Patrick Dougherty Stick Sculpture
Stick sculpture artist, Patrick Dougherty, was at Fernwood during the first three weeks of April, 2014, to design and install a large stick sculpture on Fernwood's grounds to celebrate our 50 years! Patrick named the piece, Take Five. Enjoy this and eleven other sculptures on your next visit to Fernwood.
Watch a video of Dougherty's process of building a stick sculpture, and Outdoor Elements segment, Artful Nature, with Patrick.
NEW in 2015, CBS Sunday Morning segment on Patrick Dougherty.
We would like to thank Fernwood's generous donors and special supporters who made this sculpture possible:
The Judd Leighton Foundation
Berrien Community Foundation
Institute for Scholarships in the Liberal Arts–University of Notre Dame
Mac and Joanne Sims
Jack and Jan Frieden
Ray and Peg Larson
Phil DeVore Photography
Michigan Department of Transportation
Hardings Friendly Market
Redbud Insurance Services, LLC
About Patrick Dougherty
Combining his carpentry skills with his love of nature, Patrick began to learn more about primitive techniques of building and to experiment with tree saplings as construction material. In 1982 his first work, Maple Body Wrap, was included in the North Carolina Biennial Artists’ Exhibition, sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Art. In the following year, he had his first one-person show entitled, Waitin’ It Out in Maple at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
His work quickly evolved from single pieces on conventional pedestals to monumental scale environmental works, which required saplings by the truckloads. Over the last thirty years, he has built over 230 of these works, and become internationally acclaimed. His sculpture has been seen worldwide---from Scotland to Japan to Brussels, and all over the United States.
He has received numerous awards, including the 2011 Factor Prize for Southern Art, North Carolina Artist Fellowship Award, Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, Henry Moore Foundation Fellowship, Japan-US Creative Arts Fellowship, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Princeton Architectural Press published a major book about Patrick and his work in 2009. This monograph, Stickwork, has received excellent reviews and is available at from Patrick's website.
Patrick Dougherty Lectures About His Work and His Path
by Molly B. Moon, Fernwood volunteer
During his fascinating lecture on his art Tuesday night, April 1, at the Snite Museum of Art at Notre Dame, Patrick Dougherty did not say ‘Um,” one time. His thoughts came out in a steady stream as he described his path to his artistic stand there on the border between ‘hugely successful’ and ‘outsider’ art. He told the audience that he came to art through an epiphany like a strong wind that led to a change in enterprise, to a new set of clothes and a new set of tools.
Dougherty told us that when he put down his briefcase and decided to express himself artistically, he first asked himself, “What do I already know?” The answer: he knew woods, and underbrush, and he knew how sticks liked to ‘stick together’ by their inherent shape, and so he began there.
Although speaking at an art museum, Dougherty confessed he avoided museums after a short while, because they gave him sweaty palms and the fear that all the good ideas had been used up. He confidently described the process of looking inside oneself for what one knows intrinsically, in the nonjudgmental, childlike way that is so much fun—and so hard to come by as an adult. “Unselfconscious, but fully myself—that’s the ‘state of making’ I seek,” he explained.
He introduced the slide portion of his lecture with one last profound comment: “Artists are just normal people who are looking for their rightful place in the world of work.” And then he showed us his work, photos of his monumental scale environmental pieces in Japan, France, Denmark, and all over the United States. We saw the construction process, with groups of happily engrossed volunteers helping Dougherty achieve his vision. “We make a community in the time it takes to make a sculpture,” he commented.
In outdoor sculpture made of impermanent materials, time and the elements become part of the art. One of Dougherty’s pieces, built of sticks, was of a huge roughly shaped man reclining by a pond in Denmark. The first slide showed the piece newly finished. The second slide showed the piece a few months later when the rains had come and the land was flooded, placing the figure in the middle of a little lake. The third slide showed the figure about six months later, when the waters had receded and the sculpture had slumped toward the ground, like an old, tired fellow.
He showed us some photos of his home, another work of art which he built himself in the woods and underbrush of North Carolina. One side of the house is a soaring flat stone wall made of materials he gathered from his own land.
