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Arts Commission Announces New Installation by Artist Patrick Dougherty
Patrick Dougherty, The Upper Crust. Photo: Perretti & Park Pictures - Courtesy of the San Francisco Arts Commission.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Luis R. Cancel, Director of Cultural Affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission, announced the completion of a new environmental artwork by acclaimed artist Patrick Dougherty. The Upper Crust consists of a series of conical forms comprised of 18,000 pounds of freshly cut willow saplings interwoven into the tops of the sycamore trees located on the south-end of Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza, across from San Francisco’s City Hall. On view through November 2009, the sculpture will continue to evolve in appearance with the seasons as the trees begin to bear leaves in the spring and as the foliage changes color and falls in autumn.

“Patrick Dougherty’s incredible sculpture is representative of the Arts Commission’s commitment to enriching our community by bringing some of the world’s most provocative contemporary artists to the Bay Area,” stated Luis R. Cancel, Director of Cultural Affairs for San Francisco. “The artist’s masterful synthesis of art and nature makes this sculpture a wonderful symbol of Mayor Newsom’s plan to transform the Civic Center into a global model for a more sustainable future.”

The Upper Crust is Patrick Dougherty’s first project in San Francisco. The artist was chosen through the Commission’s online solicitation of qualifications for the Temporary Projects in Natural Settings Initiative, which was funded by the Art Enrichment monies generated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s capitol projects. An internationally recognized artist, Dougherty is widely-known for his large-scale sculptures woven from tree saplings that often incorporate existing natural landmarks such as trees. His method emphasizes sustainability with the use of recycled materials and with careful attention paid to the health and integrity of the sculptures’ natural surroundings. Such as in the case of The Upper Crust, his sculptural forms are created without an internal structure, wire, hardware or any outside means of attachment. Before embarking on the project, Dougherty made two site visits and met with Dennis Kern, Chief Operating Officer of the Recreation & Park Department, to ensure the wellbeing of the sycamore trees as well as the stability of the sculptures.

“We had a very productive meeting with Patrick where we discussed our concerns. The artist explained his process, and we felt confident that his sculptures would work in harmony with the trees’ natural growing cycle and that the trees would not sustain harm throughout the duration of the installation,” stated Dennis Kern.

The artist’s expertise at working in concord with his natural surroundings is evidenced in The Upper Crust. With the help of several assistants, three of which were local San Francisco artists, Dougherty carefully wove the willow saplings through the sycamore tree branches so that they could extend beyond the sculpture as they continue to grow. He also distributed the weight of each sculpture onto two trees and created an opening, or “window”, so that light could filter in to facilitate the growing process. The sculptural forms begin to take shape approximately 8 feet above ground and are approximately 18 feet high. The Upper Crust exemplifies Dougherty’s mastery at bending and flexing the material, which results in a joyful and exuberant collision of art and nature.

The willow branches used in the sculpture are a natural by-product of the pruning and life cycle of the willow trees. The saplings used range in size from finger to wrist width. The saplings were obtained from The Willow Farm in Pescadero. Some of the trees from which the saplings were obtained are more than 50 years old.

The Arts Commission will provide a free docent tour for the public on the first Tuesday of every month from 12:00 noon to 1:00 PM, starting on Tuesday, March 3, 2009.

Patrick Dougherty is an internationally recognized sculptor who uses tree saplings as his artistic medium. His interest in nature and its inherent magic dates back to his youth in rural North Carolina where he would build trees houses, forts, lean-tos and hide-outs to the delight of his many younger siblings. His work, which is created by interweaving branches and twigs together, alludes to nests, cocoons,
hives, and lairs built by animals, as well as the manmade forms of huts, haystacks, and baskets. His work typically appears 'found' rather than made, as if the natural forces of a tornado had created it. Dougherty intentionally tries for this effortless effect, as if his creations just fell from the sky in a gust of wind or grew up naturally in their settings.

Patrick Dougherty has created nearly 200 site-specific sculptures in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia over the past 20 years. His work has been displayed at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., and the American Crafts Museum in New York City, among other places.

Dougherty has received many honors and awards, including the Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grant, the Henry Moore Foundation Fellowship and several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Dougherty's work has been the subject of more than 100 articles and reviews in publications including The New York Times and the Washington Post. He resides in North Carolina with his wife and family. His work may be viewed on his website at

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