Patrick Dougherty

by on Sep 22, 2015 in Architecture
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'Out in Front' (Photo by Dick Dickinson)

'Out in Front' (Photo by Dick Dickinson)

American sculptor Patrick Dougherty combines art, nature and architecture with fantastic results

Constructing his works from freshly cut saplings, Dougherty creates extraordinary house-like structures that appear as if straight from the set of a fantastical, woodland movie. The artist was somewhat of a late comer to the field, having first established a career as a hospital administrator, however he returned to university in the early 1980s with a view to becoming a sculptor.

'Close Ties' 2006. Scottish Basketmakers Circle, Dingwall, Scotland (Photo by Fin Macrae)

Inspiration for his works come from many and varied locations. “When trying to find what to build for a particular setting, I look for starting points. As I struggle to understand the location, I might see a word or a title on the newsstand, the outline of a mountain range in the distance, or hear a turn of a phase from a passer-by. The creative state of mind is one rich in connections, whereby words and images can blend and give rise to an inkling of a new idea.”

'Sortie de Cave' (2008) Jardin des Arts, Chateaubourg, France (Phptp by Charles Crie)

Having grown up in North Carolina, Dougherty was raised around the woodlands that were overgrown with small trees, and where forests were a tangle of intersecting natural lines. His works hark back to his childhood: “For me, tree branches and saplings have the rich associations with childhood play and with the shelters built by animals. Picking up a stick and bending it seems to give me big ideas. I think this “know how” is one that every human carries as a legacy from our hunting and gathering past. When I turned to sculpture in the early 80′s, I had to rediscover what birds already knew: Sticks have an infuriating tendency to entangle with each other. It is this simple tangle that holds my work together.”

'Double or Nothing' (2011) Washington University, St Louis, MO (Photo by Chandler Curlee)

The artist has worked extensively throughout the United States, and has also created pieces internationally in locations such as France, Serbia and South Korea. And what are the biggest challenges faced in creating such impressive structures out of sticks? “Each project has its unique challenges. Sometimes it is finding the right material, which can be particularly challenging in tropical settings. Sometimes, it is weather, though we have not often been stopped, even by snow. Recently, in Colorado, however, it came up so strongly that we couldn't SEE to work so that necessitated a break for half a day.”

'River Vessels' (2010) Waco Cultural Arts Festival, Waco, Texas (Photo by Mark Randolph)

This is the fourth in our series, The Artist's Perspective. If you would like to be featured, please send your submission to

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