We all remember building stick forts as kids. The North Carolina-based sculptor, Patrick Dougherty takes this childhood fascination to a whole new level by constructing larger-than-life stick sculptures that visitors can literally step into. His newest exhibit, Stickwork, which he started building Aug. 10, opens at the Holden Arboretum Aug. 29. More than 30 years and 300 sculptures after his original, Dougherty has evolved his craft of using tree saplings as his medium. “I just threw myself into trying to make larger pieces and make it stay together without having to tie or wire them, but just weaving them together,” he says. We spoke to Dougherty about his path as an artist, his process behind the work and what gives him inspiration.
Q. How did you get your start?
A. I started in the early ’80s. I went back to school in my early 30s, and decided I wanted to be a sculptor. Before that I had been in health administration and just realized that I loved to make things. I went back to the University of North Carolina for two years for my postgraduate education. Then, I sort of self-declared that I was a sculptor and have been able to find work. I’ve had about 30 years of working every day, so after a while it gets to be your life.
Q. Why did you choose this as your medium?
A. When you start as an artist, you’re really not clear what you’re doing, so you just kind of thrash around and try to make some various art. I decided I would use sticks. Only after I started using them did I realize there was a lot of tradition using sticks, from basket making to flower arranging to all kinds of furniture making and building houses, where the guts were made of saplings in the medieval times. There were lots of ways people were using them, of course, in indigenous tribes. Birds, apes and other beings used saplings as well. Immediately I saw there was a big interest in this material.
Q. Has your sculpting evolved since you started?
A. It’s evolved quite a bit. One, you’re able to do things you never have imagined doing because you’ve done a lot more technique, in terms of how to work with the material and how to problem-solve all the things that come up. The other thing is you explore lots of ideas over a period of time that give you more starting points for trying something else. Every person has played with sticks when they were children, and so we all know kind of inherently something about this material.