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Pennington Sculptor Sees Through to Other Side With Michener Museum's "Miles of Mules" Program

     Pennington, New Jersey - It's a far cry from his usual, more serious sculptural fare, but participating in the Miles of Mules collaborative public art partnership has given sculptor Joseph Dougherty a piece he can create a vision through-literally and figuratively.
     While most of the 300 life-size, fiberglass mules in the project are receiving surface decoration treatments from painters and other artists, Dougherty is putting his sculptor's touch to work on his piece.
      "Given a nicely sculpted, life-size mule, I needed to make it mine. Using a sculptural approach, I hope to make my mule more interesting" explains Dougherty. áAnd so he has carved out the surface of the mule, cutting through its cast body to create negative and positive shapes a viewer can look right through. The glossy exterior of Dougherty's mule is painted in graduated tones from black to red. The flat black interior draws the eye into the negative space of the cutouts. He has also added a curved black rod that echoes the contours of the animal's back - accentuating its profile, see bottom photo of the mule on display at the entrance of the Mitchener Museum.
      "In doing this," says Dougherty, "I've pushed the original sculpture to make a more contemporary one."
      The Mules piece is quite a departure from his representational body of work, which includes the impressive bronze Thomas Paine Monument, installed at the Washington Crossing Historic Park Visitor Center on the Pennsylvania side of the river, which has been hailed by the Thomas Paine Foundation as "the ideal likeness of Paine."
      Dougherty appreciates the departure, finding it refreshing to work on something that has a sense of humor about itself. "Sometimes it's good to be dragged away from your current obsessions into a completely different direction. I usually do figurative work, and it's fun to be working onů well, a jackass."
      Clearly, the humor is contagious.
      Still, the piece represents, at least to Chuck Gale of Gwynedd, Pennsylvania's Gale Nurseries, Dougherty's sponsor for the project, a serious artistic effort inside the lighthearted guidelines.
      "I got to see all the designs, and they're all great. But Joseph Dougherty is doing a terrific job. He's got a fantastic idea, really thinking outside the box on this one," effuses Gale. "Instead of just decorating, he's turned it into a real, three-dimensional work of art. He's really taken it to another level, and [the design] just stood out above the rest."
      And Gale put his money where his mouth is, not waiting for the piece to go to auction. He has already purchased Dougherty's mule, which he says, "will end up in our garden." Gale, a Michener Art Museum Board of Directors member, saw this program as an opportunity to support public access to art while helping raise funds for the Delaware & Lehigh Canal Heritage Corridor, and so offered a sponsorship through his business.
      "By bringing all these organizations together (the program's other partners are Bethlehem, Pennsylvania's Banana Factory Art Center and the Cultural Council of Luzerne County), they've really covered a large area." That area is the 165-mile Heritage Corridor along Pennsylvania's Delaware River, the preservation of which will benefit from the funds raised by the Miles of Mules program. Gale is enthusiastic about the project and its potential to help create visibility for both the artists and the Corridor, while providing public access to original art. "As a business, we participate in a lot of projects to help the community, but this made it a little easier, because it's fun."
      Dougherty, too, appreciates the program. "I welcomed the opportunity to be involved in fundraising for such worthwhile causes," he says, feeling it allows him to give something back to the area that inspires him. "I grew up in Bucks County and have always enjoyed the beauty of the Delaware Canal. The Michener Museum has been a strong supporter of local art and artists, which I feel is very important. I have also been impressed with the wonderful growth they have achieved in such a short period of time, and I'm proud to be a part of that."
      Though the project theme is lighthearted, Dougherty approached it with the intensity he focuses on all his work. "My process begins with thinking about an idea or project," he explains. "It almost becomes a constant part of my thoughts. Once I have the approach worked out in my mind, I begin to put my ideas on paper, usually in the form of sketches progressing to a more finished rendering of the completed project. For this particular piece, I had already developed my ideas during the proposal phase, so that is done. To actually complete the mule will take roughly two months, working off and on."
      Unlike some artists who prefer a solitary work environment, Dougherty welcomes the presence of visitors to his studio. "I always enjoy talking with people who are genuinely interested in my work," he says. "As an artist, you're usually working by yourself, in a vacuum. Through discussing and explaining my art to others, I get a fresh perspective and valuable feedback, which can lead to new ideas for future projects." Learn more about Dougherty and his work by viewing the rest of this website.

Concept of project    Mule arrives    Sculpture in Studio   Mitcheners'
  Museum Mule

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