Patrick Doughtery and volunteers put the finishing touches on the artist’s latest twig sculpture Friday at Fernwood. The structure features many curved gateways made completely out of wood. (Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT)
Patrick Doughtery and volunteers put the finishing touches on the artist’s latest twig sculpture Friday at Fernwood. The structure features many curved gateways made completely out of wood. (Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT)

Archived Story

Q & A: Stick-tacular sculptures

Published 9:05am Monday, April 21, 2014

Twig sculptor opens up about his newest work at Fernwood

World-renowned twig sculptor Patrick Dougherty finished his latest masterpiece Friday at Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve. The massive structure was built mainly with willow and dogwood sticks harvested along the US-31 bypass.

Dougherty began working on his approximately 250th sculpture March 31. Nearly 150 volunteers helped make it come to life. The sculpture, which officially opened for viewing this weekend, should last for about two years.

We caught up with Doughtery as he was putting the finishing touches on Friday.


Q: What was your inspiration for this piece?

They have a lot of gardening books here with pictures of topiary gardens, and a lot of them have kind of palatial gateways cut into the shrubs — kind of big openings. The idea was that we would make these little cabanas, these little gates, and they would lean on each other and look friendly. We wanted to invite people in to walk amongst them. We did leave a lot of shadow lines and so forth around.


Q: What is your favorite aspect of this piece?

Of course, you love finishing and that’s what you’ve caught us doing. We are fixing it up and dolling it up and making it safe.


Q: What was the most challenging part of this project?

Always getting the materials is a big part. Also, weather has been one of the things that stood in our way here more than anything. It’s been cold and rainy and snowy.

Anyway, we’ve persisted and had great volunteers from here that know how to take the weather, so it is not such a big deal for them. For someone from North Carolina, if you get a lot of snow you have to stop and lay down.


Q: What makes a good sculpture?

When I think of a good sculpture, I think of one that a person can relate to pretty quickly.

It might be a bird’s nest they’ve seen or maybe an indigenous tribe they’ve visited. It could be a place in the woods where they played as children, or a lilac bush that was their favorite.

Someone told be about a favorite Osage orange tree that had fallen across a creek and for years kids went there and played. So, you know, sticks are part of the locale of childhood you know — playing in a place.


Q: Where are you heading next?

Portland, Ore. I start there May 9. I do 10 works a year, so I am starting in January — four months, four works. I think I’ve done around 250, but I’m not exactly sure.


Q: Does it become challenging to think of new ideas?

Yes. You use up all the simple solutions and then you have to really dig to come up with an idea that you haven’t made and one that incorporates what you’ve learned while also taking into account the people that you are serving. They have certain sensibilities and you have to understand those too.


Q: Did this one turn out as you expected it to?

I’ve had a lot of experience so I can project and probably come pretty close to it, but you are always playing. It’s really the moments of infinite possibility. You are standing here working with it and you see something and you capitalize on that something. Then you move it along toward the way it is supposed to act and feel and how it is supposed to function for the viewer.


Q: How would you describe your job?

I would say I’m a sculptor and I travel widely. I’ve been able to meet lots of good people.

They say there are a lot of bad people in the world, but I haven’t met those people. I am only meeting the good ones. I’ve been in a lot of different communities and worked with a variety of organizations. I feel like I’ve been able to live in the world of ideas.



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