Before I start making pronouncements about the greater significance of the work of this fascinating man, I’m going to sign off. Next: Construction Begins!!!
Harvesting the Materials
Harvesting of the materials for the twig sculpture began on Monday, March 31. Patrick selected mostly willow and dogwood. A permit was obtained from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to harvest willow along the US 31 bypass. Willow is fast-growing and is routinely trimmed from roadsides by MDOT, so they were happy to have us trim some for them.
Twig bundles along highway.
Stacks of twigs at Fernwood.
Truck full of willow.
The Dougherty Diary: Days One and Two
by Molly B. Moon, Fernwood volunteer
Patrick Dougherty and a group of Fernwood volunteers began harvesting the willow needed to build the sculpture on Monday, March 31. I volunteered for Tuesday afternoon, Day Two, and to keep up with the process for the whole three weeks that Dougherty is to spend at Fernwood so I can describe it for those who can’t participate.
I was late for my shift on Tuesday afternoon, April 1, but luckily I was not alone, because the willow harvest actually took place near Fernwood, but not at Fernwood. Judy, the volunteer coordinator, had just told Virginia Golden–who had brought her chainsaw–where the work crew was. As Virginia sprinted for her car, Judy thrust a t-shirt at me and hollered, “Follow her!” Okay, she didn’t really holler at me, but there was a sense of urgency, driven in part by the blustering wind.
I caught up with Virginia out in the parking lot. I introduced myself and asked her where we were going. “I’m not sure. It’s over there,” and she waved toward the bypass going north. “Pipefitters Road, or something?”
“Oh, Pipestone Road?”
“Yeah, that’s right. They’re off of the bypass, up there.”
I jumped in my car and raced after Virginia, who drove really fast for somebody who’s not sure where she’s going. We first spotted the work crew as we shot right past them heading toward the Pipestone road exit sign, and we spent the next half hour trying to find the fastest way back to what we’d barely left behind. We finally found our way to the work crew on the St. Joseph Valley Bypass, right there just before the Pipestone Road turnoff. About five cars and a big truck were pulled off on the shoulder, and the people were down the bank in the swale, cutting green willow.
This is where everything jumped back in time about two hundred years. Instead of in a zany car-chase, I found myself in a setting from a Thomas Hardy novel, harvesting willow with the other yeomen. We were out in a field, working together. There was abundant fresh air and good humor, scuttling white clouds and their shadows, sunshine glinting off the water in the ditch, camaraderie, a growing sense of accomplishment.
We didn’t talk much; the work didn’t require it, and Dougherty himself had that look on his face of somebody who is constructing in his imagination and not to be interrupted. His expression reminded me of my dad, a mechanical engineer/inventor who often sat at our kitchen table after dinner, looking downward, drawn into a similar brown study.
I had brought only a camera, a notepad and a pen. Rick Tuttle, a sculptor from Three Oaks who had been hired to assist Dougherty, gave me some loppers and some gloves (for which I was very grateful; it was really cold) and told me to just cut pretty much all the willow I could reach. “Don’t waste time deciding; all this is potentially useful,” he said.
It was rhythmic work down in the swale: clip, clip, clip, clip, clip and then gather. “Have pity on the poor bundler,” said Patrick Dougherty, who cutting steadily alongside his volunteers. “Lay all the sticks neat and pointed in the same direction.”
Then, after a few hours of cutting, we began to tie up the bundles and throw them on the trailer. The wind was fierce. It made loading the long bundles of willow sticks tricky. To lay each bundle properly on the wagon, you had to head the wider end into the wind, maneuver it on the trailer, then stack it as tight as possible while the wind tried to do otherwise.
At 4:00 we were done for the day, having collected an impressive amount of green willow, stick by stick. We began packing up the tools and peeling off one by one to head back to the 21st century and the lives we were used to. I was happy to think I would get to return to the project the next day. But before then, I was going to go listen to Dougherty’s evening lecture at the Snite Museum of Art on the campus of Notre Dame.
Watch for more of Dougherty's Diary by Molly B. Moon over the next three weeks.
A willow forest appears.
Patrick setting main supports.
