the more special when we returned again and again to sketch the sculpture or just play in it. They are sad to see it go, but they’ll also never forget it.”
Twisted sticks. Twig huts. Cone houses. The playful swirls of limbs enjoyed multiple nicknames from students, townspeople, and even passing tourists. One thing they weren’t was unnoticed.
“We were surprised it lasted as long as it did,” said Museum Curator Emmie Donadio. “But so many people have enjoyed it while it was here.”
On a frosty October morning, a few workers from Facilities Services were the earliest—and final—visitors to the sculpture. A well-maneuvered backhoe, three sets of strong arms, and a flatbed truck made short work of disassembling the remarkably sturdy towers. Dry limbs snapped easily in the chilly air, and in just a few hours, So Inclined was no more. As a few passersby stopped to watch, the truck pulled out with its final load of crushed twigs and headed for the stump dump where So Inclined will become the much-needed mulch that is used all over campus to protect and nourish the College’s trees and shrubs.