Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/MARCIA SCHNEDLER
Patrick Dougherty’s large-scale installation, The Big Naturals, stands outside Baum Gallery at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
CONWAY -- That's not an encampment left behind by some rustic civilization on the lawn near the entrance to Baum Gallery at the University of Central Arkansas. It's a large work of sculptural art set outside a museum known for its engaging temporary exhibits.
The current indoor show, on display through Feb. 16, is titled "Pathways." Arrayed in the Baum's three galleries and an adjacent hallway, it features nearly 70 examples of large-format and experimental printmaking. Some of the works are whimsical, while others may provoke deeper and even disturbing thoughts.
A sense of tension below the placid surface infuses Kristin Powers Nowlin's 2014 woodblock print titled Delicious and Refreshing. It shows what might be a plantation setting in the antebellum South. On the porch sit a gentleman who might be a planter, next to a young woman, possibly his daughter, who is playing a stringed instrument. A black woman, probably a slave, is bringing a tray of drinks. A black girl looks on and another black figure peers out a window.
A pair of digital prints created last year by Shelley Gipson give an ominous hint of vertigo. Black Waves/The Way Down and Jump Off a Cliff/Stair both picture girls who might be teens plunging downward in midair. Something scary seems to be going on, with the viewer's imagination left to fill in a narrative.
As for the conspicuous outdoor construction, it was created in fall 2014 by nationally renowned artist Patrick Dougherty. Titled The Big Naturals, in homage to Arkansas' "Natural State" nickname, it was constructed with the help of more than 300 volunteers from UCA and elsewhere around Conway.
A four-minute video on the Baum website (uca.edu/art/baum) shows the environmental sculpture under construction and features commentary by Dougherty as well as former gallery director Barclay McConnell.
She explains that Dougherty "uses sticks as material, weaving them together in a drawing-like pattern." The local volunteers under his direction spent three days gathering wood from ash, willow and winged elm trees in the woods around Conway.
Dougherty, who lives in North Carolina, has been doing his "stick art" for three decades. He has built more than 250 such works across the United States and overseas in locations ranging from Scotland to Japan.
His starting point for creation of The Big Naturals came from photographs "of winsome African women dancing and throwing their skirts out around them in dance moves. This suggested a habitation that had a skirt around it that was being swirled as the women moved, using the tapered sticks themselves to suggest a kind of vitality and movement in the surface of the work."
As McConnell points out in the video, sculptures like Dougherty's are eventually degraded by weather and other factors. The Big Naturals, now more than 3 years old, still looks sturdy. But it probably should be seen sooner rather than later.
Another UCA attraction, Dr. Edmond E. Griffin Planetarium, puts on free astronomical programs open to the public during the academic year. The one-hour shows, starting at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, include a telescope tour of that evening's sky and special theme presentation.
Showing Friday and Saturday as well as Feb. 16-17 will be "The Hot and Energetic Universe." It explores high-energy astrophysics, "which plays a key role in understanding the universe."
Baum Gallery, in the west wing of McCastlain Hall, 201 Donaghey Ave., Conway, on the University of Central Arkansas campus, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and Friday as well as 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday, from September through April. Admission is free, with donations welcome. Visit uca.edu/art/baum or call (501) 450-3793.
Dr. Edmond E. Griffin Planetarium is located in UCA's Conway Corporation Center for the Sciences. The shows are free. For directions and other details, visit uca.edu/physics/planetarium or call (501) 450-5900.
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