The Dougherty Diaries: The Rest of the First Week
By Molly B. Moon, Fernwood volunteer
By Wednesday afternoon of the first week, Patrick Dougherty and groups of eight volunteers had harvested enough willow, and they began constructing Fernwood’s as-yet unnamed sculpture. Using a gas-powered auger and posthole diggers, they dug forty or so holes two feet deep in the Memorial Garden lawn, an open space between the Visitors Center and the Nature Center in the very heart of Fernwood’s gardens.
Each hole soon held two or three long willow saplings about twenty feet tall. Dougherty and the crew tamped the clayey earth back in around the saplings using two-by-twos, and by Wednesday at 4:00, a little copse had appeared. It had no leaves on it, but neither did any of the surrounding plants and trees (correction: the winter aconite was blooming bright yellow amidst the general bareness) and so it looked as if it had been there all along.
Dougherty schedules three weeks for each sculpture he builds. “If there’s a problem,” he says, “I tell them their sculpture’s getting smaller.” Rain was forecast for Thursday, so everybody worked until all the supports were firmly in the ground. I put my notebook and camera down and helped with the tamping, happily getting my new stylish Frye ‘Engineer’ boots really muddy. I worked close to our leader because I wanted to ask some questions; “Do you have a sketch yet of what this piece will look like?”
He said, “Yes, it’s going to be a series of rooms with windows that sort of lean in to each other. And each of the rooms will have an oculus at the top of it.”
An oculus. Hmmm . . . . . “Can people go in it when it’s done?”
“Oh, yes, you’ll be able to walk through all of it."
Really, I know those questions were kind of lame, but I was warming up to what I really wanted to ask him about. During his presentation at the Snite Museum on Tuesday night, Dougherty had said, “We build a community in the time it takes to build a sculpture.” That idea had really resonated with me, so I asked him about that as we worked; here are just a couple of all the interesting observations he made. We were stomping mud around the bases as we talked, so these are accurate in idea, but necessarily paraphrased:
“Sometimes there’s a person who joins the crew who just can’t get along with anybody. We’ve taken to calling that person our ‘pet’ because we all have to help take care of a person like that. We put up with them and everybody learns something good in the process.”
Dougherty also said that he often has to explain to the men of the pre-feminism generation that, “The women came here to experience what it’s like to build one of these things, and you’ve just got to stand back and let them struggle sometimes. If you were having a hard time, but you were getting it, would you want somebody to come up to you and say, “Here, let me do that for you?”” Having been born in the mid-1950’s, his words were a balm to my soul, and so I stopped stomping dirt for a minute and thanked him most sincerely.
We finished Wednesday’s work in the ‘hour of enchantment,’ when the sun came out and gilded everybody and everything for an hour or so. Fernwood sure is lovely. Working together sure is fun. And on Thursday, it sure did rain! I didn’t even go in the morning, and by afternoon I got word that the work was called off when it started thundering.
But, Friday morning my good, strong friend Elly and I were there by 8:30. Dougherty climbed down off the scaffolding and showed us what to do: “You just weave the shorter willow sticks in diagonal lines here and here,” pointing to the future walls of the project, “but not here or here. Those are windows and this is a walkway. Tuck everything in strong and tight, and see if you can just curve some pieces around the edges as you work.”
I had a moment of panic where I couldn’t tell a window from a walkway and I was afraid I would do it all wrong and humiliate myself, but it was a beautiful misty morning, and the blackbirds were singing and calling all around us as we worked and so I just started weaving willow. Honestly, though, I had to quell the urge to call the great man over to ask him, “Am I doing this right?” Weaving was harder than just whacking and bundling the willow, which had involved no need to think. There were decisions, selections, judgments, schemes, a few mistakes, but it soon felt like play.
“So what did you do on Thursday?” I asked my fellow workers as we dragged one of those heavy aluminum scaffolding over the muddy ground.
“We got wet!” was the only answer. I guess I would’ve had to’ve been there to be privy to the real information—and then I wouldn’t have needed to ask.
