Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Jan. 10, 2000

And on his farm, he had a dolmen

By Luis Puga

Where do two ancient, giant, Celtic young lovers sleep when they're on the run from their parents?

Wherever they want.Dolmen

But generally, they sleep on a dolmen and one can be found just east of Winsted on Carver Co. Rd. 20 on McDonald's Farm.

The structure, reminiscent of a Stonehenge, is a "thing" inspired by a recent trip to Ireland by artist Pat McDonald, son of Flip and Abbey, who own the farm.

So why call it a "thing?" Pat McDonald, who has been doing public sculpture for over three years around the nation, feels that this was his intention when he caught the dolmen fever.

Rather than trying to build just another piece of public art, he felt he simply needed to build this thing.

Pat explains that at one point, the dolmen was something that people had to build in the past for a reason, even a vocation. About 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, the purpose or meaning of the structure changed. Eventually, it became a piece of public art.

Said Pat, "I wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel and add to public sculpture" as his main intention, but rather to satisfy a craving.

The evolution of the thing is similar to that of a Hellenic fruit bowl. In ancient times, it served to hold fruit. Through its life, its purpose might have changed from holding fruit to holding the loose change of some centurion.

Now, it sits in the Metropolitan Museum in New York as a piece of art.

That process of thought sums up the artist's approach to much of his work. Having started in painting, McDonald began working for a sculptor in Chicago after receiving his masters in fine arts and painting from Northern Illinois University Dekalb in 1983. Influenced by the sculptor, he simply took to building things such as furniture and other items until his desire took him to public sculpture. That desire has seen him produce work around the country, including exhibits in Chicago's Pier Walk, an annual outdoor sculpture exhibition at Navy Pier.

His pieces can also be found in Washington D.C., McHenry County College, and Notre Dame.

The desire to build something is what motivates the artist's work. He encounters a form, becomes inspired, and simply goes with it.

He admits, with some projects, such as the self-described "Pelt Stretcher," he may not know the purpose of the item, but is more interested in constructing the form.

In the case of the dolmen, inspiration struck abroad on a trip to Ireland with 20 or so family members and friends. On the way to a castle banquet, Pat encountered the structure and was immediately enthused. He returned the next morning with sketch pad in hand and knew he had to build a dolmen.

Of course, after inspiration strikes, perspiration begins.

Pat admits that the project was a much larger scale than he had taken on before, especially in weight. The top slab, or roof, alone weighs 16 tons. But as he learned more about it, he figured it was simply a "cool thing to do."

The next months would have Pat acting as a general contractor. Much of his time was spent on the phone arranging resources and discussing plans to put the structure together. After all, one doesn't simply slap together tons of concrete to make a dolmen and hope that it stands.

The pieces were cast in concrete to resemble the rock forms Pat had seen in Ireland. That alone required a month for the concrete to cure before the pieces could be moved.

McCormick Crane Company of Rockford had to be consulted on the project. On a trip to his sister's wedding, Pat showed the crane operator what he wanted and was told what sort of set up the dolmen would need in order to be lifted by a crane.

In Chicago, an architect was shown plans of the form to garner input on how to put the structure together. Pat said the knobbing system that sits the roof upon the legs is reminiscent of Legos, with knobs on the supports and grooves in the roof to fit them together. That part of the sculpture was actually transported from Chicago to Delano, and then to the farm.

In Indianapolis, an engineer from a concrete bridge building firm was consulted to help design the rebar system, steel bars set into the concrete to ensure the integrity of the concrete forms. All in all, the set-up for the project took over three months, but just four days of actual construction.

The task makes one wonder how the originator(s) of the structure ever put these dolmens together.

Pat admits he doesn't know how they did it, but said there are some theories. One is that the legs were set up and buried in dirt. Then, the roof was log rolled on top of the dirt, and the structure was excavated out. Considering that the rocks for the structure were brought from hundreds of miles away, that would mean a lifetime of log rolling.

Another theory is the Celtic mythology that surrounds the structures. Two giants fell in love and ran away from home. Their parents chased after the honeymooners in an effort to bring them home. Each night, the lovers built a dolmen for a bed. The fact that they were never caught is evidenced by the number of dolmens scattered throughout not just Ireland, but Scotland, France, and other countries as well.

The project is unique for the artist in that it incorporated so many people. Besides the aforementioned consultants, Pat had help from his parents, his cousin Jerry McBrady, David Thomes, Tim Iten, Leighton Bender, Peter Barnes, Steve Hokanson, and Dave Bartels.

All helped in some way, and Pat said about six people were part of the project through to its fruition. Some members of the project were even in Ireland when inspiration struck.

Pat said his father Flip was a great help on the project, and probably key since it was his parents' property where the dolmen would sit permanently.

However, it probably helped that his father was a "thing maker" in his own right, who was just as excited about Pat's project as if it were one of his own.

That excitement has been infectious as shown by the 100 people who stopped by as the legs were erected. Pat said he was happy that fewer people were present when the roof was added, particularly had the dolmen not held together.

However, it did, and that goes a long way to testifying towards the artist's know-how. In essence, this first dolmen is a model of sorts that will prove that he can do it again. Right now, he is working on proposals for Chicago's Navy Pier and for another dolmen in Massachusetts.

Pat also likes the commotion of the project. He notes that what often stirs the public in the art world has not always been positive, referring to New York's recent scandal between its mayor and a portrait of the Virgin Mary.

He sees his project as a positive connection between the art world and the public ­ as something that was simply "cool" to build and that people are interested about. In essence, that is how the artist works, and he admits its a happy approach to his art. As such, Pat also admits he will be married to the dolmen form for a while. That is, until, inspiration strikes again, of course.


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