Tippet Rise

A unique artist collaboration involving architectural firm Cushing Terrell and artist Patrick Dougherty

The idea for the project was simple: replicate a late-1800s one-room Montana schoolhouse to provide a relatively protected interior space for housing a sculpture made of saplings.

The purpose of the project was to inspire internationally renowned Patrick Dougherty, who would then design and create a site responsive sculpture.

Cushing Terrell architecture, founded in 1938 by Cushing and Terrell, was contacted to design the building as the backdrop for a sculptor’s on-site commission at the 12,000-acre-spanning Tippet Rise Art Centre, located just outside Fishtail, Montana, USA.

Tippet Rise Exterior | ©Karl Neumann

Maximum visual vs minimal ecological impact

Situated on a working ranch, the project had to be constructed with minimal disturbance of the landscape. This involved maintaining a small job site footprint and using eco-friendly solutions such as corncob grit blasting for weathering the exterior wood.

With few interior lights and no mechanical or plumbing systems, the project has a negligible impact on its environment and a relatively passive inhabitant of the ecosystem.

The most difficult task for this project was determining the level of protection needed for the sculpture while creating a building that looked as if it was battered by a century of weather.

Dougherty created ephemeral sculptures out of native saplings, so long-term deterioration of his work was assumed. However, he requested the design team to determine a way to protect the interior from water infiltration to maximize the longevity of his creation. This seemed not particularly difficult, but when replicating a more than 100-year-old, deteriorated schoolhouse, the task became significantly more challenging.

Stepping back in history

One element the team wanted to preserve was the look of a deteriorated roof allowing natural light to filter into the interior through gaps in the skip sheathing.

This was achieved by sandwiching acrylic sheets between two layers of planks in a seamless application invisible to the untrained eye.

A secondary challenge was creating interior and exterior finishes matched to those of nearby historic Stockade Schoolhouse. The first step was documenting the details of Stockade, noting layers of paint and elements of detailed deterioration such as subtle discoloration from differential rates of water damage, ghosted “memories” of since-removed built-in shelving, and rows of rusted nails once holding shingles.

The second step was reviewing full-scale mock-ups with the client and contractor (JxM & Associates) to determine the best “recipe” of finish techniques.

The final step was a hands-on approach to construction administration, walking through subtle details and tweaks to the finished recipe with Tippet Rise staff, while JxM worked on each element.

The bulk of the project spanned six months. Dougherty started the installation of his artwork beginning on the Fourth of July weekend in 2019 and took him three weeks to complete.

Tippet Rise, sunset over Montana | ©Karl Neumann