This morning, Saturday, the sculpture is taking shape. It’s easy to see which are walls and which are windows. I asked Dougherty to explain ‘oculus’ a little more clearly, and he tried, using a willow he bent into a circle as a visual aid, but I’m going to have to wait to see it. And so are you.
Weaving, weaving, weaving. . .
Doorways and Walkways
The Dougherty Diary: Midpoint
By Molly B. Moon, Fernwood Volunteer
Like wave-swept seaweed, like wind-swept hair, the willows wrap around the doorways and windows of the rooms appearing on Fernwood’s lawn. At this midpoint, it’s possible to see . . . . . that there is a lot of hard work involved in this kind of monumental environmental art. The worksite is littered with broken willow pieces and twigs. Each willow branch is a little harder to lace in among its neighbors. There are muttered oh, darns as another piece breaks in the weaving.
But nobody’s complaining. It’s hard work, but it’s fun and calming and a lot like play, at least when the sun is shining. “Do you get rained on a lot in your line of work?” I asked Dougherty. “Since you follow spring around the planet?”
“Oh, yes, that seems to go with the territory,” he replied without hesitation.
He showed me how to wrap willow around the outer edge of a doorway and jam the thick end into the ground. The objective was to cover the structure willow poles with sweeps of line after line. It was hard to get the thicker willow poles to wrap around that tight curve. I again had to quell my urge to ask for approbation, this time by observing what the finished doorways looked like and mimicking the work of others.
A lot of human activity is like that, from childhood on. Every good teacher is a treasure, and Dougherty spends a lot of his time teaching others how to do what he does. He gives clear instructions, points to a few good examples, and then he walks away to let each newcomer fine his/her own way.
I asked him if what was appearing at Fernwood matched his drawings or if he’d had to alter the original plan. He laughed. “My drawings are so nonspecific that if I did change it you wouldn’t be able to tell. My wife once asked me if that was a drawing or had I spilled my coffee on the paper.”
On Monday and Tuesday Dougherty taught groups of sculpture students working with Fr. Austin Collins from Notre Dame, his volunteer crews for those days. I’m sorry I missed those two days; that was lax planning for a diarist, and on Wednesday, when I joined the willow weavers again for a spell, the crew was again composed mostly of area artists. This is a world-class event going on at Fernwood, and I’m grateful I have a chance to participate, observe, and share it in words.
As the last half hour was spent cleaning up the site and hauling away everything that wasn’t useful. “This was a good crew today. You all did a good job,” Dougherty told the volunteers.
One more mention of the word ‘oculus’: I get the New York Times Sundays, and I saw that word twice last Sunday, used in odd ways. One was a title of a movie and one was part of a description. It’s funny how words get their fifteen minutes of fame. Remember when the word ‘maven’ swept through the culture a while back? I’ve been reluctant to just look up the definition, but I guess it means an opening like an eye, as opposed to eye itself. So now we know: there will be an oculus, or oculi in Fernwood’s Patrick Dougherty sculpture when it’s completed next week, and we will be able to see them with our own eyes.
Notre Dame students working on sculpture.
The Dougherty Diary: Snow Going the Last Week
By Molly B. Moon, Fernwood Volunteer
Oh, the wind in the willows was cold on Monday. If Mole would have chosen a day like this one to stick his snout out of his underground home, he would have said, “Oh, bother!” and “Hang adventuring,” and gone back inside. But not so our hardy volunteers.
When I showed up around 2:00, Sharon VanLoon and The Garden Team she’d brought from Grand Rapids, from the insurance office that has kept Fernwood covered for years, were only partway through their second shift.
Because they came so far the team had volunteered to work all day. Luck was not with them. Remember, Monday was that cold spring day that teetered back toward winter. Soon after I joined them, it started snowing. Nobody stopped working, though. It’s one of those experiences where you made a commitment, you’re under a time limit and you just keep going. They worked all day in that cold, stiff wind. When, only a half hour before the regular quitting time Patrick called out, “You all did a great job today,” (which means it’s quitting time) I know they were even happier than I was to stop a little bit early.
