Ten years ago Austin’s Pease Park, one of Texas’s oldest public green spaces, was rapidly deteriorating due to a cash- and resource-strapped parks department. When the fifth-generation Austin native Richard Craig noticed the park’s dilapidated state while out running, he mobilized friends, family, and neighbors to rehab the narrow twenty-three acre swath bisected by Shoal Creek, eventually establishing the Pease Park Conservancy. Today, the park is thriving again and able to attract and support the likes of internationally-acclaimed “stick artist” Patrick Dougherty. “One of our board members saw Dougherty’s work in Pennsylvania,” says the Conservancy’s former CEO Kristen Brown. “She thought it would be wonderful to be able to bring art that is so natural into the park.” But when the Conservancy reached out to the North Carolina-based sculptor—who has constructed his swirling fairytale-like installations made of local twigs and branches in more than thirty states and numerous countries—they were told he had a two- to three-year waitlist for new projects.
Then a cancellation suddenly freed up his schedule in January, and Dougherty packed his bags for Texas. From start to finish, the design and construction of Yippee Ki Yay, located in Custer’s Meadow along Shoals Creek, took three labor-intensive weeks. Inspired by Austin’s Spanish Colonial architecture, he created a series of five maze-like rooms—twisting, turning, and weaving together the branches of invasive species such as Roosevelt weed, Ligustrum, and Depression willow. “One of our major donors owns a ranch nearby, and he let us come out and harvest,” Brown says. “Since we were taking invasive species, we had ranchers from all over calling and volunteering their land. These are trees they want gone. Sometimes people just dropped branches off. We used seven truckloads in all.” To help expedite the construction process, Dougherty enlists and trains a team of volunteers at each installation. Yippee Ki Yay will remain at Pease Park for the next few years. Once the structures have deteriorated to the point where they are deemed unsafe, the folks at Austin Tree Experts will turn them into mulch to be used around the park—returning the fleeting, all-natural art to the land.