There’s some new artwork gracing the ALS lobby—a stately portrait of Berkeley Lab founder Ernest Orlando Lawrence. The painting has a deep connection to the Lab, and so does the artist. He was a longtime Berkeley Lab employee and the father of Berkeley Lab Mechanical Technician Jim Dougherty, who frequently works on the undulators at the ALS.
Harold Dougherty, known by his colleagues as “Hal,” painted the Lawrence portrait in 1965 because he’d been inspired by Lawrence’s scientific achievements and felt a strong bond with the Lab. The painting hung at the top of the staircase in Jim’s childhood Berkeley home until it moved into the lobby of Building 50, where it hung for many years before coming to the ALS.
Hal Dougherty started at the “Rad Lab” in 1956 as an accelerator technician, or what was referred to back then as an AK-TEK. He’d returned from WWII and used his GI Bill benefits to complete a degree at the California Art Academy in San Francisco. His art school teachers included influential painters such as Elmer Bischoff and Richard Diebenkorn.
Hal applied to Berkeley Lab after he finished school because he was interested in the “big science” that was happening here at the time, and wanted to be a part of it. His art background and model building experience were the primary reasons he was hired.
“They didn’t have 3D computer modeling in those days; they actually had to build 3D models,” says his son, Jim. “My dad built an engineering model of the 88-inch cyclotron and he sculpted a precise model of the dog that the space program was preparing to send into orbit for the first time so that they could make a space suit that fit.”
Hal spent much of his career in the astrophysics group, building the devices that scientists sent into the atmosphere to do cosmic ray research. He worked with Nobel prize winner George Smoot for many years, building the microwave antennas that Smoot used to do much of his research.
Hal had his own machine shop in Building 80, later relocated to Building 50. Jim recalls visiting many times as a child, helping sweep up his dad’s shop and marveling at the instruments and scientific equipment. On his kids’ birthdays, Hal would bring them to the Lab cafeteria for lunch.
“I remember one year, sitting at lunch with my dad and he pointed out at least seven Nobel prize winners having lunch in the same room with us,” says Jim. “That definitely left an impression.”
Jim grew up surrounded by his dad’s art as well—Hal’s numerous paintings filled their home. “I think my dad started painting after WWII as sort of a catharsis to get through some of what he’d seen during the war,” says Jim. “Throughout his life, it was a passion that he turned to in his free time.”
Jim has followed in his dad’s footsteps to some degree—he studied industrial design in college and joined Berkeley Lab in 1983 as a mechanical technician at the old Bevatron. He and his dad overlapped for a short time before Hal retired.
It was Jim who pushed to have his dad’s Lawrence painting hung at the Lab. “I just always felt like that painting belonged here at the Lab,” says Jim. “It says a lot about what Berkeley Lab meant to my dad.”