‘The Big Naturals’ Taken Down After Four Years Due to Structural, Safety Concerns

“The Big Naturals” sculpture was removed from its location between McCastlain and McAlister Halls Sept. 24 after storms blew over two of the structures over the weekend.

The Physical Plant removed all the structures last week, which fell apart as they were taken out, said director of the Physical Plant Larry Lawrence. The twigs and branches from the sculptures will remain in the Physical Plant yard for about 60 days, then an independent contractor will take them away to burn them off campus.

Originally, there were seven pieces, but two had fallen over within the past six months prior to the most recent two falling over last week.

The sculpture was created by internationally renowned artist Patrick Dougherty in September 2014, with the help of volunteers. According to the UCA website, “The Big Naturals” were constructed with only natural materials, including saplings, sticks and twigs.

The week before the latest two structures fell over, Chair of the Art Department Bryan Massey said he went out and shook all of them, finding some to be unstable, and potential safety concern.

Director of the Baum Gallery Brian Young said for a few months, there were discussions among the Baum Gallery Exhibitions Committee and the University Public Art Committee about removing the installation.

Associate Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication Gayle Seymour said the installation was only supposed to last two or three years, but Dougherty made it clear that UCA could take it down at any time. Many of the art faculty, she said, are saddened at its departure, but nature decided that it was time for it to come down.

“That’s the beauty of that kind of project,” Seymour said. “One minute it’s art, and another minute it’s a pile of sticks.”

Massey said he was talking with Young and Seymour about the possibility of putting something in the space where “The Big Naturals” once stood. They are currently discussing different artists who could create art for the space.

While some knew the sculpture had an expiration date, Young said that many students had accepted it as a permanent part of the UCA landscape.

“With that gone, it looks like there’s a hole,” Young said. “It looks like there’s a void, even though the campus prior to ‘The Big Naturals’ was like that.”

The person who spearheaded the project to bring Dougherty to UCA, former Director of the Baum Gallery Barclay McConnell, said the process of bringing Dougherty to UCA took several years. $32,000 in funds were raised, and the artist himself visited campus to choose a site to place his installation.

Dougherty gathered the materials for “The Big Naturals” from the Conway area, looking through locally owned properties. Former mayor Tab Townsell gave permission for Dougherty to search on the land around the Conway landfill.

McConnell said by bringing in a well-known sculptor and installing a large-scale piece at UCA, she wanted to immerse people from all walks of life in the world of art.

“Bringing large-scale public art is a way to get more people engaged. But the benefits of public art extend way beyond that,” McConnell said. “Great public art makes communities better.”

Photo by Lauren Swaim

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