I didn’t come up on Tuesday, but today, Wednesday, seemed to be media day and ‘work your ass off’ day. Media and camera crews showed up all day long, according to Jan Ferris, who works at Fernwood. Dougherty, calm and collected throughout, answered questions and kept the work going forward. Having an hour to contribute, I’d been given the job of wrapping one of the walls with willow sticks that curve around the bottom and give the structure’s edge more definition, and I managed to do so with a huge camera inches from my cheekbone for a few minutes there.
Tomorrow there’s a big party at Fernwood to celebrate the completion of Dougherty’s piece, and there is still a lot to do. Two of the three oculi are discernible, and the third is in the works. I now know that an oculus is a roof with a hole in it, a deliberate hole. Southwest Michigan gets a lot of snow, and the hole will let snow fall inside rather than weigh down the roofs of the willow structures. This morning I was talking to the students from Fr. Austin Collins sculpture class at Notre Dame about their experience working on the project, and everybody smiled at once at the idea of snow contributing to the design of the sculpture.
This whole project is cause for celebration.
Patrick and Roy Diblik at Reception
The Dougherty Diary: The Finished Piece, The Journey’s End
By Molly B. Moon, Fernwood Volunteer
Friday, April 18, would be sculptor Patrick Dougherty’s last day at Fernwood, whether the willow-work was finished or not. But, after constructing well over 200 such monumental pieces, he has the process and the timing down to an art.
Or maybe a science; there is a lot of psychology involved in the momentum that grew along with the sculpture. I know I couldn’t stay away. At the celebratory party on Thursday night (perfect weather, happy faces, Fernwood at its best) I volunteered to come up the following morning, and he said, “Yes, anybody who wants to is welcome to come up. What we’ll do is everybody will work on one little section and put any final touches on it.”
As she introduced Patrick Dougherty to the partygoers on Thursday night, Dr. Cindy Bergemann from Notre Dame said, “I always thought that art was the finished piece, . . . . . but I’ve learned that it’s the journey. Everybody who worked on this sculpture can tell about a little piece of that journey.” Here’s my little piece:
In my first diary entry, I wrote about having to stifle my need for approbation as I worked at this new experience. Well, Thursday night I went to bed still worrying about a couple of sticks I’d woven in against the flow, thinking that some crisscross support was needed. But I knew they looked all wrong. It bothered me, and I hoped somebody had fixed my mistake.
Friday morning when I showed up, Dougherty ushered me to a spot that needed “finishing and fixing.” It was my spot. I recognized those sticks, and it was with relief that I heard him say, “Somebody stuck these in here the wrong way and they just need to be taken back out.”
“It was me,” I said quietly. “I did that, and it’s been bothering me ever since.” He wasn’t really listening: either he was on a ‘get’er done’ tear or he knew it was me and he didn’t want to embarrass me, or whatever. He whipped out his clippers and snip-snap, the wayward willows were gone. He showed me again how to wrap more willow around the foundation to give the section of wall a clean visual and a sturdy edge. I know I did a good job after that, and when I said my goodbyes and left a few hours later, my section looked sturdy and symmetrical and part of the whole, and I was satisfied. I didn’t need to ask for approbation.
It’s been great fun writing about Patrick Dougherty’s time at Fernwood and what it’s been like to help him build one of those great big sculptures, to be part of the community, to gain confidence through the experience. And, as I was leaving, I walked through another dozen volunteers who were helping garden designer Roy Diblick of Northwood Perennial Farm put in 4000 or so plants in big sweeping groups at the Visitors Center entrance. I’m very happy that my beloved Fernwood, as it turns 50 years old, is being celebrated in grand and sweeping ways.
The finished sculpture.
Why does the sculpture have leaves?
During the summer after installation, Take Five began to take on life as new leaves began appearing near the top of the corners. Since the sculpture is made of cut sticks, why are there leaves around the top? When the corner sticks were buried, the weather was very rainy, causing the sticks to take root! As they rooted, new growth began appearing at the top and lasted throughout the summer. Watch to see if the leaves appear again next year. Patrick says the sculpture may last longer than the anticipated two years due to the sturdiness of these corner pieces, which normally rot and make the sculptures fall apart sooner. And doesn't it look cool?