‘One Fell Swoop’ invites a visit

One-of-a-kind sculpture at Chatfield location uses natural materials

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Curving entries almost suck you in as you stand in front of Patrick Dougherty’s swirling, swooping new Stickwork sculpture, “One Fell Swoop” on the lawn behind the Earl J. Sinnamon Visitor Center and Deer Creek Stables at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms southwest of Littleton.

For a number of years, Denver Botanic Gardens at York Street has hosted a summer sculpture exhibit, with perhaps an example at Chatfield, but it’s nice to see this major work appear in the south division of DBG. (There is also a sculpture show of figural works in the city garden.)

The artist said, in a radio interview, it was his 300th work built from fresh, flexible saplings and branches, sourced in this case from the gardens’ property and across Colorado. It opened to the public on April 27, after hours of building by volunteers who twisted and wove materials according to Dougherty’s design.

It is now included with entrance ticket to the gardens, where families will find in addition: historic farms, an original schoolhouse that was rescued from the site of Chatfield Lake, a number of specialized gardens (iris, heritage, prairie garden, pumpkin patch, etc.) and a large natural area, “native plant refuge,” along Deer Creek, reached by paved paths in some cases. Picnics are permitted.

The receptionist said at least four large trucks arrived bearing materials (all sustainably harvested, we are assured). Willow, choke cherry and more were found on the 700-acre gardens property as well as at other sites and the variety woven together lends a bright, striped quality and a woodsy smell to the new work.

“One Fell Swoop” is appealing and inviting to visitors. Reactions will probably vary from feeling a bit of magic as you enter to “how in the world does he do that???” Or both.

The visitor sees yellow, red, green, brown, shades of gray ... Of course, as it dries and ages, it will lose the contrasts and become a weathered gray-brown, becoming a different artwork than it is today ...

Dougherty’s works are left in place until they deteriorate. Some have lasted for a number of years.

The thin saplings’ flexibility allowed Dougherty and volunteers to form arched entrances to the piece, which is perhaps the size of a small cabin — high enough for an adult to walk through. It has several curved entryways, wispy partitions and several exits. A bit of dappled sunlight filters through and there is plenty of light from the openings.

We are told that a book about Dougherty’s artwork will be available.

A brief search for meaning in the title led to a description of a bird, stopping momentarily in flight — perhaps a raptor capturing prey ... a reference to Macduff (in “Macbeth”) bemoaning his losses came up as a sadder note. “All my pretty ones ... in one fell swoop?”

I am smiling as I imagine the number of children who will be building small replicas in the back yard. Just be sure they understand that freshly cut sticks are needed so they’ll be flexible. (A little help may be needed here.)

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